Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The G4 Challenge

I got up at 5:00 last Saturday morning in order to make it to the bike shop in Ilan by 5:45. Actually I was up at 4:30, as excited as I was. I noted the ski trip feeling I always get with early morning waking (anyone else get that?).

We got to PingLin, halfway to Taipei through the mountains, at around 7:30. We assembled our bicycles, and headed in to get registered. By the time that was all finished up with, there were 194 of us suited up in helmets, race uniforms, and whatever gear people had decided to carry (camel backs etc.) I confidently pocketed my "energy in" glucose pack that I had purchased earlier from 7-11. "Water be damned" I thought.

I was number 042. This number appeared six times on my body: on my front and back, tattooed on both arms, and on both sides of my helmet. I realized this was going to get serious.

That's when the dancing girls came out.

I had noticed three young ladies waiting in the background during the initial introductions. Given their appearance (young, beautiful, toned, and dressed in matching uniforms), I assumed they were dancing girls. Why? Because dancing girls often show up in Taiwan when you don't expect them: in glass boxes on the side of the road, at political rallies and temple dedications, in festivals and funerals, and at the Ilan Pigeon Club’s Annual Dinner. Times like that. Times like these. Seriously.

Anyway, sure enough they were dancing girls, albeit of a different breed. One of the sponsors was California Fitness, and these three were out to help us warm up. That's right. There we were, ten minutes before the race, doing aerobics to the tune of some Taiwanese happy hardcore dance music. Now I had never done aerobics before, but this time... it was too hilarious to pass up. Call it a cultural experience.

After the dancing, we headed out to line up. Our bikes awaited us, leaning on the arch that framed the start line. At least, Brett's bike and my bike were there. Something seemed awry... I noted that every other bicycle was setup under a tent across the track. Other racers also noticed this. We made a run for it, and got back to the start just in time (although I'm sure it appeared to more then a few fellow competitors that we were making a not so sneaky head start).

And then we were off around the track and onto the bikes for the first section: 13 km through the mountains. Straight up and even steeper coming down. I love bicycling. The disappointing thing was that there was no trail riding. I'm still a little bitter about that. Anyway, I was passing a lot of guys on the up hill, and only one passed me... then on the insane hairpin downhill I passed some more, and it was all over before I knew it.

Then came a 7 km run. Those of you who know me best have surely heard my polemic concerning the stupidity of running. I don't run. It hurts. It's hard on your body. It's slow. Bicycling - that's where it's at. The perfect form of exercise and transportation. Anyway, I realized that this was going to be the longest run of my life (by which I mean, the longest in distance).

So, I walked over half of it. To my advantage it was, once again, all up hill. I have climbed many many mountains (read: treeplanting). Taiwanese haven't. I have really long legs. Taiwanese don't. As a result, I calculated that I can power walk up hill at about 95% of the speed that the average Taiwanese person can jog uphill (at least of those that passed me).

Once that was finished we were given a map and compass and headed in the bush for the orienteering portion of the race. Except, it wasn't really orienteering. Call it a mix of topo map reading, guessing, and dumb luck.

Call it a Chinese reading test.

The whole map was in Chinese, including the instructions on how to get to the 6 waypoints. At this point there were three of us hapless foreigners - with varying levels of Chinese reading ability - all huddled in a small circle trying to decipher just what it was we were supposed to do. I recognized the following characters and phrases: 在古道上 (on the trail), (degrees), (and then...), 公尺 (meters), (turn), (mountain).

In the end we just followed a group of people with Chinese reading ability and got on a trail. Passing them, we soon found our selves in another pickle. Brett was about a minute ahead of me, and he had met Marc, a Canadian from our bike club, coming back up the mountain. They had missed a check point. We all gathered at an important fork in the road. We just knew it was important. After all, there was a camera man there.

We had two choices. There were ten people milling around and group think was taking over. I looked at the map. We knew it had to be close. I choose a route and took off by myself. After a couple hundred meters I stopped and listened. I heard radio chatter and made for it. They signed my map and pointed me down the mountain. Deng yi xia, I said. And then, at the top of my lungs I started yelling for the other guys. Orienteering be damned.

Turns out only Brett heeded my calls, and so we took off again, back out to the road. We returned our maps and compasses. They told us we were the thirteenth and fourteenth people out of the jungle. Sweet. This is when excitement took over. We ran the next 2 km to the river tracing portion, which we started by rappelling off a suspension bridge into a river. We headed into the narrow rocky valley of a nearby feeder stream. I bounded over rocks. I happily jumped in and out of the water. I ignored the cramping in my legs.

I came to the top of the river tracing and stood staring at the task ahead. Somehow I had ended up quite a ways ahead of the small group that had formed at the suspension bridge. I was told that I was in eighth place.

At this point I made my first error. A strategic error you could say. We had to climb an 8 meter long knotted rope that hung from the bridge above. I have quite a bit of climbing experience, and I knew this was not going to be an easy task, even if my legs weren't starting to cramp. I was told I had five minutes. Four minutes later, just getting my hand over onto the bridge deck, I noticed something. A group of guys were heading up the river bank. They apparently took one look at the rope climb, took the ten minute penalty, and left it at that. I had to make it over. I didn't.

Back down to the river bed, and then I to had to struggle up the river bank and start another 3 km run. I had really wasted my legs on my unsuccessful rope climb. The cramping was getting serious now, and I had to lay down on the road and stretch a few times over this portion of the race.

Paddling down a bigger river in hard plastic open topped kayaks was next. It was pretty fun. A little white water even, but very tame. However, I did see I guy go in right ahead of me which was funny. He looked pretty scared.

After this is was another 3 km run to the finish. My second error occurred at this point. Call this one a tactical error. I followed a couple runners ahead of me up a road marked by an arrow. For about ten minutes we ran straight up a mountain. I had a growing feeling that I had been there before. Looking back down the mountain I saw PingLin town and realized that we were running up the same road that we had earlier biked up. That cost about 15 minutes, and it was the only point during the whole race that I actually felt pissed off. But, it didn't last long.

Anyway, that was about it. I made it back into the finishing area and had to make a lap around the track in front of everyone before hitting the finish. Fortunately I found the energy to run that final lap. I was twentieth to cross the finish line. I had my picture taken, and collapsed in the comfortable grass and stretched for the next half an hour.

How sweet it was.

Ok then that's my story. Hope it wasn't too boring. I will update this posting one more time with photos when I get my hands on some.


Anonymous said...

Well done! It all sounds like an amazing experience. How many hours did this all take and how much did it hurt to walk the following day???

Michael Turton said...

Make sure there are plenty of pictures of the dancing girls! Any cross cultural experience worth having is worth documenting well.