Up to Ren'ai in the dark - Two Gs on a Taiwan Trip - CycleBlaze

October 13, 2019

Up to Ren'ai in the dark

walking up a steep track

Another early night. Another early start.

We freewheel down to the other hotel for our 'free' breakfast and see the same chirpy woman from last night and there's a small buffet being laid out. I'm not a big fan of hotel breakfasts in Taiwan and settle for some coffee and put a couple of slices of anemic bread in the toaster, while g piles up a plate with boiled cabbage.

It amazes me how crap the bread is. It's so light that it seems as though it's been created for space travel. With zero nutritional value, even with some cheap jam daubed on it, it remains tasteless and I decide to wash it down with a cup of warm soya milk. At least it was free.

Sun Moon Lake
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We ride along right beside the lake and stop when we reach the end of the street to take a snap and I set up the tripod on the wooden decking that forms a kind of plaza. Then a group of cyclists arrive, just as I'm about to press the shutter release. They walk in front of the camera and stand around, then one women props her bike on the steps near g and begins to take snaps of it. I wait patiently. A minute passes, then another. She keeps snapping away at her bike. My patience is about gone and g asks her to move away before I crack.

The bike path around the lake has been well publicized, lauded as one of the island's must-see destinations, but I think it's vastly overrated. We find it and head along its damp wooden surface, wondering just how slippery it is. My back wheel skids when I brake as the wood is mossy from the constant humidity. It'd be easy to fall off and get hurt.

We reach a point after a few minutes where the path comes to an end, so it's a case of carrying our bikes up a few steps and then, after rounding a few corners, we see the steps going on and on upwards, out of sight. This is no bicycle path and we should have just cycled on the road, which is also designated a cycle path.

It's hard work carrying the loaded bikes up all the flights and it's ridiculous how elevated the road is. This is not a great start to the day.

Route 投69 going north from the lake
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After cycling along the undulating road for a few kilometres we get to the turning leading north. It looks like a parking lot. It is a parking lot, but across it is the start of route 投69. 

Ferns cascade down each side of the route - big ones with drooping fronds. I love 'em.

We descend and pass a few cyclists pedalling up on road bikes and greet them with a nod and keep dropping. It's a narrow road like a lane and I'm so pleased to be on it, the cool air washing over us as we freewheel down.

It flattens out as as we get to route 投63, which we cross, and then make a few turns left and right as route 69 takes us roughly northeast. 

I consult screenshots loaded onto my small tablet at various junctions just to make sure we don't make a mistake and end up going the wrong way. I've done that before. It'd be easy to do it here on these rural lanes, and I don't blame g for double checking on his phone.

We cruise across a concrete bridge and veer right to keep on the 69, then not long after come to a village called Zhenbian, where I know we have to make a left at a junction. As we get there we decide it's time for break as we've ridden a dozen kilometres and it's hot. 

In a village called Zhenbian, after cycling about a dozen kilometres on the 投69
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There's an open-fronted shop with a couple of glass-fronted refrigerators and we select two different kinds of cans of Mr Brown coffee and sit at a table that the woman of 60-odd who runs the place gestures we can use.

The 投69 wiggles around and eventually takes us on to route 70 and it seems like we go down for over 5km, cruising through a small aboriginal village where we pause for a minute. 

Stone building in an aboriginal village called Guokeng
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It's been a wonderful out-of-the-way ride along a small lane just wide enough for a car, not that we've seen any for a while. I expect a climb up to a tunnel, but there isn't one and it's a relief. After that we have more descending to do. 

The road curves around the head of a broad valley and the vista is an absolute  gem, with houses dotted among the green slopes and a small village tucked down in the bottom folds of the hills, I guess near a river.

Traffic-free route 投70
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After riding for something like 25km, we reach route 71 near a sign saying its the 5km mark. The time is 12.30 and it's time for another cold drink. From here it'll be a decent climb.

A cluster of homes and a shop is called Dongpu and we park our bikes outside the shop and get cold drinks out the fridge. I sit on one of the chairs facing the road, next to a woman in her twenties who seems like she's from Indonesia and who is no doubt a foreign worker here to take care of the two elderly ladies who seem to manage the shop. These migrant women work long hours for little pay.

Ten minutes later we get back on the bikes and start the climb.

