Made in Taiwan. Cing Jing (清境農場) to Lishan (梨山) via Wuling Pass (武嶺)

11ºC inside a house, in bed and under a thick blanket, is bearable.

11ºC inside a canvas-covered steel structure is not.

It’s cold. Stepping out, it’s worse. The chill of the cold mountain wind is biting. But I have to hit the road. Destination: Lishan, or Pear Mountain. It’s a long ride up the highest motorable road in Taiwan — the Hehuanshan road, over Wuling Pass and down the other side.

There’s no sun. Only cloudy overcast skies. Breakfast is another complimentary meal  — toast and coffee, prepared by the motherly Mrs Tan. The Tans are such lovely people. Kind and unassuming. People like them really do make my day.

I make my way up the steep access road … pushing the bike up, rather. On the road, visibility is limited to less than a hundred metres. The scenery is all but enveloped by heavy mist. I’m resigned to another cold, miserable, uninspiring ride; made worse going uphill. The only thing I’m looking forward to is the crossing of Wuling Pass at 3,275m.

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A little further down the road, I make another breakfast stop — at a 7Eleven. Of the almost 5,000 stores in Taiwan, this one boasts of being the highest on the island, at just over 2,000+ metres elevation. 7Eleven’s coffee is not too bad (as far as picky coffee drinkers are concerned…that would be me, of course). But then again, food and drink always taste better when you’re riding in such weather.

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Back on the road, the slow cold climb makes … slow cold progress. The only thing that piques my interest is the sight of a lone cyclist on a mountain bike. Like me, he’s making the same slow cold progress. He’s an elderly gentleman, heading towards Wuling Pass, as most cyclists making a day-trip are. The missus is manning the sag wagon, just in case. I ride together with him for a while and soon, we come upon his #1 fan, standing next to a car parked by the side of the road.

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Soon after this, as I stop to rest, I realise with horror that I’m missing my money-pouch, usually strapped and tucked half-hidden in the back of my pants. What makes me panic eve more is the realisation that my most valuable item, my passport, is inside the pouch. As it is, I’m already 12 kms from Cing Jing and the thought of riding down, and then up again, is not a very encouraging one. But, what else can I do? I call Mrs Tan and tell her of my predicament, and can she please check out the last place I was there with my pouch, the outhouse toilet?

She calls me back a few minutes later and tells me yes, it’s still there. It’s a good thing it’s off-season and practically empty of campers otherwise….. I don’t even want to think about it.

I tell her to please keep it for me and I will ride back down to pick it up. But in typical motherly fashion, Mrs Tan says no, asks me where I am, and tells me to stay put and says “I’ll bring it to you”. An angel in disguise, Mrs Tan is. She knows how hard the ride up is. Bless her kind heart…

I find a nice wide section of a corner and I wait. It’s cold so I jump, and walk around a bit. It’s a good thing I’d bought a face-mask yesterday, in anticipation of the long run downhill in the cold. This is even better than the Buff that I normally use.

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Pretty soon, my saviour Mrs Tan arrives in a car, driven by a man who turns out to be one of the owners of the campsite. She hands me my pouch and asks me to check the contents, saying she didn’t open it to see what’s inside.

I will always remember her as the silver lining in the dreary dark clouds of Cing Jing. If any reader of this blog intends to visit Cing Jing, I cannot recommend enough the Yang Chiow Choon campsite run by the Tans. They are real gems.

Yang Chiow Choon campsite’s tel #: 049-280 1001
(They don’t speak much English but their Filipino helper does.)

Back on the road again, pedalling with a sprightlier cadence in spite of the near-zero visibility, I can tell Wuling Pass is getting nearer. But as the elevation increases, the temperature is decreasing… its colder, with a brisk wind and slight drizzle — a potent combination to dampen any spirit.

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At the mist-covered pass, there are many people milling about. Everyone is dressed to the gills — fur-lined jackets, scarfs, balaclavas, hats, gloves, even rain-coats — but most of all, everyone is wearing long pants…duh!…except me. Who in his right mind would wear shorts on a frigid day like this, riding up Wuling?

Can’t do much about the dress code now, even if it’s 5ºC. Might as well do the Wuling Pass thing like everyone else — pose for a photo at the signboard proclaiming the spot’s elevation.

A roadie who passed me earlier is here as well, warm and snug in clean clothes. He asks to take a photo with me, which is always an honour for me with cyclists I meet on the road. The unifying power of the simple bicycle…

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A respite in the weather … the mists clear a little and I can see a bit of the famed Wuling scenery. In better spirits now that I’ve conquered the highest pass in Taiwan, I get ready to roll all the way down to Lishan but, the weather gods are not done torturing me today. It starts to rain again.

I descend anyway. Hanging around at this frigid place is not an option.

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Many times I have descended in the cold, and always, it’s very demoralising. Today is no different. My fingers are numb, my knees are numb, my face is numb in spite of a mask, and I’m shivering with cold while I negotiate the switchbacks at speed. I have to be very, very careful riding these wet roads. It helps that the traffic is light.

 

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After a long descend, I come to a junction. It’s a tiny town called Dayuling. I’m already beside myself with cold, and I see a nondescript shop ahead. I head straight for it and, stepping in, I see a few men sitting around a coal brazier. Without a word, I sit next to it, immediately feeling the comforting warmth of the heat. One of the man has an incredulous look on his face, and after finding out if I had come down from Wuling, scolds me …”Are you mad, riding down the mountain in shorts?’ Well, what can I say except give him a stupid smile.

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Putting my best (cold) foot forward…

 

I ask for a bowl of noodles but they only had the instant kind, which is fine by me. The steaming hot, salty delicious noodles at that particular moment defy description. As Browning puts it, all’s well with the world… again.

