Home via route 118 - Remote Taiwan - CycleBlaze

February 5, 2021

Home via route 118

skirting Guanxi and Longtan

My legs were aching last night and they're feeling only a little more subtle this morning when I walk down the stairs to the dining room and clip my bags on the bike and wheel it out onto Highway 7. Sunshine is lighting up one half of the road in Baling and the place right across from the hotel that makes breakfast is in the shade.

They make burgers and latte, which turns out isn't on a par with the two I had at Sunny Side yesterday, but it's much cheaper and you only get what you pay for, which in this case is a total of NT$100. Just as I'm leaving a guy in the next shop comes over and hands me two small oranges for the trip and wishes me well.

It's a tranquil freewheel down Highway 7 to the river, then across the pink bridge followed by a steady climb for a few kilometres, up past the junction with the 113. 

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Again the pre-noon temperature is too low for my cordless computer to work, but my jacket light soon comes off. To the north, across the valley, are peaks basking in sunlight and as Highway 7 swerves along the contours pockets of warmth come and go.

After less than 5 km there's a steel bridge that cuts out a section of the original road that once dipped into a small valley head and while the route follows the flow of the Dahan River east, there are climbs that last a couple of kilometres, taking me high above the water. The odd, tiny, remote aboriginal village looks lost in the vast terrain.

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Discarded betel nut packet on Highway 7
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There are one or two places to get a drink and a snack, but nothing stops me except when I opt to take a photo. You'd have to have a drone to capture the full extent of the geological drama and my mini tripod placed on the road just isn't up to the task.

Last time I was here in September, it was pouring down and totally drenched, I rode on Highway 7 all the way to the town of Daxi, where it starts. The problem is it gets pretty busy after Fuxing and my plan is to take a slightly longer route home this time. Affirmation comes as traffic picks up the closer I get to Fuxing - and the bridge over the Dahan - but the turning on to Route 118 is just before the river and comes after roughly 25 km of cycling including a fast drop that goes down for 5 km. 

The long climb on the 7 up to Fuxing is a slog, but the 118 also begins with a low-gear incline. The temp' feels like it's now in the mid 20s and my old Casio says it's 10 o'clock when a cafe on a sharp bend appears after about 10 minutes of pedalling in sunshine. It seems a while since I left Baling earlier this morning: it's coffee time.

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Highway 7
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Around 60 years old and wearing a dark trilby, the cafe owner speaks decent English and tells me his latte is pretty good. I order one and a portion of waffles and it comes to NT$240, but he doesn't have any coins and only takes 200. 

He's right about the latte. When the waffles are ready I order a second cup and tell him the NT$100 that I hand over hopefully takes care of the deficit and sit in the shade of a parasol and marvel at my good fortune.  Most people are still working away, or locked down somewhere at home around the world due to COVID-19. 

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Being Tayal, he knows this whole area well and is impressed with my ride up to Zhenxibao. He tells me his English was learnt in the US where he worked for two years as a truck driver, and he sings a song in Japanese to prove his other language ability - he worked in Japan for a couple of years, too. 

He has aunts in both countries and says 30 years ago it was hard for young Tayal women to get a job and consequently it became common for some to go to Taipei in search of a foreign husband. 

This part of Taiwan is his home and the place he loves, but his cafe seems a bit out-of-the-way on the tranquil 118 and I'm the only customer this morning. He's built a long viewing platform that offers a great vista of the surrounding countryside and Highway 7 over on the far side of the river and he agrees that the leg to Daxi is too busy to enjoy, with gravel trucks speeding along the narrow route. While the 118 will add a few kilometres to my ride, the peace of mind is worth it.

The route goes up and down more than expected. It must be 15 years since I cycled this road and all I recall was that there were not many views of the river, or reservoir further downstream. That's true, but it's very quiet and more enjoyable than the nearby stretch of Highway  7.

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A mural on a school wall in one of the tiny villages I cruise through has the date on, telling me it's now almost 10 years old, but the paint looks fresh. The students who did it were no masters of perspective. 

It depicts a battle between Japanese soldiers and aboriginal warriors and a brief bit of text states it took place in 1907. It would have been one fight of many because after Japan colonised Taiwan in 1895, it took them many years to gain control over the eastern half of the island, with many tribes offering fierce resistance in the rugged mountains. The last major fight was in 1930.

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Maybe it was the burger for breakfast - it's hard to say - but my stomach is telling me something and it's a case of having to find a secluded spot and an abandoned house set back off the road seems OK and that's where I go to relieve the growing discomfort. Normally equilibrium is restored soon after such an event, but in this case my energy plummets and even the gentle slopes have me struggling and for an hour I often get off and walk when the route kicks up.

At one such point I sit on the side of the road and dig out one of the small oranges the guy in Baling gave me. It's really hard to peel and I end up using my teeth and after all that messing about the thing tastes bland and I toss it over the barrier and into the bushes below for insects to consume.  

There was a sign at the very start of the 118 saying it was 21 km to Guanxi and the markers have been counting down ever since. When a sign heralds this is Guanxi Township after cycling those 21 km, there's also one telling me it's now another 14 km to actual Guanxi. Jeez. 

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Fortunately the 14 km are all down... unbelievable... what a relief. Maybe it's the positive psychological impact, but I definitely feel rejuvenated, or it could just be the fact that I don't have to pedal hard with it being a gentle freewheel for quite a while, cruising past orange groves and the odd farming community. 

At the foot of the drop is a junction with route 3 and there's no reason to actually head into Guanxi's centre because there's a 7-Eleven on the corner and that's where I get a bite to eat. My stomach isn't ready for anything substantial and a warm croissant is enough, which I enjoy sat at an outside table like I've done with a couple of friends on day rides in the recent past. A large carton of chocolate milk should give me a boost.

Old house on route 118
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The 7-Eleven at the junction of routes 118 and 3 close to Guanxi
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The 3 slopes up to the north and it keeps on going and going. Passing the turning for the tranquil route 28 has me pondering whether to head on a detour, but the bendy rural road climbs more and would add some extra kilometres to the ride, so it seems best to just keep on grinding along the boring albeit safe highway. It continues going up for 6 km and a digital sign outside an industrial building proclaims it's 27°C - not bad for early February.

The 3B takes me east for a while and this route is one that's etched into my day-ride itinerary and after skirting Longtan it's a case of being on autopilot. Closer to home I wonder if a farmer in a red baseball cap will be in his fields like he usually is when Debbie and I cycle past and it's nice to spot him bent over planting water tallow. It looks backbreaking work, but he must be used it by now.    

The trip was expected to take me at least four days, but it's all over in three. I'm ready to take a good rest. 

Today's ride: 85 km (53 miles)
Total: 368 km (229 miles)

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