Posts Tagged ‘Song Syue Lodge’

Tuesday March 6, 2012, 102 km (63 miles) – Total so far: 168 km (104 miles)

Elevation lost : 3150 m

Last night’s sleep was fitful and segmented. Waking up every hour on the hour like Big Ben in London. A small symptom of altitude sickness, I hear. Well, that beats having headaches while cycling up a mountain. Apparently I was not alone on this as some others were tossing and turning too. One of the girl’s solution was to get up and make a bowl of cup noodles at 4 am. Bowl and cup are at odds with each other here, but you get the picture.

I had left both the double glazed windows to our room slightly ajar and the chilly wind was a nice complement to our rooms heater set at 25 deg C. Those felt like blasts of oven air. The bikes slept out on the balcony, water bottles filled to see if they would freeze, just for the novelty of it.

During one of the intermissions in my so called sleep, I got outside to see how cold it was. In the highest point of this trip I am dressed in a Maui T shirt and board shorts.

This Song Syue Lodge is something else. It belongs to the Forestry Department. It’s one of 2 lodges sanctioned by the government to operate this high up in Taiwan. It’s luxurious and flashy for a government run place. It’s apparently hard to make and confirm reservations, and is most likely almost full at other times, to a 100% full in the high season. Throughout yesterday, George kept calling them informing of our progress and definite arrival in the evening. The nice ladies at reception kept their word, photocopied my passport as George added a cool NT$30,000 on his Mastercard for our 10 rooms.

We were told that there would be no staff on the premises after 8 pm and before 7 am. There were emergency numbers to call only if someone is seriously ill. All others may go to a designated room on each of the 3 floors where an oxygen tank is kept.

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“What time is it ? What time …… is it ?”
Take a wild guess dear !

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Breakfast was uppity and civilised. I’m talking tablecloths and napkins at 3150 m

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A different warning today, “If you have to fly over the rails into a 1000 m gorge, please do not take me with you”

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The Song Syue Lodge is built on a slope in a highly earthquake prone country

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The trick question for today is, “How do you cover 100 kms by pedaling only about 30 kms of it?”

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After 5 kms of the steepest descents, we are entertained with water hissing off some of the disc brakes and a flat from a blown tube on a Bike Friday tikit

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A crash barrier protected by old tyres, protected by yellow paint, protected by my bike

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French words, with a hint of locomotives and Vietnam adorn a plaque on a bridge in Taiwan. Go figure

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One of the shorter and brighter tunnels

The terrain in these mountains are very steep and if not for tunneling, a cross island highway would not have been possible. The size of some tunnels are just big enough for a 20 seater bus orl truck to pass through with just enough gaps for light I suppose. Bicycles are fine, but everyone must share the road no matter how miniscule that road is. What a nice thought.

Coleen and I had just cleared this small tunnel when seconds later a truck and trailer barreled it’s way through. What is it with big truck drivers? This one was positively accelerating. I thought to myself and hoped those behind us were still playing with their cameras long enough to see the behemoth exit the tunnel on their side. Most of us are lighted up like a Christmas tree with two lights each front and back but are still no match for any vehicle taking up every inch of road in a dark tunnel.

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Mr Director of HD Videography

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Highway 14 morphs into highway 8 after the Dayuling T junction/Pass at 2565 m. There are some small shops here. We’ve dropped 700 m/2300ft in 8 kms/5 miles and there’s more to come !

Lodgings close to Dayuling. Most cyclists seem to overnight here if going in the opposite direction, uphill

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It was not all downhill, there’s a 4 km flat-ish climb with stupendous views in front………

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…..and back…..

It actually makes sense to go slow on a down hill, so as to savour the unbearable lightness of not pedaling and take in the views. Given that the pull of gravity and temptation to speed is ever present, it’s also good to remind oneself that the nearest and best hospital is quite a ways away.

And then there’s pain, more than a grim reminder of past exploits and not always a good friend, though George has a Nike T that reads SWEAT IS JUST PAIN LEAVING THE BODY

Ah what the heck, who am I kidding, let’s beat that last recorded number 59.9 kmp/h. Well that didn’t happen as we’ve passed the steepest sections before Dayuling. 30 to 40 into a blind corner will have to do.

