This was the ride I meant to do when I went on my ride to nowhere. I didn't quite do the planned route, but I still did what I set out to achieve, four big climbs in and around the mountains of Pingling (坪林). The last climb nearly destroyed me and I had to walk the final 2 km up the mountain, but it was still a great day out on the bike riding through the mountains, hills and tea fields of Pingling (坪林). I call it the Pingling Lasso because of the shape of the route as reflected in the map below. The scenery up there is stunning and I was so happy to be out there, in the sun, breathing the fresh air, sweating and working hard. It was a great ride. If you like cycling mountains, this is certainly a ride you should consider. You won't regret it! You can modify the ride to your liking, but certainly the ride to Pingling (坪林) through the tea fields is well worth the effort (even if a little tough).
The first part of the ride to Pingxi (平溪) is a repeat of the first part of my ride to nowhere. Once in Pingxi (平溪) I turned left on Road 106 and followed it to the North 43 (北43) road, which I followed until some how I landed up on the North 42 (北42) Road, which took me to Pingling (坪林). Once I got to Pingling (坪林) I got onto Road 9 that goes into Xindian (新店).I followed Road 9 to the top. When I arrived at North 47 (北47) Road I freewheeled all the way to Shiding (石碇) and onto Road 106-1 (106之) and straight onto Road 106. I followed Road 106 until I reached the North 33 (北33) Road. I turned left onto the North 33 (北33) Road and followed it all the way up the mountain. When I got to the end I turned left and headed down the mountain until I got into Nangang. I then headed for home. The map is shown below (Strava Map). All in all it was about 109 km and 1,750 m of climbing. A brilliant, but tough ride.
The Ride to Pingxi (平溪)
The first part of the trip, riding to to Pingxi (平溪) was uneventful. This part of the trip I mostly covered in my earlier post on my ride to nowhere. After leaving home I quickly charged through the early morning rush hour traffic to get to North 31 (北31). It took about an hour to get there, but once there I was soon climbing up the mountain. I took a break near the bottom of the mountain thinking, after a short rest, I would be able to get all the way up the mountain without taking any further breaks. That was a false hope! I guess I just forgot how steep the climb up the North 31 (北31). Additionally, today was much hotter compared to my previous ride up the mountain and the heat definitely had an energy sapping effect. Rest periods are not all that bad, they allow you to stop, breathe and enjoy your beautiful surroundings!
It was good to finally ride on a "good weather" day, i.e. no rain, and I thought I would be able to get some great pictures of the great views in the valley from the top of the mountain. Unfortunately there was simply too much haze and the pictures that I took of the vistas this early in the morning didn't come out. Still, it was great to be riding on almost deserted roads, in among the trees, immersed in the sound of the cicada choir and listening to the eerie echoing creek of some of the birds at higher altitudes. It was a beautiful day to ride and the views on offer and the beautiful vegetation along the side of the road never disappoint.
Although I was going slower than I initially thought I would, I soon arrived at the 11 km marker which indicates the top of the mountain and the start of the descent into Pingxi (平溪). Since it was a sunny day, there were no clouds on the mountain so the scenes on the top were slightly less dramatic than the last time I was up there. I only stopped once to take a picture of the switchbacks (see below). I had taken this picture before but just couldn't resist taking it again. The road down into Pingxi (平溪) is definitely very technical and, although it wasn't a wet road this time, I still took a lot of caution on my way down the road.
After riding for 2.5 hours I finally made it down into Pingxi (平溪). At this stage I was hungry and thirsty so I stopped and had a quick bite to eat and some soy bean milk. I then spoke with the restaurant proprietor about how to get to Pingling (坪林). She was very helpful. She took out a map and clearly explained the route I should take. I was surprised that her directions were spot on and, mostly thanks to her, I never got lost the whole way to Pingling (坪林).
