Monday, July 14, 2008

Great Taiwan Bike Rides XI: Northen Cross Remix

Update: Here's a Google map. Also, the trail between Taipei County 113 and Taoyuan County Road 119 has been graded and covered with gravel. [2010-3-30]

The Northern Cross Highway is an excellent weekend ride for beginners. But once you've done it a few times, you may feel it is a bit too easy, or you may want to beat some of the traffic that can mar this ride especially during the summer holidays. Here's a variant on this classic ride that is more of a challenge, includes a few kilometers of manageable off road fun, and is almost completely free of any city riding except what you do to get to the MRT station.


6:00 AM. Arrive at Wanhua MRT station.
7:00 AM Yongning MRT Station.
7:15 AM After downing some 711 coffee we're off. The city riding can be even reduced further by just heading straight up Chengtian Road 承天路 behind Yongning Station (it's the one with the arrows), but we decided to have some fun exploring the roads parallel to Highway 3 (Zhongyang Rd. 中央路三段 in Tucheng) and were amply rewarded. I had just been thinking the other day about how little of the 'old' Taipei of the 1970s and 1980s is left. The back streets of Tucheng though are a decrepit but living museum of Taiwan's industrialization--and, I hasten to add, very pleasant and green on a bright summer morning.

From the side of the MRT station, we took a tiny lane (not on the map) parallel to Yong'an St. (永安街). Turn onto left on Yongping (永平) and then right about halfway past the middle school. Left back onto Zhongyang and then left onto Danuan Rd. (大暖路) at the the Foxconn corporate headquarters. If you really zoom in, you can see that it is possible to turn right under the freeway and continue on Zhongyang Rd. Section 4 Lane 67 past Dingpu (頂埔) Elementary School and back onto Zhongyang Rd. Section 4 , where you should turn left again. Stay on Zhongyang Rd. until it goes under the freeway, where you will see the entrance to Longquan Rd (龍泉路). Turn left on to Longquan. This is the end of your city riding until Luodong!

c. 7:45AM. Longquan Road. While that is the end of the city riding, it is the beginning of a good deal of climbing. Longquan Rd. joins Chengtian Rd. at the ridgeline between Tucheng and Sanxia. Longquan is a beautiful road that provides an invigorating climb up to 300 meters followed by a satisfying downhill down to Taipei County Road 110 also known as Ankeng Rd. (安坑路). Road 110 connects Xindian and Sanxia incidentally, but cannot be recommended because of heavy traffic and congestion near Xindian. We turned right on 110 and road for about 1km until we reached the junction with Zixin/Ziwei Rd. (紫微).

8:30AM Ziwei Rd. Ziwei Rd. loops behind Sanxia past the very active Baiji Temple, a regional center of faith at the end of fairly easy but unshaded climb up to 200 meters. After the temple, Ziwei Rd. morphs into Baiji Rd (白雞路) for a cruise downhill to the turn off for Jiatian Rd. 嘉添路. This is a left turn over a bridge after a few hundred meters you will run into a 711 store. Jiatian turns left again and doubles back toward the mountains down a pleasant country lane.

There are a couple of roads with bridges that look similar here, so make sure you are turning on the right road. Here is a map of the junction area. Obviously, you can turn at Minyi Elementary School as well.

9:00AM. We stop for some breakfast at the junction and then head up Jiatian Rd. toward the hamlet of Chajiao. By this time, the weekend traffic from Taoyuan County had really picked up as Taiwanese flocked to the hills to cool off in the Dabao River (大豹溪), which is probably Taipei County's most beautiful patch of undamed water--crystal clear water gleaming green in the sun framed by gorges that look like they are from a painting. While I really enjoy riding up the left side of the river on the Chajiao Access Road (插角產業道路), the steady flow of traffic behind me was, as we used to say in California, starting to harsh my buzz. Next time I will probably take the Zhulun Access Road (竹崙產業道路) to Chajiao which bypasses the traffic by climbing steeply over a 500 meter hill. The turn off to Zhulun Rd. is right by the Ziwei turn off on 110. This map shows the Chajiao area. Chajiao is where the roads intersect by the river on the right of the map.

