I consult for the Taiwan Cyclist Federation on events such as the Taiwan KOM Challenge, and we had a 22km hill climb known as the Taipingshan KOM just outside of Yilan in north-east Taiwan last Saturday.
I decided to take part in the race at the last minute and at the last second or so I made a fateful decision: I would ride from Taipei and over the mountains to the event on Friday – one day before the race.
I had three options as to how to get there: on the 9 from Taipei which is ok but I’ve done it a few times and it’s generally full of petrol heads most days. The other option was up around the coast and over Jiufen, a route I wanted to check out as parts of it will feature in a cycling tour I’m holding around the Taiwan KOM in October.
But that was a big old ride, as you can see:
In the end I decided to go with a route known as the Northern Cross:
It would mean about an extra 350m of climbing but I’d done it once before and once I finished the steep descent I’d be close to my hotel. So, I loaded up the road bike with the bikepacking gear and off we set, on what was a scorching hot day, the hottest of the year by far.
Straight away I knew something was off with me. My shoulders ached, my back hurt, my neck was stiff. The first 25km on the bike path seemed to take ages and I was already parched. With about 40km gone I was near Banqiao and about 8km off the start of the climb but had to get into a 7-11 and neck a large Coke, as well as an ice lolly in the hope of cooling myself down, and stuffed a rice triangle down.
I never usually eat or drink that much junk on a ride so I was more than a little perturbed and had I not had the race the day after I think I’d have turned back. Yet on I pushed. The foothills of the climb were torturous, and I stopped two more times for more ice and some electrolyte drinks.
Finally I was beginning to feel ok and to get into a rhythm. Still though I was hotter than I usually am internally and was drinking far more than normal. But, at last the legs were back and I could get into the whole enterprise a little, and take some pics of the scenery.
This though is a 55km climb. This is the crazy things about living in Taiwan: 55km of uphill, when you live here, doesn’t seem so huge, despite the fact that it quite obviously is! The truth of this day though was that I was having one of my worst days ever on a bike. Further up I had to stop and pour water over my head, which immediately led to a chill all over my body which in another 30 seconds led me to burn up even more. This was not good. I started to wonder – no, to be convinced – that I had Covid!
Anyway, on I went, up and up, but just at the last village on the route I decided to stop for water. Good think I did. The guy in the little shop asks me:
‘Where are you going?’
‘Oh you cannot.’
Then he shows me this very image on his phone:
That was the road 7km up the hill, the steepest part of the climb. The road had collapsed the day before, unbeknownst to me. Now you could say ‘you should have checked!’ but, well I didn’t. What was more annoying was that there were ZERO signs saying anything about the road being closed on the way up.
Anyway. I asked about a bus down the hill.
‘$4000NT (roughly $130US)’.
So, I got a beer. Then a hotel. Then ate.
Then my head started to ache and I got some serious cold chills with sweats. I got into bed at 8pm and got out at 7:30am and did not sleep a single wink. I was having some proper freaky hallucinations too, my mind worrying me slightly!
But, luckily, after a very bad breakfast I rode back down the hill, took an MRT back up north then got a taxi home, 4kg lighter, $2300NT poorer, and with spank marks from that damn mudslide!
PS it wasn’t Covid, at least…