Sun Moon Lake - Two Gs on a Taiwan Trip - CycleBlaze

October 12, 2019

Sun Moon Lake

quiet route 63

The sun is up and making the hotel curtains glow and we're packed in no time and on the bikes before 7am. 

We ride about 200 metres.

The old train station in Jiji
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The 85°C coffee shop isn't quite open yet so I decide to take a look across the road at Jiji's wooden, Japanese-era train station that got destroyed in an earthquake back in 1999. It was carefully rebuilt and is something of a tourist attraction, but being early there's no one else around and after taking a snap I pop over to 24-hour FamilyMart convenience store and get a microwaved croissant then sit with g at a table outside 85 and sip away at a large cappuccino. 

It might be early, but already the temperature is rising. It's going to be a scorcher. We can just tell.

Breakfast coffees and croissants outside Jiji's 85°C cafe at 7:00 AM
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We're looking for adventure. The wide 16 is short on that front.

A long bridge takes us across an expanse of gravel that's peppered with rocks which forms the river bed below and we then look for a cycle path running along the high flood barrier that I'd spotted on StreetView, but it's not there. Now there are just weeds, so we ride 100m further then make a left onto a small road that runs between farms growing rice that's a couple of feet tall and bright green. Everything is quiet except for the odd manic guard dog that becomes aware of us pedaling along.

We're heading in the right direction, but the road eventually comes to a stream and we have to do something of a U-turn to get on the wider road -- the 100 -- that takes us further east. We follow it for a few kilometres then opt to switch to an adjacent road - the 58 - as I reckon it'll take us back across the river to the town of Suili. It sure does and as we ride onto the end of the bridge the 100 route below us looks marooned as it heads east.

We follow the valley east and end up on route 100 for a while
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The bridge brings us into Shuili and there's a 7-Eleven across the road and that's where we go as it's hot and we need a drink and a rest and a dose of AC.

A couple of Lycra-clad cyclists are inside and their road bikes are leaning against the window. One is a Pinerello Dogma. I wonder how much it cost.

From gawping at Google images, I know there's a path on this north side of the river that runs along the top of the flood wall. We have to climb some concrete steps to get to it and it seems like it was designed for walkers as there's no barrier to stop a rider from plunging down either of the sloping sides if there was a slight mishap.

On a bicycle path
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We see no one else as we pedal east.

In front are mountains that are silhouetted against the bright sky and they are slightly grey-mauve in colour.

We ride for two or three kilometres on the top of the wall. Then it ends near a bridge. The Google image showed a rough gravel path used by trucks that fetch the aggregate from the bed of the river, but it's not visible, so leaving g with the bikes, I clamber down the bank and make my way to the flat part to find the track looking disused. 

Nevertheless, I follow it east, under the high bridge, to see where it goes. Instead of it continuing, there's a deep section of river curving across what was once the route and it's flowing fast. Things have radically changed since Mr Google guy came this way.

Heading east
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After getting back up the river bank, I tell g that we have to go back and ride along the 16. We've wasted a bit of time, but it's no big deal: just a few kilometres of riding. 

The worst thing is the 16 is pretty busy and it climbs for a while, with the temperature seeming to increase with the exhaust fumes from all the passing cars and trucks.

We get to the junction with the 21 that's signposted Sun Moon Lake and most of the cars make a left. Not us. We start dropping and our speed increases and about a kilometre after the junction a sign at a small turning on the other side of the road catches my eye, but I'm preoccupied with the river bed, looking for what's left of the gravel path. It seems a long way down from here.

Unfortunately the chance of reading the sign has gone and the road continues to drop. This doesn't seem right. 

Eventually I brake to a halt and ask g if we're still on the 16, or the 21, and he says the 16, so we descend a bit further, but then a signs says this is the 21. 

I have my doubts.

We stop and a screenshot of the route on my 7" tablet tells me that we should have taken that small turnoff.

A u-turn and a climb of about a kilometre takes us back to the turning to rejoin the 16, which is elevated quite high above the grey river and is narrow in places.

Following the river east on route 16
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There's a bit of wonderful descending before the 16 settles down and heads gently and calmly further eastwards. It's hot here now with no shade and little to no breeze wafting over us.