9:30 AM Chajiao. Elevation c. 200 meters. Roll down the hill and turn to cross the bridge onto Taipei County Road 113, also known as the Dongyan Access Rd. (東眼產業道路). This is a tough climb up to 600 meters over about 7km. Taiwanese blogger Kevin has a detailed account of this road in Chinese and some pictures. The mid-morning sun was brutal, but we found a nice stream to cool off in.

As Kevin points out, you want to turn left at the junction at about the 6km mark. The right fork goes to Wuliao on 7B (7乙), which could make nice loop for a day ride. We turned left and continued to the end of Taipei County Road 113.

11:00AM The trail head. The trail connecting Taipei County 113 and Taoyuan County Road 119 (also known as the Fuxing Military Road 復興戰道) is the key to this route. The trail is about 2.5 km long and rises about 200 meters. Perhaps 40% is rideable going uphill. Real downhill riders could probably do 85% riding down. Bloggers Lao Song and Toujianiang have a full account with pictures (scroll down) in Chinese.

Even if you are not an offroad rider, this trail can still be recommended. There are only a few very short patches where you have to carry your bike--you can push you bike easily over the spots. We managed it with fully loaded bikes and my very poor choice of footwear (slippery leather sandals). I changed my tires to full on mountain bike tires (I've been riding on 1.25s for a while now) and P. was on hybrid slicks. Next time, I'll just leave my slicks on and walk the trail. As bike hikes go, this one one is a breeze. Much easier, for example, than the trail out Tonghouxi in Wulai, for example.

The trail is very clear. The only slightly confusing part is at the last big bend after a demolished shack, there appears to be another road/trail that goes off to the left. You want to go right.

12:45PM Emerge on Taoyuan County Road 119 (Also known on Google Maps as the Fuxing Military Road 復興戰道). 800 meters. Eight kilometer downhill.

1:15PM Junction with Northern Cross Highway (Highway 7). 250 meters. Lunch was river shrimp, cabbbage, salted pork, and fried noodles. NT$500.

2:30pm Northern Cross Star Coffee shop/rest stop. 400 meters. Slept on the benches in back and then chatted with the owner's son who will be studying environmental engineering at Tunghua University in the fall. Some late summer afternoon rains, which seems to be the pattern this year.

5:10PM Start riding again

6:30pm Arrive in Baling c. 500 meters. Stay at hotel next to the hot spring hotel. It is a few hundred NT cheaper than next door and has a very chatty and friendly owner. NT$1,300 for a double.


5:30 AM We are off early to enjoy the cool of the morning. 20 km of one of Taiwan's most beautiful roads. Cross a pass at about 1200 meters a few km after Siling. There is supposed to be a hot spring below Siling in the gorge but still haven't hiked down to check it out. The climb in this section is about 10km and is the hardest stretch on this road. A nice downhill before Mingchi. A buffet breakfast for NT$150 a head is served here.

7:30 AM Mingchi After Mingchi, there is climb of about 1.5 km followed by about 4.5km of fairly flat riding as you emerge above the Lanyang plain. Next is a glorious 18 km downhill from 1200 meters to 350 meters.

10:00 AM Arrive at junction of Highway 7A and Highway 7. 350 meters We double back on 7A to check out the roads on the south side of the river. It's 3 or 4 km to the junction of the road up to Taipinghan. Here is a map of the area. While it appears at the level of detail that the roads do not connect, in fact they do. You want to cross the bridge here from Highway 7A and then turn left onto the Datong Access Road (大同產業道路). There's no traffic at all on this road which winds through one of those seemingly forgotten corners of Taiwan. This was is longer and there a couple of climbs up to 400 meters or so, but this road is a much better choice than juts heading back down Highway 7 on the other side. The Datong Access Road becomes 7C ( 7丙) and soon we are riding through the flatlands of Sanxing (三星) and entering Luodong around 2:00pm. Here are directions to the train station.

I shipped by bike back to Taipei by checking it into the baggage room but P took his bike apart and took it with him on the train. Since it was the summer holidays, the train was packed and we had to stand in the space between the cars balancing P's bike and moving our luggage out of people's way. Finally by 4:30pm we were back in Taipei and rushing off to celebrate a friend's birthday.

