TAIWAN’S CYCLING PEAK
Explore Tai Chung and Wu Lin with Velo Velo Club
Located in Taiwan’s Taroko National Park, Nantou County, Wu Lin is the highest paved road in the country. Offering a splendid mountain view and a magical view of the valleys, it is definitely on the bucket list of many cyclists in Asia.
Departing from Singapore, (a mainly flat country, our highest climb is about 90m elevation), a group of cyclists with diverse experience in both cycling and life gathered to take on Taiwan.
Some have never ridden 5 days in a row, some have never even gone above 1,000 m elevation, and others have never flown with their bikes before. However, the promise of a good experience made us all look forward to the trip.
We began our first day of riding during the early hours in the morning. Breakfast was simple with local dishes but many were too nervous to eat. From Puli Township in Nantou County, we were attempting the easiest of the three routes up Wu Lin.
Starting from 445 meters elevation, we headed towards the mountain as the town was waking up. We were enjoying the comfortable weather of 29 degrees with breezes coming through the valleys. The road was constantly smooth and clean. As we began ascending the mountain, we were met with 6-10% gradient and the occasional double digits gradient for the first 50 km. The mountain ride offers a different experience to what we get in Singapore which is mainly flat. There are also no traffic lights that we can rest and the non-stop climbing was beginning to strain our legs.
As we rode on, the town at our back faded away and eventually disappeared as we entered the valley. In the mountain valley, we became part of the postcard image that we often see on the pictures of magazines. We actually had to resist taking photos or we would be stopping every so often. Thankfully, our support drivers were also photography hobbyists and captured many of those beautiful moments.
Taiwan’s 7-11 convenience stores are famous for being everywhere and having everything. The 7-11 certainly did not disappoint even high up in the mountains. They provided us a place to rest, hydrate and regroup. Even at an elevation of 2,050 meters! As we were at the highest and final 7-11 of the climb, the weather started to change. It became misty and the temperature started to fall. We continued to push on, determined to get as high as possible before the weather defeated us. The temperature continued to drop and with visibility plummeting to under 5 meters. Coupled with the rain and strong wind, it became unbearable and dangerous for us to keep going. Only 2 of our veteran cyclists managed to make it to the top of the peak, stating this as one of their toughest climb ever.
Photos and celebrations at the peak were kept short, as we would quickly hide in the support vehicle and warm ourselves up with hot ginger tea prepared by our experienced guides.
The second day of the trip brought us to the beautiful Sun-Moon Lake, Yuchi Township for a recovery ride. Being Singaporeans, we did not expect that an “easy" ride would still rack up 1,000 meters in total elevation. Thankfully it was spread over a distance of almost 80 km. With some rest points planned into the ride to visit local attractions as well as taking photos in front of the popular lake, we had great fun basking in the sights and acting like a tourist for once. The ride round the lake was full of rolling hills and we did our first long descent of 8km, something we cannot do in Singapore. This made all those climbs we have done worth it, and some of us manage to hit a top speed of 80km/hr!
The third day’s challenge was at Meishan’s famous 36 bends in Chiayi County. We were halfway through our road trip and the idea of doing a 1,000meters elevation ride still feels daunting. A warmer temperature of 31 degrees at the beginning of the day seemed to forebode us.
We rode the first 6 km with a climb of 300 meters before we reached the bottom of Meishan which falls under the Alishan National Scenic Area and began our climb of the 36 bends. We rode up switchback after switchback with signages telling us how many we have passed by. After some time, we forgot how difficult it was and how many there were to go. All we knew is that we just needed to keep spinning till we got there. Upon reaching the top of Meishan, we thought it was the end but our “nice” guide told us our destination was a tea plantation another 300 meters high and 5 km away. Digging deep, we continued the climb. In the end, all was worth it as the view at the tea plantation was amazing. The light drizzle and mist added a magical atmosphere to the place. After basking in the lovely ambiance, we happily “reap” our reward by rolling back down the hills we have worked so hard to ascend.
Our fourth day began with rain in the morning and it made us wonder if we had to give up
riding that day. We still decided to press on anyway, but pushed the start point closer towards the destination at the suburb of Lugu Township and ride through Zhushan (Bamboo Mountain) to Xitou Monster Village. The intermittent rain made the experience of riding through Zhushan magical. The misty atmosphere combined with rays of light shining through the bamboo fields created a magical atmosphere. Soon we ended our ride of 1,000 meters elevation over 24 km. Being drenched from the rain, we briefly rested in the Japanese Monster inspired village taking some photos before hopping onto our support vehicles and back to the hotel.
For the last day of our trip, we rode north up from Taichung City towards Sanyi Township as a recovery ride before we heading back to Taipei on the same day to pack our bikes. The last day was planned to be an easier ride in the countryside but as we would have known by now, climbs are everywhere in Taiwan, and any rides would easily get us an elevation close to 1,000 meters. We ended our rides at the old Sheng Xing train station which was built in 1908 as part of the Mountain Line, and called it a day, ending our 5 days road trip. Now it was time for several days of rest and shopping in Taipei City before returning home to Singapore.
Over the five days of riding, we had covered a distance 254km and a combined elevation gained of 7,814 meters, fostering cycling friendships that would hopefully last us for a lifetime. We experienced the warmth and hospitality offered by our Taiwanese support staffs and tasted local delicacies made from freshest ingredients from Taiwan which are famous for agricultural produce and most importantly, wonderful cycling experience through these picturesque places that we would never get in Singapore.
The hardest part of the trip is actually going for it. Once you are in it, you can do it. The support offered by the group throughout the ride kept all of us going. Although many felt that we have not prepared enough for the trip, will you ever be? We have an unfinished business with Wu Lin and will definitely be back to settle it.
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