Highway 3 and Routes 120 & 竹60 - Remote Taiwan - CycleBlaze

February 3, 2021

Highway 3 and Routes 120 & 竹60


My bike's just a bit cleaner after getting a wipe down last night. It seemed in need of it as a 'new' Cateye cordless computer got fitted. 

Actually it's an old model (basically the same as my first ever computer bought back in the late 1990s) that I got as a cheap NOS item from eBay a few years ago. The thing that concerns me is it may not work well, what with the batteries being who knows how good and the transmitter on the forks quite a way down from the computer. The instructions say cold weather may also hamper the signal and it'll be cool up in the mountains, so we'll see how well it performs.

It's 8:30 and not as early as planned when my bike gets pushed outside and I pop and buy the Taipei Times from 7-Eleven. It  goes in my saddlebag for reading once at the coffee shop in Longtan, about 10 km away. Then my front tyre gets some air in courtesy of the nearby scooter repair shop's compressed air hose and it must be around 90 psi now. It's impossible to make a dent in it with my finger.  A military vehicle cruises past as I screw the plastic valve cover back on and it's spraying something onto the road and on the next corner is a similar truck with a few men standing around in white all-in-one gear so it must be some kind of COVID-19 exercise. Taiwan has done famously well and to date only eight people have died. 

Wide and busy Highway 3 is designated cycling route 1-2
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It turns out there's not much of interest in today's newspaper, but the cappuccino goes down well. 

It's already 9:30 when my wheels roll out of Longtan's small centre and south on to wide Highway 3. There's a fair amount of traffic whizzing along and there was never any question about this part of the route being something to get excited about. It's just a case of riding for about 20 km to the junction to Neiwan, a small town that effectively marks the start of a climb. Route 竹60 then goes up for 20 km or so, but it'll be much quieter.  

The boring highway skirts Guanxi and the only times there's any reason to stop is to take snaps of an old house that I recall seeing many years ago. It seems to have been renovated since then. When a stall selling oranges appears it strikes me as a good idea to buy a few (NT$30 gone - a  dollar) and I also gulp down a chilled bottle of squeezed juice that really hits the spot. That's another NT$50 well spent. 

Old house beside the road
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The highway seems to go on forever. There are spots that are familiar from recent day rides with friends - a couple of 7-Elevens, a small junction with route 28 and another one leading west through rice fields. Then there's a long hill to cruise down and this part is not somewhere I recognize. 

At a set of lights a young guy on a scooter gestures that Neiwan is behind us, so I must have missed the junction, and once riding back - back up the long, gentle incline - a man cleaning his car tells me it's 11 km to Neiwan. What a pain. What a twit. 

The junction is around 7 km away, so that's  14 km of wasted time and energy and once at the crest it's a right turn and along the much smaller 120, now taking me east. As intended, lunch is at a 7-Eleven on the far side of town, albeit now later than expected. 

It's gone 1:00 when I set off in the knowledge that it'll likely be dark by the time I get to a B&B and my new Cateye reads 50 km covered so far. That sounds about right.

Stocked up on supplies at a 7-Eleven in Neiwan
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Betel nut packet on route 120
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Aboriginal tribes were headhunters a century ago
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It's only about 2 km before some small shops and squat homes lining the edge of the road tell me this is Jianshi, where a right turn onto a bridge heralds the  start of route 竹60. It's all a bit up, but nothing too serious apart from the odd short section when my lowest gears get used.

Ten minutes later there's a smaller bridge with statues of aboriginal figures along it, stating this is Tayal territory.  The tribe is one of Taiwan's biggest indigenous groups - there are something like 16 different ones - and until the Japanese establish control of the island in the first half of the 1900s, the Tayal were known for headhunting. As a reminder, one statue depicts a warrior holding a severed head. 

A spot along the small river has a sight known as Frog Rock and in the past  it's been open for anyone to see, but now there's a high fence and it seems visitors have to pay. I ride on. 

Having a drink at the 8km mark on route 竹60 - about 12km of more climbing to go
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My energy is low and the kilometres clock up slowly due to frequent stops for a drink and to let my heart rate slow down. Markers tell me about the  lack of progress and soon it becomes obvious that it'll be dark well before the top is reached. Descending will be dodgy as there's no lighting and hitching a ride in a truck goes through my mind, and each time a vehicle approaches, I glance in my mirror to see if it's one of the familiar small, blue pickups that many farmers drive. After climbing 11 km, one comes up behind me and stops when I wave my hand.  

Sat in the front are a family of three and with a few simple gestures they get my drift that my wish is for a lift to the crest and the young mother shows me a photo of it on her phone as confirmation before my bike gets hauled on to the open back, where there are about 10 bags of cement, half a dozen large propane bottles and a row of plastic Jerry cans full of diesel. It's a tight squeeze, but there's a spare wheel for me to sit on and with my back to the cab, we drive off.

The sun is low and the temperature cool, but thankfully the chill of the wind is blocked by the cab and there's a huge feeling of relief as we swerve around the constant tight bends, forever going up. Once at the top my watch says that it's only taken around 20 minutes instead of at least a couple of hours to cycle/walk the 9km. 

After digging out my red rain jacket, I cruise down for a few minutes and come to the first B&B, a place called Ruby Family. A couple of dogs go berserk as I pull  into the parking area, but then a women in her thirties with tattoos on her hands comes out but says regretfully that they're full tonight so I get back on the 60 and descend and descend for around 15 km.

Cool at gone 4 o'clock with the sun having disappeared behind the peaks
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Xiuluan is a tiny village and the 60 curves around it but it's only when a few people gathered at it's edge, where the access road starts, tell me this is the place and point to the right when I ask about B&Bs that I get my bearings. 

I ride along the one street then opt to drop down a steep lane to 竹60 because there's a decent looking place to sleep there. Being set back from the road, without having seen images on Google it's doubtful I'd ever know it's a B&B. 

The owner is a man in his 50s and quotes me NT$1,500, which is the going rate. After showing me the room, he takes me to a row of a sheet metal huts just across the parking area. They turn out to be a few bath houses and after stepping inside he turns open a valve and piping hot spring water gushes from the industrial plumbing, soon filling a big tub that's formed from hefty rocks cemented in place.      

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After 20 minutes soaking away the chill my body, the owner is patiently waiting outside and gestures that he'll drive me into the village to get some dinner. It seems unnecessary as it's just a few minutes' walk, but what the heck. 

It's a case of Hobson's choice. The food in the place is OK - a plate of stri-fried cabbage and a beef/rice dish - but my appetite isn't great. 

I'm in bed by 9:00, without taking off my merino sweater or trousers. 

Today's ride: 80 km (50 miles)
Total: 215 km (134 miles)

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