It's about 11:00 and a metal shed at the front of a warehouse has cold drinks for sale so we stop and take a seat in the cool shade, plonking ourselves down on a study wooden bench-type sofa. It's all a bit ramshackle.

After finishing off my first can, I grab another while g slowly sips from a can of Heineken. The lady of the place soon brings us a bunch of six bananas and gestures for us to help ourselves. Nice. They're a very welcome bit of energy.

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The route continues to be flat and after pedalling further east we see the 16 curves and there a side roads that drops down. This small road is the 63 and it heads north to Sun Moon Lake. It doesn't look steep, but our lowest gears are needed as we ride up what is going to be a long, sweaty, tiring climb.

It's only a few minutes in, but we opt to pause in the shade of a tree and have more drinks and snack on nuts and energy bars and some sugary things called Squirms.

No one else is on the 63, except a motorist every few minutes or so. They all drive on the 21.

Upwards we pedal. It's just a case of spinning away. The gradient doesn't alter very much. Sweat drips off my head and my shorts are sticking to my thighs.

Low-hanging fruit
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When some shade presents itself, we stop under overhanging trees - probably less than every kilometre.

There are few signs of habitation. Simple homes are dotted here and there. They'll be aboriginal settlements.

When we eventually get to a village, we rest the bikes on the 63 and walk about 20 metres down a steep lane then go inside a simple shop and help ourselves to cold drinks from a tall fridge once a young boy has turned on its light so that we can see what there is on offer.

The shopkeeper is an aboriginal woman around 40 and she doesn't move from her seat behind a desk that acts as the shop counter and g and I take turns sitting on a plastic stool and he answers in simple sentences her questions about where we are from etc.

More cold drinks in a shop in an aboriginal village beside the 63
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About 10 minutes' cycling later we get to a bigger village that straddles the road and we stop yet again and sit on a wall in some shade. There's a police station opposite and a school and a few young boys walk back and forth for 5 minutes and pretend we're unimportant. Then they ask the usual questions. I feel exhausted; too tired to participate.

We ride uphill some more. The total climb on the 63 is less than 10 kilometres, but it seems more. I'm just glad we came from Jiji today, because riding any further would have made it seriously hard work getting up to the top. 

g, feeling the heat
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Maybe it's the heat. I didn't expect October to be this hot.

There's a carved stone rock marking the pass with characters painted red. I set up the tripod and take a self-timed snap of us two before we freewheel down for a few kilometres to reach a road jammed with cars. We're in a resort called Riyuecun, our goal.

The top of the climb - just a few kilometres down to Sun Moon Lake
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This is a tourist mecca and we feel a bit alien.

I've earmarked some places to stay and we ride to check them out. They're within a few blocks of each other. The first one is full. We make our way down a crowded lane to the lake and I get a shock when one hotel quotes  almost NY$7,200 for a room - roughly US$220. 

In a hotel a block away the women receptionist comes out with g and says she'll show us their alternative accommodation and gets on a cheap mountain bike and leaves us standing, deftly weaving through the crowds of tourists for a few blocks.

We reach a place on a corner that looks a bit abandoned, one that I'd spotted early and dismissed. It's right opposite the 63 junction.

The reception area is massive and everything is marble - walls, table, counter and floor. The first room we inspect is nice, but a bit pricey. We agree on the second one she shows us at NT$3,000, with NT$500 off for not having breakfast. 

What forking out NT$3,000 (US$100) gets you in Sun Moon Lake's resort village of Riyuecun
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It's a huge, swanky room with a balcony and a hot tub. Later, when we go back down to sign in, she says her boss will let us have breakfast anyway.

A place called Smoky Joe's dominates the waterfront and we head there for dinner. It's not as big as it seems and turns out to be expensive and disappointing and we skip having a pricey beer. It's a tourist trap.

We venture in search of a decent bar and opt for one on a corner near our hotel and sit near an open window and soon after it starts to pour down with rain, the drops bouncing off the road outside at headlights from passing cars illuminate the street. 

The humidity will just be even higher in the morning.

Today's ride: 41 km (25 miles)
Total: 151 km (94 miles)

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