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Dragons Tour of Taiwan 2010

posted 19 Jun 2010, 22:52 by HK Dragons Triathlon Club   [ updated 19 Jun 2010, 23:46 ]

"Epic" is the only single word we unanimously agreed upon, which came remotely close, to defining the inaugural Dragons’ Tour in Taiwan.
 
"Epic" because the 280km of terrain we crossed is what makes Taiwan about the fourth most mountainous country on the plant.
 
"Epic" because in a single two stop climb, we ascended 2,300 'Metres' (with an 8-15% increasing gradient) to reach Wuling Pass at 3,283m – the highest pass in North East Asia.
 
And "Epic" because for two days of the ride we were bombarded with prehistoric monsoon style rain, which must have achieved a new observatory rating for rainfall.
 
So, was this “Epic” rain-torn tour considered a success at the end of it all - Hell Yeah.
 
 
It all kicked off at 07:00am on Friday 11-June when we checked in at the Dragon Airlines desk, to find out that the entire group of 13 had been upgraded to Business Class – what a great way to start the tour.
 
Stage 1
Cam of “In Motion Asia” met us in Taiwan, and first order of the day was assembling the bikes so they could be loaded onto the support vans’ roof racks, before we started the two hour drive south-West to the starting point of the tour. Once there and kit donned, we mounted our steeds and headed out into the rain, for the afternoon’s 75km ride around the picturesque foothills of Sun Moon lake, before starting our more strenuous climb of 750metres to our Hotel in the mountain village of Lushan.


A slightly late start and the pouring rain meant that the last hour of our ride was in pitch black, unlit mountain roads before our hotel lights emerged like the lonely inn at the end of the climb.


After a 20min soak in the outdoor hot spring, the 35km climb in dark and rain didn’t seem so bad, as we cheerfully strolled from the hotel, across a rope footbridge to a terrific little restaurant on the far side of the ravine. A couple of hours later and after several beers – we all slept like babies.

Stage 2
The alarm went off at 05:45am. We’d opted for an earlier start, as the previous evening we had confidently told a dubious Cam that we could easily cycle up the entire 2,700metres to Wuling Pass.


Mist and heavy rain greeted us again, as we saddled up for the steep and relentless 32km climb to Wuling Pass – but our ignorance of what was to come, saw us starting with great optimism despite the worsening conditions. Our first stop was at 8km, for a Latte and cinnamon donut in StarBucks.

 

That 8km had taken its toll, and we were now slightly more sombre about the remaining 24km climb ahead of us. But with grim defiance we started again, as each individually bore the pain of the climb and rain, as we toiled on against a constant river of brown water streaming down the mountain roads and forming mini lakes on each bend. Mist rolled in and enclosed each of us in our own surreal world, leaving us staring at the 12 feet of tarmac in front of us with no sight of the end in front.

 

After another numbing 10km the black shadow of the support van appear in front of us. The break was more than welcome as we rested the steeds and took on fruit bars and fluid at the table laid out for us. Slowly more shapes appeared from the mist and we were all huddled around the table, lost in our own thoughts. But the reprieve was short. We couldn’t afford to let our muscles chill in the mountain rain, or let our resolve to continue fail us.

 

So off we set again.

 

The climb continued, steeper this time. The rain came down harder, and as we climbed higher and higher, the wind picked up and the air temperature dropped, as did our speed. It was a slow (6kph), wet, cold and precarious grind heading up the last 14km to Wuling Pass. The torrent of water grew stronger and muddier as we passed great landslides, and areas of the road which had dissolved over the edge of sheer drops, with nothing but a few lame cones to warn you that the edge of the road was missing for the next few hundred metres.


Finally, when mental will was about to give way, and the body’s auto-pilot was about to flip the ‘shut-down’ switch, we rounded a final bend, the road suddenly flattened and there was the van, on the crest of the pass. “Relief” has new meaning. The bike was passed to waiting hands, as we clambered into the back of the van and huddled together shivering uncontrollably, with random yelps of pain as quads and hamstrings started to spasm and cramp.


It was a wise decision of Cam’s to ride in the vans for the short, steep downhill section to the designated lunch spot. John Wayne (the Taiwanese guy whose name sounded like John Wayne) appeared on the road waving us into the Information Centre just over the top of Wuling Pass. We changed into dry clothing and started shovelling food down our necks which Cam had laid out, and slowly, the feeling of life started returning to us.


With the conditions as they were, and having conquered the highest pass in NE Asia, we heeded Cam’s advice of ‘Safety prevails all’ and took the two vans down the next 30km of steep mountain roads. When the van stopped, it was still raining hard, and we were still shrouded in mountain mist at an elevation of 2,000m - and we still had 90km left to ride.


There was just one final climb of 450m ahead of us, before our long decent to 400m and the village of Cilan.


And that decent, was an adrenaline fuelled, bordering suicidal, flight through rain and thick mist around twisting and turning mountain roads, through forest and tunnels, across open plains, some of us hitting speeds of an incredible 63kph, with numb hands clasping at worn brake pads, barely holding our bikes underneath us, until at last, the mist cleared, and we found ourselves in a huge, long glacial gorge, that look so primal you half expected to see a few dinosaurs strolling across the plains.

It was a relief to be on flat roads at last, with the mist and rain left behind – as we cruised the last 20km before seeing Cam waving us up the last 200m ascent of the day to our resting place for the night.


Hot outdoor springs greeted us again, as we lounged in the sulphur pools and let the extreme heat sooth our aching muscles. Dinner at the hotel was awesome, and was consumed with many beers and talk of the days “Epic” ride up and down Wuling Pass.

Stage 3
The final day!

 

After a hearty breakfast, again laid on by Cam, we coerced our aching bodies back onto our bikes and trundled off on a relatively dry morning, for the last 75km of the ride, North East, back toward Taipei.

 

It was all cruising from here on. Even the sunshine made its debut, as the peloton stayed together for this last stage of the tour. The roads were pleasant, we could see the views, and we drank it all in, as we sped along in formation enjoying the ride and banter as we went. A quick stop for a snackette and few photos and then onwards to Taiwan’s top hotel for lunch.

 

The hotel was indeed grand, with beautiful gardens for their hot outdoor springs. There was even a ‘Fish Spa’ where hundreds of small goldfish came and ate away the dirt and dead skin around your toes – suffice to say after three days in cycle shoes in those conditions, the fish didn’t need to eat for another week!


Buffet lunch was amazing, and with a couple of bottles of Laurent Perrier Rose and toasts to Cam for organizing and to ourselves for our own heroism, it was the most fitting end to our Epic, inaugural tour of Taiwan. And it was further complemented still, when we checked in for the return flight, to again, all be upgraded to Business class for the return trip home.


We felt like champions. And we deserved all of it.


The only thing to add is…..When’s the next tour?

Cheers one and all.
 
Richard
Dragons Triathlon Club.
“That’s how we roll”.
 

Dragons Taiwan Tour 2010

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