Two things made me nervous as I packed my bike for Taiwan - the first was the fact that we were experiencing seriously hot weather in Brisbane and it was winter in Taiwan - the second was that every course I had designed to ride had no easy way out of 3000m+ of climbing... welcome to the Mountains of Taiwan
And so it began, with Eva airways from Brisbane it's a direct flight of 8.5hrs in the brightly painted Hello Kitty Boeing 777-300er. The airport in Taoyuan was top notch, breezed through the border security and my bike was already unloaded ready to go.
Chinese New Year Celebrations were in full swing, this was very evident from the consistent fireworks displays on the one hour drive to Zhudong Township - My base for the next week.
After a few hours sleep we decided to grab some breakfast, head out into the hills and explore a few roads. Food is in abundance in the Townships. There are daily markets selling everything from fresh produce to handmade clothes and shoes. With so many places to buy cooked food made fresh right in front of you, it was easy to see why so many people eat out. Generally the bigger the line up for the food the better it was, the popular places don't have menus or even pictures of what they sell so I had to rely 100% on Chocy to purchase the food, and never once was I disappointed.
With Chocy riding scooter as my super domestique we set off to explore.
From KM 1 the road started winding up through valleys alongside huge river systems, around every corner a new view had my senses overloading. My first taste of seemingly endless smooth roads and hairpins had me buzzing, not really knowing what I was in for was exciting in itself. Upon reaching the lake area, we stopped to take a few pics and pinch ourselves that this was real.
Not a coffee shop in sight as yet, I must say I was a little worried there would be no caffeine fix on this journey. Continuing on we reached a huge river system crossed by some impressive feats of engineering. We had been steadily climbing up to 600m elevation then boom , up time - 13.4km av 7% gaining 1013m elevation, with a downhill section included, there were many sections of 15%+ making it a very challenging ascent. The road ended at a National Park educational centre, with some beautiful rainforest walks heading higher still into the mountains.
I had spotted a restaurant / BnB that advertised coffee about half way up the climb so we headed there for a delicious lunch of rice, cabbage, soup and a good coffee (phew).
After bombing down another 7km's my mind turned to the upcoming climb. 110km down with only 65km to go, how hard can it be? HARD! it was relentlessly up with little spurts of down, leaving me questioning if I had started the climb... I hadn't. It started with a series of 4 hairpins averaging 12% then I looked up, bad move, long strait section of about 2kms at 15%. Feeling well fuelled from lunch and coffee I managed to stay seated for the first few hundred metres but it was all out of the saddle suffering from there. Another series of about 20 hairpins got me to the top. As I crested for the 35km of downhill to home it hit me, I was in cycling Heaven.
Taiwan is home to a special race, the Taiwan KOM is a 105km ride from sea level up to 3275m elevation with over 3,300 meters of total climbing. From my base to the highest point on the KOM it was a casual 195km away with 6500m of climbing, on a good day I knew I could do it but I had the added pressure of riding home the following day.
Chocy found us some accommodation at http://www.green-leaf.com.tw/ which sits at 2100m elevation and 35km before the KOM point, meaning I would have to ride past and return raising the bar to 230km. I secretly hoped the stars aligned but it wasn't to be.
Perfect conditions greeted us as I jumped on the scooters wheel, motor pacing out of town, the excitement was hard to control smashing over the first climb in record time with temperatures hovering around 8 deg.
The descent was ridiculous, super smooth confidence enhancing roads, cambered hairpins... froth!! My super domestique was waiting at the bottom with some local cuisine freshly cooked and absolutely delicious. Looking towards our desired route I could see a large rolling cloud system sitting on the top, I wasn't too worried as my trusty Sportful jacket was packet safely in the scooter.
Up into the clouds we went, steadily visibility dwindled as did the temperature. Waterfalls were flowing on every corner until we reached a plateau of 1200m. On we blazed, the temperature was now 6 deg and my feet felt like ice. Engulfed by lush forest the road surface was still amazingly good, even in the wet it had a grippy feel.
We passed some beautiful lakes and recreation areas before the final descent of the day. I could suffer no more, the jacket came out half way down, teeth chattering I pulled over and quickly realised I wasn't the only one suffering. I'm sure it would have been an amusing sight to see us fumbling around with hands that wouldn't respond to nerve signals.
Dropping down to 330m elevation at the 100k mark, I was feeling great despite the cold. Over the next 45km we consistently gained altitude. Rolling along the river system I was blown away by the size of the river bed, I can only imagine what it looks like in the wet season. Another couple of towns and river crossings saw us half way up and back into the clouds. The temperature dropped every kilometre until it hit a low of 3 degrees. Soaking wet and cold we reached the summit at 1965m, rolling over the other side suddenly the clouds disappeared! The road was dry, never has the sun felt so good. The road tilted down a little with a strava segment named Roelof's Wuling Wet Dream, it totally lived up to it's name, the views up to Mt Sylvia were stunning. One last 2km climb up to our accommodation and day 1 was complete. Standing at 2100m elevation, still tilting our necks to view the peaks, a calming energy came over us as we relaxed on the balcony, the ultimate reward for embarking on any adventure. The sunset was truly stunning.
The farm we lodged in included a Buffet Dinner and Breakfast, the standard was exceptional with all produce grown on the farm. As luck would have it we ended up in the honeymoon sweet, the best sleep I had on the whole trip. The owner and Chocy got talking and it turned out by coincidence that she is coming to the Gold Coast for 2 months in March to learn English.
After filling our bags with all the extra food given to us as gifts and donning the life saving Sportful jacket (which had dried overnight) off we rolled for the journey home. Having only descended 3000m the day before and with approx. 60km of downhill ahead of me I was in my element.
The weather forecast was for mild conditions with sunshine which meant the climbing in the clouds yesterday was now full visibility. Corner after sweeping corner the temperature slowly rose from a low of 5deg , it was pure joy and no wind to slow me down. We reached the valley in good time and before I knew it I was climbing the pass that had been completely clouded in the day before.
The hairpins I had gingerly descended the day before were an absolute joy to climb, enveloped in thick forest, everything covered in moss and waterfalls flowing, this was my paradise. Unbeknownst to me, Chocy had earlier stopped to grab some food and had pulled up in a park on the road side with some rice balls wrapped in bamboo leaves. So Good!!
Refuelled and ready for another descent, the sun was shining, giving warmth even at 1200m elevation. I caught 3 cars on the way down and all were kind enough to wave me through as soon as they noticed me. I found this to be a common theme throughout Taiwan, cyclists or any athleticism in general was encouraged and respected by all. That left me with just one climb then a joyous 35km descent to home. As challenging as that last climb was, the euphoric feeling of being in the mountains on a bicycle would have powered me for days.
Although it had only been one week, the experiences and consistent sensory overload made it feel much longer. Taiwan is a modern place without the tourist feel. It is wild at heart with 286 mountain summits over 3000m above sea level. I am extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to experience this wonderful place and hope to share the best bits with you in years to come.
Click here to learn more about our Taiwan Adventure Tour in 2018
Cheers Benny & Chocy
Brian "Bubba" Cooke
Lifelong (almost) cyclist, exercise physiologist and above-all-else just love riding my bike. Been lucky enough to ride some of the world's most epic roads and now live on the beautiful Gold Coast, hidden gem of Australian cycling.