Zhenxibao (鎮西堡) and Baling - Remote Taiwan - CycleBlaze

February 4, 2021

Zhenxibao (鎮西堡) and Baling

up and down

My guess is it's the young, incredibly shy, monosyllabic Indonesian housekeeper I met briefly last night who rings my door bell at just before 7:00. In the dining area there's a table set for one because Yours Truly is the only guest and she's prepared two slices of bread, a pot of thick jam, a boiled egg that's still very hot, and a sliced-up guava. She's likely gone back to bed.

After plugging in a toaster, a packet of Nestle coffee gets some hot water added from a machine and by 7:30 my bike is being wheeled out the door into a see-your-breath temperature. 

The still warm egg is in my bar-bag for later.

It'll be all uphill from here to Zhenxibao. 

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There's a short steel bridge to cross then the first sign on route 竹60 says it's the 32 km mark and I reckon there are roughly 20 kilometres to go.

My light jacket soon comes off and not long after so do my bright pink arm-warmers. Although it's too cold for my cordless computer to work, my body temperature has increased with the effort of constant climbing. 

Sunshine lights up the ridge on the far side of the valley and soon I'm riding through pockets of brightness that bring saturated colour to the bamboo and tall grasses lining the road. Occasionally there's a tree full of pink blossom . There's no traffic.

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The incline is steep and it's a case of getting off and walking on some sections. On other steep parts my bike zigzags from one side of the road to the other, perhaps adding 30 percent to the distance. Whatever. It's not a big deal, because even if my average speed does hover around 5 km an hour it'll still be approaching lunch time when I get to Zhenxiboa. That's perfectly fine with me.

The sun is now out in force. It's SF30 weather, but my guess is it's something like 5°C cooler in the shade. While the warmer temp' has activated my computer, my speed rarely goes above 8km/hr.

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The turn-off to the remote village of Smangus comes at the 39 km point and a few minutes later - around 9:45 - there's a string of homes and a shop where I buy a cold bottle of tea then stand in the warm sunshine and eat the boiled egg as a man probably around 70 who's sat having a cigarette smiles and gives me a thumbs up. There's jazz coming from someone's house.

Further up the road at a half-hidden T-junction a few children gather around when I stop, but mysteriously don't seem to understand the name Zhenxibao and after a minute it seems best to just take the left. It must be the way there.

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The view is panoramic with the narrow strip of 60 hugging steep slopes. This is about 1600 metres above sea level. The air is clear.

It's at least a few kilometers less than 20 when the edge of Zhenxibao appears, taking me by surprise. The village lines the road just one home at a time and my watch says it's now 11:15 and when I spot some expensive coffee roasting paraphernalia in the window of a new-ish house. It seems my luck is in.

Very near Zhenxibaio
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Slow going
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An elderly woman sat in the sun sees me looking at coffee making gear in the window and gets up and walks across towards me, gesturing to the place next door, which turns out to be her Sunny Side coffee shop. 

She hands me a Chinese menu and points to her machine and knows the word latte and a cup costs NT$80 and I drink mine sat outside. It's actually a good latte. Who would have thought?

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It's still early in the day and my mind ponders what to do with the rest of it. The village itself takes about two minutes to explore and after I've done that I opt to keep on riding to find out where this route 60 finally fizzles out.

Sunny Side coffee shop in Zhenxibao
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The road is basic, but it takes me to a big new building clinging to a steep incline that's clearly a hotel. When I ask a worker about a room he takes me to see the boss, who's a young Tayal woman with decent English. She tells me the road continues for a couple more kilometres, but then it's purely hiking terrain and she shows me a painted map on a board outside and answers my questions about possibilities. 

Her hotel isn't open at the moment as they are preparing for next week's influx and it's a four-hour trek to see some ancient cypress trees along a hiking loop. She advises me against going at this time of day because it's now a bit late. I decide to ride a bit more just for the sake of it.

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The road is now poured concrete and it gets a bit rough in places and instead of going up, it drops which concerns me as the last thing I want is to do any climbing coming back. When I get to a fork it seems best to do a U-turn and get myself a second cappuccino back at Sunny Side.

It's probably just over a kilometre back to Zhenxibao and after a hot drink my decision is to return to Xiuluan for lunch, then perhaps make my way to Baling. That'll mean a long day, with a hard 9 km climb out of Xiuluan, but if my speed is decent, it'll still be light by the time I arrive at the B&B in Baling. My watch says it's now 12:20, so it's doable. 

Riding back along the dead-end section
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Obviously dropping down the 17 km to Xiuluan is easy enough. My brakes get warmed up as it there're too many tight bends and not enough straight sections to just speed along, but it's a respectable 1:10 when I pull up outside the place I had dinner last night.

The woman serving and cooking suggests curry and that sounds good and a few minutes later that's what placed in front of me. The bill is NT$150.

Yesterday, on the drop down into the village a few people had been gathered at a suspension bridge, but it was too late to stop and check it out, so now's the time to do it. 

A handful of tourists have just arrived and after parking my bike I walk along with them down a stepped path and onto the bridge. A short distance away is a rock formation in the form of a stack of giant blocks while the river below is clear and shallow and after taking a few photos I leave the others to it and go back to my bike as it's now 1:40 and there around 35 km to ride.

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The 9 km up to the junction prove to be hard work and there are times when I walk.  My fitness just isn't there. In fact it occurs to me that getting a ride in a blue truck would be best, but the ones that go by don't have any space in the back, or I spot them too late.

With about 500 metres to go, one does pull up and the driver asks if I need a lift and I explain I'm going to take the small road to Baling, and while he doesn't understand Baling he gets my basic message and wishes me well as he drives off. It just seems odd that he didn't understand Baling.

Dropping down the 竹60-1
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Before the descent my thin yellow jackets is donned as it's cooler now after climbing about 450 metres from Xiuluan.  The sun has gone behind clouds and it's almost 3:30.

The 竹60-1 bends a lot and it's hard to get up much speed on the drop which lasts 8 km. There's another small aboriginal village beside the river and then the road kicks up. Across the valley the faint line of the smaller route that I'd planned to ride back in September can be seen much higher than this road, which is somewhat pleasing. I'm just looking for positives.

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The markers along the 竹60-1 give some idea of where I am and how far there is to go before reaching Highway 7, but there's little flat and my stamina isn't great. The markers are counting down slowly, but then they switch when across Hsinchu's boundary and the route changes to 桃113. As if to make a statement, Taoyuan's government has made the road wider and the paved surface is smoother with fresh yellow lines down its centre.

When I get to the village of Sanguang I know that Baling isn't very far and soon see the two bridge crossing over the river far below after a couple of kilometres the junction with the 7 appears. It's then down for a couple more kilometres and I cross the pink 'new' bridge and pedal up into Baling as the sun disappears for good.

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The young Indonesian worker recognizes me from previous visits and tells me her name is something like Wena and she takes my NT$1,200 and hands me a key for room 202.

After a shower and a bite to eat cooked by Wena, I collapse on the bed and try to get the TV working, but without success. That's OK.

Today's ride: 68 km (42 miles)
Total: 283 km (176 miles)

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