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* one of the vogue’ bikes at speed

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It’s so far down, you can’t see the bottom

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A long coffee stop, at Pilu, (Bilu) 2150 m, now we can afford the time

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Then it’s off to more cornering and braking and cornering

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Occasionally we need to look up….

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………and down again for lunch at Tiensiang, just maybe a thousand feet below

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It was rough riding in that tunnel, totally cut off during a massive rock fall, courtesy of Typhoon Morakot
in 2009

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GIOS Blue ! Not one of ours but obviously touring light

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These are ours after a slight mishap. Owners much too busy ingesting lunch somewhere

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My first virgin glimpse of gorge-ous Taroko Gorge

Originally a 70 km walking trail from the mountains to the sea, Taroko Gorge winds it’s way up the entire Liwu river basin that flows through it. The trail’s former name literally meant ‘repressing the barbarians’ a reference to Japanese campaign against the native peoples of the gorge, who were here for more than 200 years. The building of this cross island highway started in 1956, but was only passable to traffic on it’s entire length in the mid 1980s.

The 20 kms or so route through the gorge proper before Tiensiang was completed earlier in 1960, but not before 450 workers lost their lives in the process. A temple at the foot of the red pagoda at Tiensiang pays tribute to them.

Parts of the older road that hug the steep cliff walls, or rather are remnants of tunnels that have collapsed leaving overhangs are now designated walking trails. Cycling is possible when not too many pedestrians are around. Many newer and wider two lane tunnels blasted through solid marbled rock now handle heavier traffic of mostly tourist buses.

We had planned to walk part of the trail that’s most scenic for the bus tourist, but upon seeing the numbers of people here from mainland China, some already groping and taking photos of our bikes, an easy decision was made to literally flee the scene. After all we’ve seen greater heights and vistas higher above Taroko, and at this point, we actually need to pedal to have the bikes move. 30 or so kms to a nice bed in Hualien.

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Invasion of the blue helmets

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Rock wall in a steel mesh, could be an art installation in itself

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Didn’t expect this invasion of tour buses on a late Tuesday afternoon. And there are warning signs not to linger too long below those overhanging rocks !

Confronted with heavy traffic was what we least expected after the blissful quiet of whirring hubs and the wind in the trees when we were higher above. Once past Tiensiang, it felt like the CBD of today’s ride. There’s even a grand hotel at the Tiensiang cul de sac, parking lots and much lesser food stalls catering to the masses, like us.

I can’t deny that the Liwu River that has cut through the mountains for eons is spectacular, we were blessed with perfect weather, and had no mishaps to speak off, and though not everyone arrives on a bicycle, the sudden appearance of buses upon buses caught us off guard.

At times it was too narrow even for a bike wheel to get pass a bus, that is if you don’t mind that wheel getting squashed against a rock wall. Apparently there were signs for a staggered one way system up and down the gorge, at different hours which was totally ignored. Road works did not help one bit. Nor did the obnoxious fumes. I can’t imagine this place during the peak seasons.

Finally after straggling and tip toeing our bikes around a line of cars, who could not go any further, we found a break to squeeze through. Like an imprisoned dog that has dug a hole under a fence, we got out and picked up speed through the Tunnel of 9 Turns. What an apt escape through a gauntlet of rock wall on the right and maybe 20 to 30 buses on the other side, with no traffic behind us. You’re on your own, people.

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Tunneling is fun for us first timers

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Almost at sea level at the red gate entrance to Taroko

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We picked up a nice tailwind all the way to Hualien…….

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…..and had to wait 30 mins for the mothership bus (and luggage) stuck in tourist traffic at the gorge

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* The bikes get to rest like a flock of herded sheep in the basement of the
Bayview Hotel at Chisingtan Beach ? on the outskirts of Hualien

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After too many sit down dinners, it was nice to walk, eat, walk and eat again

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An old school Cinelli in old town Hualien

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