The Ride to Pingling (坪林)
I love Pingling (坪林). It is one of the beautiful towns in the North of Taiwan. It is nestled in a valley between mountains with a beautiful river running through the town. A short trip outside of Pingling (坪林) takes you to the Jingualiao River (金瓜寮溪) where people can swim and enjoy a walk in the forest. I used to ride to Pingling (坪林) every few weeks but this is the first time I have ridden there since I injured my knee. It has been a while and I was looking forward to riding back into this beautiful town. This time, however, I would be riding along the North 43 (北43) and then get onto the North 42 (北42) and follow this road into Pingling (坪林).
At the intersection of Road 106 and the North 43 (北43), there is a beautiful sign that indicates no buses are allowed on this road. BRILLIANT! One of my arch enemies on the road was forbidden from this trail and I was so happy about that. To my surprise, there was actually very little traffic along this road and I seldom met with any cars or vehicles until I got close to Pingling (坪林).
The beginning of the North 43 (北43) is an easy, undulating road, with some nice flats and gentle uphills. You are soon riding next to, and over some streams and you are soon passing the low lying tea fields at the bottom of the mountain. The road feels more isolated than Road 106, and that is a good thing. The road itself is in pretty good condition (as all roads I ride on seem to be). Almost as soon as I got onto the road, I crossed this old, moss covered bridge and a gentle stream flowing through the valley.
Once on the North 43 (北43) you quickly start to pass the beautiful low lying tea plantations, and this was the real motivation for me to ride this road. Taiwan Tea is famous all over the world. Tea experts will tell you that some of the tea grown here is world class. I have to believe them as I am no expert, but these are some of the plantations the tea comes from, and they create pleasant and beautiful views.
After riding on the North 43 (北43) road for about 3 km, I came upon this traditional pavilion on the side of the road. I decided to stop there and have a drink of water. The Pavilion was already occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Huang who had come there all the way from Panchiao. They were having a picnic and enjoying the cool mountain air. They told me they had gone to South Africa (my home country) twice and were quite eager to chat. Mr. Huang also poured me a few cups of traditional tea. I was about to decline the offer but then thought I am in tea country so why not? It was good to sit there and chat with these two super friendly elderly Taiwanese people. They were very generous and even offered me water and snacks for the journey up the mountain. They also warned me that the mountain just went higher and higher and that Pingling (坪林) was still 20 km away.
After tea I took my leave from Mr. and Mrs. Huang and set off again on the North 43 (北43) and immediately started to pass some more low level tea plantations. Sadly, a little further down the road I came across a dead snake in the road. I always get sad when I see these beautiful reptiles as roadkill. They are such beautiful creatures and play an important part in our ecosystem. I didn't bother to identify this one but, if you are interested, you can check on the Snakes of Taiwan website.
I carried on riding up the road and the road became even more isolated. I passed by a small stream and then the climbing really began.
Up until this point the road had been a few gentle undulations, but then the gradient of the inclines started to increase and the pain in the legs started to increase. Still, in the beginning, the road wasn't that bad and I was able to maintain a decent pace up the hills. Of course the views of the mountains above continued to be impressive and I really started to feel like I was the only one on the planet. Here the cicada choir never ceased to remind me where I was and the eerie echo of one of the indigenous birds could be heard again.
As I passed the first of many switchbacks I came into a part of the road that was partially covered by trees. Considering it was a super hot day with the sun out burning every part bit of exposed skin, this short interlude along this shady part of the road was welcome relief.
As I continued my slow pedal up the road, the gradient of the road and the switchbacks increased dramatically. At this point my legs really started to burn and I started to feel cramps in both legs. Considering I had not even made it to Pingling (坪林) yet I thought this would be a bad sign. I carried on riding through the cramps, but at the top of a particularly steep climb, I decided to take a break in the shade of a tree next to one of the more awesome bends in the road. It was a good break. I managed to rest, stretch out the cramps and enjoy the view. I was loving it up there.