A splash of vibrancy close to where we joined route 71
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Our lowest gears soon get engaged because although the incline doesn't seem too bad to look at, it has us sweating buckets and we have to stop and rest every 10 minutes or so, standing over our bikes and wiping our faces and wondering aloud why the temperature is so high in October.

The sky is overcast yet it doesn't make much difference to the radiant heat and there's no breeze as such to offer a bit of respite.

Discarded betel nut pack
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Six kilometres of uphill doesn't sound like a hell of a lot but it really taxes us. 

The top is marked by a short tunnel and we ride through it and exit into bright sunshine and it's nice to know we have a drop from here. It's time to freewheel and the wind from our speed slightly dries out my soaking top.

Very sweaty cycling
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We briefly explore options in a small aboriginal village called Wujie that's way above the river, but don't stop until we get to an open-sided restaurant set back from the road on the other side of a bridge. 

We sit at one of the 20-odd tables in the warehouse-like place and try to order some green veg, as we've been eating mainly snacks and crap for a few days. The young guy serving us doesn't understand, so I walk into the back where the female staff are preparing food and find a pile of cabbage and ask for some. Result.

Discarded betel nut pack
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The 投83 follows the river. That's not as easy as it sounds. There are a couple of tunnels to ride through not long after we leave the pit stop as the route endeavors to find a way up the steep-sided valley.

 As we ride north, the road undulates but it's not too bad - just short bits of uphill that last a few hundred metres.

One of the two tunnels after Wujie
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At one little place we spot a bunch of road bikes leaning against the wall of a small restaurant and some seriously out-of-tune karaoke is blasting out. A couple of riders spot us as we pedal past and gesture for us to come in for a beer. I wouldn't be cycling anywhere if I stopped for a beer.

投83 - the Chinese character denotes Nantou County
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We pedal north and the 投83 delivers us to a village of a dozen or so houses and there's an open-sided, rudimentary place to eat. I think this is called Songlin. 

One of the few tables has a man and a couple of women sat at it who I'd guess are in their 40s  who greet us warmly as we park our bikes and sit down for a drink and a breather. The man is pretty drunk and slurring his words, while the women seem to have more about them and tell us he's a teacher.

After declining the offer of some beer, g and I have a cold drink made from a herb and we chat about where to go from here. There are two options.

First: route 83 will take us slightly east and up beside a reservoir to Renai, while the other option is heading across a narrow bridge that goes over the river leads to a small track that climbs steeply up and then down to Renai. The track seems more of an adventure, so we set off. As we get to the far side of the bridge, we can here the few people in the eating place shouting - no doubt telling us that we're going the wrong way for Renai.

The thing is I wanted to experience this track a few years ago when I was riding south from Renai, but I got lost on the steep hilly tracks and eventually had to double back and go direct to the town of Puli. You could says there's unfinished business.

I reckon on a climb of about 5km and know it's pretty steep and expect to walk on some sections. We're off the bikes and pushing within a few minutes.

On the steep track zigzagging north from Songlin
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The surface is concrete that was poured who knows when and there are ruts and cracks and potholes along most of it. Some parts have completely gone and it's all single track. There's zero traffic.

As we get higher we can see the small group of houses where we sat for 10 minutes getting further below us. As the crow flies, we haven't come far.

There are some sections that we can pedal up, but eventually we're walking most of the time. My computer tells us how far - or little -  we've covered. It's very slow progress.

There are quite a few patches of land that have been cultivated and one or two simple homes clinging to the slopes of the valley, but we don't see anyone.

Getting close to the top
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The sun is getting low by the time we reach the top and by then we both think it would have been a better idea to have stayed on the 83. My energy has long gone.

We ride up through Renai on route 14 and soon come to a 7-Eleven where we get microwaved meals and more drinks. Once back outside we look around for a hotel but don't have any luck, so decide it's be best to get up to the next village, close to the junction of a small road that we'll go on in the morning. I've earmarked a couple of hotels there.

It's now dark and the traffic coming down towards us is insane. It seems like everyone has been somewhere further up the 14 and is now on the way home. It's just a constant stream of blinding headlights and the uphill is steep and I'm spinning away in my lowest gear and sweating like a pig.

We have to ride about 4km to get to the hotel. It's cheap and basic, but there are two beds in the room and right now I need one of them plus a good soak in the bath, which is what I do once I've got myself together after an hour of looking up at the ceiling.

Today's ride: 66 km (41 miles)
Total: 217 km (135 miles)

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