Tuesday, November 08, 2005

LiShan -> HeHuanShan -> Taroko

This past weekend I went on a solo adventure on a bicycle through the mountains and gorges of central Taiwan. I say a bicycle because my bicycle has a problem right now (the bottom bracket is done for, and has been for sometime) so, I borrowed Brett's. Thanks. Anyway, given that Ilan is essentially at sea level, and these roads are above 2 and even 3000 meters, I of course took the bus up to LiShan, which is at about 1900 meters (if you missed the logic in that reasoning, be informed that I will usually take the easiest out, if possible. Oh, I mean, I didn't have time!). I stayed the night there and got up early Sunday and began the ride up to HeHuanShan. The weather was perfect... not a cloud in the sky. This compared with the past two Novembers (count 'em) I've spent here, during which I swear it rained every day. For those cold Canadians interested, it was as hot as it looks...

After about 40 k slowly ascending through apple and pear orchards clinging the sides of the mountains, I went through the first of many long, narrow, dark tunnels and popped out at DaYuLing - basically a crossroads with a fruit market. To the left is the beginnings of the Taroko Gorge dropping away, and to the right is HeHuanShan. Up until this point the riding was easy, about 700 meter elevation over 40 k, but unfortunately the next 5 k up the mountain was another 600 meters. As I strained up the road, cars also strained, engines racing, slowly up. This gave every Taiwanese family a good five seconds to stare at me and yell jia you! at the top of their lungs (which literally means 'add gas', but is used like 'Go, Go, Go!').

The view from the top was amazing. Just seeing the mountain made me think of the Alps, although I've never been there.... Treeless, lush green vegetation, a winding road, and a bright blue sky. Stunning. That's the photo below.

I had a coffee at an old wooden lodge/hikers dorm at the top, and although it was at first a quiet and contemplative experience (largely being ignored as usual), that quickly changed when I asked a hiker where he had just come from. This led to about a half hour practice session for my Chinese, as more hikers and onlookers joined our conversation. This also led to my acquiring a helmet. A nice guy from Taipei lent it to me because, you see, I didn't have one (don't tell my Mum). I was joking about my stupidity, and he just gave me his. This may sound surprising, but if you have lived here you might not find it
so. At first I didn't want to accept it, but, I changed my mind after I considered crashing without a helmet after being insistently offered one only hours before.

So, I did a little hike to one of the summits and then, finally, got to the reason I wanted to do the whole thing in the first place. The downhill. From HeHuanShan, sitting at 3200 meters, down to TianXiang in Taroko Gorge, at about 600 meters. All that elevation lost in about 65 k. Nice. I won't say I didn't race motorcycles. The road was pretty good, although there was always a massive drop off on the right to keep an eye on. They don't call it a gorge for nothing.

Otherwise there was the tunnels. I had been warned about the tunnels, and I came well prepared with my new headlamp. These are one and a half lane wide tunnels. Long tunnels. A few of them are so long that you lose all natural light. Its frightening to be in these dark tunnels and hearing what sounds to be a 10 ton truck bearing down on you. In front? Behind? Around the next corner? But with my lamp and good reflectors, I think I was quite safe.

Got to the hostel safe, and eventually sat down and cracked the Lonely Planet South West China that a friend lent me. Future plans are being made here... About an hour into reading about visas and such in the quiet garden, I was approached by the only person I saw all evening. He was from Britain, and it turned out that he was not, as you are probably suspecting, an English teacher. He was a backpacker. He claimed to be one of only four backpackers currently in Taiwan. I think that was a British joke. He had just come from spending 2 month in South West China. Woah. If I believed in omens this would be a good candidate, but I am a man of science and so...

Anyway, it was cool to get some first hand perspective backpacking in YunNan and SiChuan and those areas. I'm excited.

The next day I did a bit of mountain biking and a hike up to LienHua Hu (Lotus Lake). It was Monday morning, and there was hardly a soul to be seen. Perfect. I rode the final, and arguably most spectacular portion of the gorge in the mid-day.
I made a 2 o'clock train to LuoDong, and I was teaching by 5!


David said...

Beautiful pictures! It looks like a fabulous ride. It will keep me dreaming about doing it myself one day.

Aaron Franz said...

Thanks David.

I like your site...

Think I will add a link.