After a 10 minute rest I got back on the bike and continued to pound the pedals. I was starting to get the energy back in the legs and I was happy to be moving up the mountain. Little did I realize that the worst of it was nearly over and that I was nearly at the top. But at this point I had found a second breath of air and was enjoying the climb up. Of course, all the while I was riding up the mountain I was riding next to some tea plantations and had tremendous views of the valley below.
I arrived at a contour which my altimeter told me was 645 meters above sea level. Happily, at this point, the road flattened out and followed the contour around the mountain, through the saddle of the mountain and back down the other side. The worst part of this climb was over and I was happily cruising on a level road enjoying the views and the cool breeze at the top of the mountain. When I looked back down into the valley, I could see part of the road that I had just come up, and let me assure you, I was mortified! I think if you had shown me that picture before the climb I might have backed out of going up. When I saw the road, the inclines and the switchbacks, I was happy that I had already arrived at the top.
The point at which the descent into Pingling (坪林) begins is the border between Pingling (坪林) district and Pingxi (平溪) district. You can tell that this is the road less traveled as the signs welcoming travelers into either district are not well maintained. Still, the view from the top of the road, before the descent would be amazing. Unfortunately for me it was still hazy so I was unable to get any great pictures of the surrounding valleys and mountains. This was a good spot to stop, take a break, drink some water and enjoy the views. I knew when I got on my bike I would be screaming down the mountain at a crazy rate of knots and probably would not be able to enjoy the scenery as much as I should.
Once I started heading down the mountain, I couldn't help but look at the amazing views into the valley next to me. The stunning views of tea plantations embedded in the bush on the mountains are beautiful. It is interesting to note that these tea plantations are small in comparison to those we saw in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka entire mountains had been cultivated but here only certain parts of the mountain had been cultivated and for the most part the indigenous plants left to grow wild. The views were spectacular.
As I started to pick up speed I started to ride next to and between more and more plantations. It was so beautiful. I just got this tremendous smile on my face as I was happy and felt free. It is a special experience riding down these roads and I tried to soak up every ounce of pleasure and enjoyment that was possible as I knew it would soon be over. I should warn you however that at the top of this mountain there are no barriers on the side of the road so going down the road you have to be extra careful. If you miss a turn you will definitely be in for a long fall. Despite the danger, I thought the roads were well kept and fairly easy to ride on.
As few kilometers from the top of the mountain I passed a temple. The temple had a viewing deck which seemed to be a popular place for cyclists to stop and rest. When I got there I saw a small group of about 10 cyclists taking it easy and having lunch. It was a good thing as I could get directions and make sure I was still on the right path.
The views and the scenery further down the mountain stay consistently beautiful. It was fun heading down the mountain and I loved the cool breeze that was cooling me down after all the hard work it took to get to the top. The roads themselves remained consistently beautiful and mostly surrounded by beautiful trees and flowers or tea plantations. Either way, the road was a beautiful one to be on.
As I approached the valley, I could finally see the river that ran through the bottom of the valley. This is the river that eventually runs into and through the town of Pingling (坪林). Also, at some point along this road I transferred from the North 43 (北43) to the North 42 (北42). I am not sure at which point this transition occurred, but I was happily headed in the right direction as it was well past lunch time and, since I had burned so many calories on the up ride, I really needed some nourishment.
Before too long I had arrived at the bottom of the mountain. It was a brilliant ride down and I thought I would soon be in Pingling (坪林). Unfortunately there was still one small uphill I had to get over. As I started to ride up the hill both legs cramped badly and I was forced to get off the bike. I was now seriously concerned as this was the second time this had happened and either way I had to climb a mountain to get back home. It turned out to be alright. After a few stretches and some water the cramps faded and I managed to get back on the bike and continue. The last part of this road takes you under a big highway and suddenly, without much warning, you arrive in Pingling (坪林). I was happy to be there. I quickly found a tea shop where I could sit down, relax, eat and drink.
