Saturday, 5 May 2018

LTF Spring Ride (14-26 April 2018), Day 6 : Cingjing to Wuling

Hoping to fly on the magic broom to Wuling!
Sunset Trail
The Roadies and The Tourers
Time check, 3.08 pm
Time check, 3.37pm. George waiting for a lift
Time check, 3.39-3.41. Words of encouragement poured in from Alvin and Ying Chang
Time check, 4.07 pm. George's truck broke down before 24km mark! He's been on foot ever since!!!
Time check, 4.14pm.
Time check, 4.17pm. VT is bent but not beaten, arriving at Kunyang!
Time check, 4.32pm. Less than 5km to peak, but everyone is worried for George!
Time check, 5.20pm. By God's grace, George was offered a lift to the peak!
Mission accomplished!!!

Waking up in the mountains is not easy! The room is frigid cold, the tiled floor sends shock waves to the brain and while the hot water takes 10 minutes to come, the bidet solely shoots out chilling cold water!

By dawn, the portable dehumidifier (HVAC) had auto-stopped for the second time as the tank quickly maxes out. You’ll never realize you are a walking bag of water till you have to drain out the tank!

Despite the cold and the damp, the slivers of sunshine that peeped through the door gaps, gave warmth to our hearts. Transcending further was a quintessential day of bright sunshine and clear blue skies!

Even the breakfast spread of roast chicken in Cajun seasoning, baguette with German butter plus a fruit platter of watermelon and star fruit was a pleasant treat from the usual rice congee. The Taiwanese staple, still served, was a welcomed twist when cooked with sweet potatoes.

Riding out ..... was almost impossible! A steep slope greeted us right outside our hotel. Other than George, the rest of us duly pushed our bikes up to decent ground, not wanting to stress any muscles.

Yesterday’s arrival was a different ball game. Advised by the hotel staff not to roll down due to the overly steep gradient, we had pushed our bikes down with both hands gripping the brakes. “Possessed”, our bikes were rolling down faster than we could walk!

Once on decent riding ground, we took the trail route that runs past farms and resorts. Joining Sunset Trail, we found ourselves bobbing up and down a gravel path while having to maneuver our way through some water logged pot holes. Before long we were traversing through a forested, dirt road which ran alongside a wooden boardwalk.

Emerging from the tree covered canopies sometime later, we found ourselves back on Route 14a, totally bypassing yesterday’s 7 Eleven! Continuing our climb on proper tarmac, we soon past Cingjing Skywalk.

At this juncture, a few svelte ladies on roadies began to overtake us. Totally unthreatened by their presence, we cheered them on.

After all, we were no challenge to them. A bit nomadic with total loads ranging between 20 kg to 25 kg, there was no way we could keep up with them.

Sheep by the hillside
Little Bo Peep arriving to herd the sheep
 At the 10 km marker, the fluffy white sheeps grazing on the hillside was a good photo-stop. Reared as mascots for Cingjing Sheep Village Country Home Stay, they were brushed clean, unlike the usual livestock on farms.

One click from the woolies later, we made a regrouping stop at a 7 Eleven. Located at 2050 m above sea level, it is often quipped as the highest 7 Eleven in Taiwan.

As Christoph was first to arrive at the store, he busied himself with the ladies group that had made the same stop. All expats from Taipei, they had started from Puli this morning with some husbands driving the support vehicle.

Meanwhile, George was getting VT rather worried. He went missing for a good 30 minutes right after the “sheep hotel”. Back tracking 500 m down the switchbacks, VT found him making his way up. He had taken a long break posting on FB, his latest conquests with the fluffy animals!!!

Back at 7 Eleven, Claudine had finished her store bought banana and second box of soy milk, lugged along from the hotel. 40 minutes had passed and with no sign of the 2 men, she decided to roll out without them.

It was already 10.30 am and with another 20 km more to the peak, it was a make or break challenge. Harrowing stories have been told on how quickly the weather changes in the mountains and how the fog starts to blow in past 1 pm!

With only 7 km up her sleeve, she set out alone. Surprisingly, the few kilometers after 7 Eleven was one of pleasant rolling hills. Her speed was going above 40 kph at some points.

While her speed dial picked up, the ladies group flew past her, cheering her on as they overtook her. Of course, she had to eat the humble pie for there is no way a Land Rover could compete with a Ferrari!

Chui Feng checkpost
11.05 am, Chui Feng

Right after the Chui Feng checkpost, the road narrowed to a single lane passage. Vehicles circumventing the following switchbacks have to veer to the side to allow passage to oncoming traffic.

Riding along this stretch, Claudine had to make a tough decision between taking on a speeding bus head on or diving into the drain. She staggered to the right, then left while screaming panic in her head! With less than one meter space to trod on, she was really lucky she got out of the tree silhouetted road, totally unscathed!

12.16 pm
12.17 pm, above the clouds!

A slight gnawing hunger began to creep in by half past noon. Realizing that she only had one muesli bar to tide her to the peak, she had to choose between riding ahead and waiting for VT who was carrying all the goodies. However, without a Taiwanese simcard, she had no knowledge how far back he was. 

Deciding on the former, she knew she had to ration her ONE and ONLY muesli bar. Taking her first small bite, the sugar rush catapulted her salivary glands. Within seconds, she was on to her second and third bite!!!

She watched with horror as her energy bar dwindled to a small clump. Reluctantly, she stuffed the remaining morsel back into her back pocket only to be saved by Christoph!

“Now, that’s a familiar face!” he shouted as he approached. Happily sharing his energy cubes which tasted somewhat like gummy bears, he recounted riding out a few minutes after VT and George arrive at the earlier 7 Eleven. By then, KC and Sue had left on their own.