After that gratifying thawing session, I make my way towards Lishan, not very far away now. The road is narrower than the one that points down from Wuling. It’s almost deserted, save for a few cars. All around, it’s lush greenery.

Camping, even if I were to find a decent spot, is the last thing on my mind. I want a hot shower and a warm bed tonight. I check into the first decent hotel I see in Lishan, a quiet town famous for pears.

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Tomorrow will be an easy ride downhill all the way to the plains, and the last bit by bus to Taipei. I’m looking forward to joining my friends from Singapore for the next segment of my tour. Unlike my usual touring style, next week’s ride has been professionally planned by ride leader Ying Chang, the born-in-Taiwan Singaporean who considers this island his cycle-touring mecca.

 

 

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Made in Taiwan. Sun Moon Lake (日月潭) to Cing Jing (清境農場)

After an unhurried breakfast and enjoying the last moments of solitary lakeside camping, I’m ready to hit the road again. I feel refreshed and rejuvenated as I ride up the steepish slope of the campsite entrance and onto the road. From the junction to Puli, it’s a sweet, long downhill ride of about 20kms.

The goal is Wuling pass but I doubt if I can reach it today; Cingjing is more like it.

Cingjing is about 40 kms from Puli, the town located at the base of Hehuanshan, and a popular launching pad for climbs up to Wuling, aka the top of Hehuanshan.

 

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Ching ming in full swing

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Puli town

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Breakfast #2 at Puli

 

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From Puli the climb is gentle, almost too easy. Actually, it’s more like easily fooled into thinking it’s an easy climb to Wuling. The pin that pricked the bubble started at the 20ish km mark uphill. To make it worse, it starts to rain; cold, morale-sapping, incessant rain that chills all my extremities.

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After a while, I concede temporary defeat and take shelter in a convenient gazebo by the roadside. A little later, I’m joined by a man on a scooter. Likely a native of the island, he flashes me a friendly betelnut-stained smile and laments the lousy weather. He works for the power company, and is on one of his rounds. He says the rain isn’t going to stop anytime soon, and I should be on my way. That really dampens the spirit. A little later, reluctantly, I get back on the road and trudged my weary way up. I’m not getting my money’s worth as far as the scenery is concerned. Cold and grumpy, I plod on, switchback after switchback.

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At one particularly steepish turn, I see a white Audi coupé parked by the side of the road. As I ride by, the front window slides down and out comes a hand … with a cup of coffee! It’s a young man. He smiles and says “For you”. My chilled fingers grab the cup automatically, and before I can say ‘thank you’, he says “Be careful, it’s hot” and drives off. I’m gobsmacked for words, stunned and, in my miserable state of mind, almost moved to tears by this little act of kindness. Mr Audi must have just bought the steaming hot cup of coffee for his slow, cold drive up to Wuling. But seeing my riding-uphill-in-the-rain countenance as he passed me earlier must have contributed greatly to his selfless act. Well, thank you Lord, yet again. 

I’m feeling fuzzy and warm again, and it’s not just from the coffee. It’s that feeling when humanity touches you in unexpected ways. No matter how many times it has happened before in my cycletouring career, it never fails to amaze me. And … little do I know that my cup of goodness has yet to be filled for the day….

The road is getting ever steeper now. Though a bit obscured by heavy mist, the mountain ranges are coming into view. It’s an impressive sight. Soon, I’m at the small town of Wushe. I see a steaming stack of dumpling steamers outside a shop and the Surly makes a beeline for it on its own accord.

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With the dumplings and pork balls digesting merrily in the stmach, I continue on towards Cingjing, my destination for the day, not that I intend to go any further than that. As I near the town, the town’s welcoming committee suddenly appear beside me — a little black mongrel. He runs alongside, and in front of me, and sometimes on the low parapet lining the road shoulder. I stop at a 7 Eleven to get some food and drink. When I come out, my canine friend is still there, waiting for me by my bike. I wonder if he’s decided to adopt me.

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With the help of a taxi driver, I’ve pinpointed the location of Yang Chiow Choon, the campsite among the many farms that this place is known for. It’s another 5kms of climbing to go. The dog has decided that it has had enough of me and turns around towards where he came from. The climbs from Wushe has been quite a workout so far, and these last few kms doesn’t seem to letting up either.

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Soon I see the signboard at for the campsite, or rather, the familiar telephone number of the campsite. It’s a small slip road that, happily, points downwards, for about 400m.

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Yang Chiow Choon is located on a slope, facing the magnificent mountain ranges spread across the horizon. As I roll in, it’s almost sundown, and I see a couple in front of what looks like the camp office. The friendly man greets me and I ask about camping for the night. To my surprise, Mr Tan, who’s the owner, tells me I can use the little bungalow on stilts instead – at the same price of a campsite.

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My little canvas covered bungalow

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Mr Tan, the friendly owner.

I am, of course, thrilled at my good fortune once again. It helps when one rides in looking bedraggled, wet, tired and hungry, which incidentally, prompted yet another act of generosity (or maybe it was pity), from Mr Tan, who in his smiling, fatherly manner, said “Come and join us for dinner. We’re just about to start”. Well, I’m not going to refuse for sure. As I go in with them, smiling with happiness, I still cannot believe I’ve been blessed with meeting with so many kind people along the way.

The home-cooked dinner is a feast by cyclo-camping standards. I enjoy every morsel of meat, vegetable and fish that accompany my 3 helpings of rice. I am rather famished, thanks to the many switchbacks that marked my ride today.

My little bungalow is a steel-framed structure covered with thick tarpaulin. Inside, a mattress covers the whole floor. The view, from the door/window is of 5-Star category. As the sun sets, so does the temperature. It promises to be a cosy night in my suite.

I’ve decided to chill here for another day and just enjoy hanging around this lovely place.

 

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