Lunch in Pingling (坪林)
Pingling (坪林) is famous for tea so naturally I would stop at a tea house for lunch. I stopped at the Dong Mu He Tea House which was founded in the Baoping Temple in 1893. I spoke with Mr. Chen who is the great, great, great grandson of the original founder of the tea house. He said the Tea House had moved from its original location 35 years ago and that business is mostly good. Of course I gulped down a few cups of ice tea and grabbed a bowl of vegetarian noodles. The ice cold tea was most welcome and the food much needed sustenance.
Onward to Shihding (石碇)
After chilling in the Tea House for 30 minutes, it was already 1:30 pm and it was time to head out. I still had two big mountains ahead that I had to climb. While at lunch I was starting to think that maybe I should just go to the top of Road 9 and then drop into Hsin Tien and go home. But I thought I would decide when I got to the top of Road 9. Road 9 has stunning views of the river valley. Words fail to describe the views but they are amazing and it is always a pleasure to ride up this road. You go slowly so you really get to enjoy the view and the surroundings. Unfortunately, the valley is on the left hand side so to get to the side to see the views you need to cross the road, and it is a very busy road, with trucks and buses and big ass motorcycles screaming up and down the mountain.
As I mentioned earlier, the biggest danger on this road are the trucks. As you are riding up the mountain, the trucks come within inches of the handle bars as they pass you. You know the trucks are coming as they are noisy and you can hear them from a long way off. Still, it is very disconcerting when they are getting so close to you. I think the truck drivers are experienced and used to driving up and down this road, but still it can be a little nerve wracking when they pass. The other irritant are the motorcycles screaming up and down the mountain. They destroy the peace of nature and they are dangerous as they go up and down really fast. But this is the price you have to pay if you want to ride out of Pingling (坪林) on Road 9
Despite these distractions, the views of the valley below remained amazing and I continued to be careful when crossing the road to take pictures. It is too bad that there was no designated viewing area along this road. That would be the best solution and make it safer for people to enjoy the view of the spectacular river valley.
I soon arrived at the border between Pingling (坪林) district and Shihding (石碇) district. I was exhausted at this stage and the temptation to drop down into Hsin Tien was getting stronger with each meter. At this point my stomach had started to cramp and I thought I had been in the sun too long. However I pushed back the decision and would only decide when I got to the top of Road 9.
At this point exhaustion really set in and I was trying to figure out how much further to go to get to the top of the mountain (from my distant memories) but I realized that the worst was over and the gradient of the inclines became progressively gentle the further up the mountain. After a longer than normal water break I got back on the bike and started to pedal up the mountain slowly. I passed a statue of Buddha on the way up and once again the views of the river valley below opened up and helped motivate the mind, body and soul to keep on going.
Within 20 minutes I was at the top of Road 9 and my legs could relax. I started to feel better and started to look for some of the famous cycling rest stops at the top of Road 9. Still the incredible views from Road 9 were stunning and I continued to just use these amazing vistas as motivation to keep going.
One of the more famous cycling rest stops is "Coffee A Taste of Helen." I have been there many times before and decided to take a quick break there and get some refreshments. I ordered a delicious apple juice (which took 20 minutes to prepare?) and just enjoyed the view from the restaurant deck area. This is truly a coffee shop with a view! Of course there are other coffee shops there and I think next time I will visit Helen's neighbor as this time the service was too slow. However, the view was stunning.
After 25 minutes of enjoying the views from the coffee shop it was time to decide whether I would continue on the original planned route or just stop and drop down into Hsin Tien. I thought I would do the originally planned route and drop down into Shihding (石碇). Back on the bike I headed along Road 9 until I found the North 47 (北47). From there it was a freewheel all the way down to Shihding (石碇) and onto the Road 106-1 (106之) and straight onto Road 106. At the intersection between Road 9 and the North 47 (北47) you are treated some amazing views of the valley again. Some of these vistas are irresistible and I just had to stop and take a picture.