All in all, a great new way to do a classic ride by cutting out city riding, beating traffic, and getting a tougher workout by climbing a few more hills.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Great Taiwan Bike Rides X: Wushe-Lishan-Luodong

Here are some pictures of the road from Wushe to Lishan.

Friday 6:30PM Arrive at HSR station and disassemble bikes. Here we made a logistics mistake. We bought tickets online figuring the HSR might be sold out at this popular time. Unfortunately, picking up the tickets took about 20 minutes and we missed the 7:00PM train and our planned connection to Nantou City. I'd been meaning to ride the Lixing Access Road for some time, so the planned changed accordingly.

7:06 PM High Speed Rail Taipei.

8:06 Taichung HSR Station. Catch bus downstairs to Puli.

9:30PM Puli. Stayed at a small hotel just off Zhongzheng Rd. NT$1000 for three. Rank usually stays at the funky Sun Wang Hotel nearby which is about the same price for a double. These hotels are a block or so away from the bus stop, which is critical when you are lugging bikes and panniers around.

8:00AM Saturday After a quick breakfast, we caught the bus up to Wushe (霧社). The Nantou bus station in Puli is at the corner of Zhongzheng and Donghua (東華). This is a local bus with no storage, so we just brought the bikes on board. 

9:30AM. Arrive in Wushe, a picturesque Atayal town perched at 1200 meters above a large reservoir. We saw some other cyclists along the way, but there is too much traffic on this busy two-lane road for Rank's taste. Stock up on water on Wushe.

10:00 AM. We cycle out of Wushe, turning left onto Highway 14A (14甲) at the end of town. Here is a map of the area. Climb up about 200 meters over five km. or so and turn left off of 14A onto the Lixing Access Road 力行產業道路. This is a gorgeous one lane road with no traffic that winds through the mountains. Taiwan cycling at its best. The network of roads back here looks more confusing than it really is. You want to turn right onto the Fushou Road 福壽路 and head down into Lishan 梨山. The first 20km or so stay at about 1500 meters, but there is a brutal climb up to about 2200 meters just before Lishan through some high altitude farming country. There are a couple of villages along the way, but don't expect anything more than a bowl of instant noodles.

8:00PM Arrive in Lishan (2000 meters) tired, hungry, and cold. Stayed at the cheapest of this tourist trap overpriced hotels. NT$2500 for three. We did find a ramshackle Taiwanese-style mutton hotpot (羊肉盧) at the end of town that helped kill the chill.

6:00AM Sunday We hit the road early heading down out of town on Highway 7A (7甲) toward Yilan/Luodong. It was pear season, and although expensive, the snow pears 雪梨 were some of the best I've ever had. Someone also gave us some beautiful fragrant local apples, the best I've had in Taiwan by far. Descend to about 1600 meters.

9:00AM Wuling Farm entrance 2000 meters

11:00AM Cross the pass into Yilan at 2200 meters.

12:00PM Nanshan 1200 meters. The beef noodle place on the left as you come into town is fantastic--huge bowls of hearty soup and noodles that they make themselves here.

2:00PM Junction of 7A and forestry road (map) to Taipingshan (400 meters). If you have enough time (c 2.5 hours) you can turn right, cross the bridge, and take the Datong Access Road (大同產業道路 and 7C (7丙) back to Luodong. No traffic on this route. Otherwise stay on 7A and cross at the Taiya Bridge (泰雅大橋) into Sanxing (三星) and head back to Luodong on 7C. This is the faster route and is a good 10km shorter with fewer climbs. The roads up to the Taiya Bridge on this side have too much fast traffic on weekends including plenty of trucks. It's not horrible, but nothing like the idyllic ride on the other side of the river.

5:00PM Luodong. To find the train station (map), just stay on 7C , which is the local Zhongshan Rd. (中山路), crossing Highway 9 and Zhongzheng Rd. until you hit the railway tracks. Turn left and you are at the station. The baggage room is on the right if you are facing the station.