Meanwhile, back at the campsite, located 6 km from the 7 Eleven, George and VT had bumped into KC and Sue. They found them having a simple lunch of herbal eggs and pau by the makeshift stalls operating from the wide carpark.

This marks the last meeting point as we were separated further and further apart NOT because of different climbing abilities but because of different susceptibility to altitude sickness. While KC and Sue were plagued by compounding headaches, Claudine and George were blowing their nose all the time.

A buddy system of sorts, Christoph was always waiting for Claudine while KC and Sue were mostly together till the finish line. As for VT, who had waited for George at every corner before riding on; he soon found himself all alone! George had backtracked 2 km downhill to find his lost handphone!

Although Lady Luck rewarded him with the find, it was already too late to finish his quest to the peak. He called it quits at Yuan Feng, opting to hitch a ride than risk another concussion. After all, he had recently recovered from a brain injury resulting from a bad fall.

Everyone made a stop at Yuan Feng but all punched in at different times. Even though Christoph was first to arrive, he waited for Claudine before pushing off. Together they had a banana each, purchased from one of the vegetable stalls.

A young roadie who dropped by gave an update on the rest behind. He recounted some being 30 minutes behind while others were even further away! He also gave an insight on the roads ahead...gradual climbs of 7 km to the peak with a short nasty switchback! This is his common playground and having set out from Changhua, he will be clocking a whopping distance of 215 km today!

Leaving Yuan Feng, Christoph and Claudine left their unfinished 1.5 liter water with the stall owner. Purchased from the stall earlier, they gave clear instructions for them to pass it to other cyclists with panniers. This informal "POP station" worked wonderfully as the water was soon picked up by Sue and KC. 

In the meantime, VT who dropped in later, had refilled his bottle for free from the water cooler by the toilets. As for George, he had just waited by the entrance of the carpark with hopes of hitching a ride.

After Yuan Feng, the ride became a challenge for Claudine. She made 5 major stops and another 5-6 brief breaks. Without realizing, she was beginning to get affected by the thin air. She was breathing laboriously.

Arriving at the switchbacks, she watched how a car overtook her, disappeared at the end of the road before taking forever to climb up the slope. Thinking that was the end, she soon hear the engine rumbling up another incline!

Her mental preparation took forever! She recalled looking up and thinking how she will manage the 15% grade hill with low levels of oxygen. Drivers that passed her called out “Chiayou!” Some wind down the windows to give their thumbs up. One even took a photo of her!

After the switchbacks, the feeling of ecstasy flooded in. Armed with the knowledge, passed on by the young roadie at Yuan Feng, she knew she only had 2 km more to go.

3070m above sea level, 2.05 pm
"Begged" for food at this car park!
At Kunyang, the young men who had taken her photo from their electric blue car while cheering her on had disembarked with one bike. Only one of them will be attempting the final 2 km while his friend drives to the peak in support. They gave her a banana when she claimed she had not had lunch and pointed out to her the red roofed landmark as the final checkpoint.

Weather keeps changing at the mountains, 2.47 pm
Spot the little red roof, 2.47 pm
The last 2 km, at more than 3000 m above sea level was the toughest she had ever attempted. Rolling out, she had to stop every 50 m to catch her breath. Back in her homeland, this kind of gradual slope would have been a breeze.

High in the mountains though, she felt like an old woman who had been smoking 50 ciggies a day since turning 13! Her lungs were screaming! She was panting hard!!!

Arriving at the peak at 3 pm, Christoph had just said goodbye to his svelte ladies group. Together, they had celebrated their victory with champagne and even left him some water and pocari.

Within minutes after arriving at the peak, the wind started to blow hard and the road was covered with dark clouds. Thinking there was a 7 Eleven or some cafes at the peak, it was disappointingly barren.

While Christoph was tasked to search for food on google maps, Claudine went over to the car park to use her charm on a bus driver. He gallantly flicked his phone out to inform the nearest 7 Eleven is 20 km downhill in the direction where she had just came from and NO, there are no cafes nearby! Taking pity on her, he brought out 4 packets of biscuits for her.

Water, Pocari and biscuits were hidden behind this booth

Thankfully, Soon Syue Lodge is just 1.6 km downhill. Stashing away the unfinished food for the others behind, they left for the hotel.

3158 Cafe is located across the road from this yellow structure, an observatory above the public toilet
Soon Syue Lodge
Checking in was a breeze. Hoping for some food, the hotel’s restaurant only serves breakfast and dinner. Instead lunch came in the form of dumplings and pau, the only food served at 3158 Cafe. Located 200m away, it was more a souvenier store than cafe!

Returning to the lodge, bath towels had to be purchased at 200 NT! Run by the National Park, this entity encourages its guests to bring their own towels to reduce damage to the environment.

News began to stream in on everyone’s location. George though got everyone worried as his first hitched ride broke down a short distance after picking him up. He had to continue on foot before another truck offered him a lift.

Arriving at the peak at 5.20 pm, George waited for VT, Sue and KC. The trio took more than an hour to finish the last 2 km to the peak. Even on foot, they had to stop many times to catch their breaths.

Totally unaffected by AMS, Christoph took 25 minutes on this stretch. As for Claudine, she spent 44 minutes, taking stops every 50 m to fill her lungs with oxygen!

While Christoph and Sue were chatty during dinner time, it was clear that none of us were feeling at the top of the world! No doubt we were thrilled with our conquest and neither were we plagued with muscle aches but somehow we were not in tip top conditions. Retiring into our rooms, Claudine could feel her heart palpitating rapidly while her breathing is short, even at resting conditions!

Photo Credits :
1. KC
2. Sue 


Soon Syue Lodge

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