Heading down the North 47 (北47) I soon passed a temple and some small hamlets embedded in the mountains. I carried on freewheeling down the hill and was feeling really good. I passed through a small town with a river passing through it and rode under the shadow of the freeway high above my head. I was down the mountain within 20 minutes and I was soon gliding into Shihding (石碇) where I got back onto the Road 106-1 (106之) and then onto the Road 106. It was a great ride down and I enjoyed every moment of it.
To Nangang and Home
After hitting Road 106 hard I quickly arrived at the intersection for the North 33 (北33). I turned left, went over the bridge and started the final climb to Xizhi (or so I thought). The bridge that takes you onto the North 33 (北33) crosses a small beautiful river. This is the river that you ride next to for a long way on the Road 106.
I got onto the road and started moving up the fourth and final climb of the day. I was happy that I had decided to do it and was looking forward to slowly moving up the mountain and enjoying the view before the craziness of the rush hour traffic in the city. Once again the beautiful country side does not disappoint and some spectacular views are on offer from the North 33 (北33).
It was at this point that I got into some difficulties. There was about 2.5 km left to climb up the mountain and my legs cramped up, I started to feel dizzy and nauseous. Worse still, my stomach started to cramp too. I jumped of the bike, drank some water and really wanted to just get out the sun. I figured I had been in the hot sun way too long and I was thinking this was a disaster and I would probably land up in hospital (happily I didn't). After taking a short break I got back on the bike and tried to pedal, but I couldn't!. I got back off, shrugged my shoulders and started walking. I figured if I pushed for 2.5 km I could be at the top in 30 minutes, and that was OK for me. I intermittently tried to ride up the hill when I could but it was mostly pushing up the last 2.5 km. Along the way I passed what must have been one of the loneliest Pavilions in Taiwan, and of course, the views continued to amaze.
When I had about 1 km to go, I ran into these road workers who were packing up for the day. They saw me struggling and gave me a bottle of water and a lot of encouragement to get up the mountain. Their leader assured me I only had 10 minutes to go before I got to the top of the mountain. I was happy to hear that. I was really looking forward to getting there. I felt stronger again and decided to try riding. I managed to get most of the way up from there on my bike.
After that I suddenly arrived at the top the mountain and breathed a huge sigh of relief. The views of the valley from there were amazing. Especially the view of Taipei 101. I just wished there wasn't so much haze around as it was difficult to get a good picture of the iconic building. But the views of the surrounding countryside were also breath taking.
At this point I was anxious to get home so I didn't spend too long at the top. I happily realized that I would be heading downhill for the rest of the way into Xizhi (although I actually landed up in Nangang). I jumped on the saddle and started my descent. It was a difficult one with many complicated switchbacks. However, at this point it was better to be going down than up, especially in my condition. I was still feeling dizzy and nauseous and was hoping I could focus enough to get down safetly.
I was happily heading down the mountain and thought I would get onto the Road in Xizhi, however, somehow I landed on Academia road and came out right outside Academia Sinica. I was happy as it cut out 7 km of riding on heavily traffic roads. At this point it was already 5:30 pm and I had promised a mate of mine I would go watch a rugby match at Bounce at 6:00 pm. I now knew I could make it. Still feeling terrible I headed down Chunghsiao East Road until I got to Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall and finally arrived at the pub. I was wrecked but the super friendly staff at Bounce soon organized ice and refreshments and within 20 minutes I was feeling much better.
What a great ride. I highly recommend it! Yes it was tough. I was thinking it was four mountains and nearly 1,800 m of climbing on the day. I compared this to my ride over the Suhua highway and I realized that this was probably more difficult than that ride. I was happy I only needed to walk at the end. The best part of the ride are the uphills since you go much slower and can enjoy the scenery more. I will happily do this once again at some point but I just need to wait for my leg to get stronger. I think right now the issue is the weakness in my leg, but as that heals , rides like this will still present a challenge, but will be easier to deal with. I loved being out there in the sun and nature and cannot wait for my next ride out.