Ride to Nowhere - Two Big Climbs - 97 km

Today's ride didn't turn out as intended! Instead of doing the ride I had planned I went a different way. At some point I started to feel I was in the middle of a Talking Heads song on a Road to Nowhere. That of course happened after I drifted off course a few times. Before that though I felt I was riding through a Chinese painting and towards the end of the second major climb I  felt I was in the middle of Vangelis' Heaven and Hell since half of that album is as painful to the ears as the lactic acid burn in my muscles, but the views were heavenly. Even though the ride lost its objective somewhere along the way, it was still a good 97 km grunt with 1,250 m of climbing. It was a great ride to nowhere. Loved being out there in the mountains.

Mountain Clouds along the North 31 (北31) Road
Mountain Clouds

The Route

The route is to hit Road 5 in Taipei and ride to just before the 18 km marker. Turn onto the North 31 (北31) Road and climb over the mountain into Pingxi (平溪). From there turn onto Road 106 and, instead of turning towards Shenkeng, follow Road 106-1 (106之) towards Pinglin (坪林). Head to the top of the mountain and turn around and come back down the mountain. Head along Road 106 through Shenkeng to Muzha and then hit the riverside path along the Jingmei river and home.

Road 5 to Xizhi

View of the Mountains from Road 5
View of the Mountains from Road 5

Road 5 starts on Chunghsiao East Rd. in Taipei. I picked it up in the Hsin Yi district of Taipei. I followed the road from Hsin Yi district to the end of Chunghsiao East Rd. and followed it onto Nangang Road and then onto Datong Road. From there Road 5 turns onto Hsin Tai Wu Road. I followed Hsin Tai Wu Road through Xizhi until just before the 18 km marker for Road 5, where I saw the sign for Pingxi (平溪). I then took the off ramp and turned onto the North 31 (北31) Road.

I previously documented this part of the ride in Cycle Trip to Tamsui, Via Keelung. You can see lots of pictures of this part of the ride there. I remember when I did that ride I had only started to get into cycling and before I even got to Xizhi I took tons of breaks. This time I cycled all the way there with a few stops for traffic lights only. I was happy to be moving along the road so quickly but, once I got into Xizhi and started looking at the huge clouds aggregating on the mountain tops, I started to get nervous. I was worried about rain, poor visibility, rock falls and slippery roads at the top of the mountain.

Ride to Pingxi (平溪)- First Attempt

Temple/Pagoda in the Forest
Temple/Pagoda on the North 31 (北31) Road

When I was riding to Tamsui via Keelung all those years ago I bumped into a bunch of cyclists who were riding to Pingxi  (平溪) along the North 31 (北31) Road. Later on, when I was riding to Fulong (and then Keelung), I had met another group of riders on Road 106 who had just finished riding the North 31 (北31) Road. I was determined to do this ride at some point. It certainly was a long time coming (but lets face it, I have been riding other roads!). 

Fellow Cyclists
Cyclists I met riding the North 31 (北31) Road - met them on Road 5 in 2010

New Friends in Pingxi
Friends in Pingxi (平溪) in 2010 - they had just finished riding the North 31 (北31) Road

It took me a while but today was going to be the first time I would make an attempt on the North 31 (北31) Road to Pingxi (平溪). To be honest, until I arrived at the actual turn off I was still debating whether I should make the attempt since the weather seemed to be turning even worse. When I arrived at the Pingxi (平溪) turn off I thought I would give it a try anyway. I thought if the weather got really nasty I could always turn around and head back down the mountain. So, decision made, I headed off Road 5 and got onto the North 31 (北31) Road. The bottom of the off ramp is ugly but I knew in the back of my head that Taiwan always delivers and very soon the views would be amazing. I was right! At the turn off onto the North 31 (北31) Road you are greeted with the signs below and a pretty ugly road (see the second picture below).

Turnoff from Road 5
The first signs on the North 31 (北31) Road

Turn off from Road 5
On the Road to Pingxi (平溪)

Soon after entering the North 31 (北31) Road the views improve dramatically. The first beautiful thing I saw was a Pagoda or Temple (not sure which one it was) nestled into the mountain (see picture at the top of this section). I was making good time up the mountain, smashing past some of the switchbacks. I was quickly onto roads mostly surrounded by deep, green vegetation and nice river views. I started climbing even higher. I passed the 4 km marker quickly and was heading up to the 6 km marker when the incessant drizzle that had been with me the whole way so far, turned into a more serious downpour. The thunder in the clouds above was also pretty impressive. I decided to head down the mountain and find some shelter to wait out the weather. I drifted down the mountain and eventually found a closed up building with a front overhang where I could stay. Of course there was a stray dog there already waiting for the rain to stop! But he didn't seem to mind me. So my first assault on this mountain had ended. I decided to wait it out and see what would happen.

Waiting, waiting, waiting....

Feet Up
On the Road to Pingxi  (平溪)

So I found a place to chill out and relax. I sat down on the floor, stretched out my legs, and drank some water. I took out my mobile phone, called a few people, took a few random pictures (of my feet and other things) and generally just got bored.

Waiting Companion
My companion who was also hiding from the rain

Resting Area
The Shelter I was hiding in

I realized pretty quickly however the wisdom of my decision. The rain got progressively worse over the next 40 minutes. The light also started to vanish under the thick cloud cover and it felt more like late evening than early afternoon. The thunder was also getting very loud and I noticed there seemed to be a lot of lightning on the mountain I was meant to be riding on. Normally rain doesn't bother me but thunder and lightning do. Last year when I was in Kenting going around the island there was thunder and lightning in the early morning which severely delayed my progress. Here again too I thought the wise decision was to take a break (no matter how long) and see the weather through.

Some Big Ass Thunder Clouds
Thick Storm Clouds on the Mountain

Experience has taught me that this type of rain in Taiwan usually doesn't last for more than an hour, and I was right. About an hour after I stopped and put up my feet up the rain started to lessen and then, all of a sudden stopped altogether. It was time to get back on the bike. I had to make the decision whether to go up the mountain, or go back down the way I had come. It was already 1:30 pm and I was concerned about the time and how long it would take me to complete my originally planned route. At the end I decided to try and get over the mountain and see how long that would take. I thought that if I got to Pingxi (平溪) I could see the time and make more decisions then about where I would go to next. This is the point where the ride lost its objective and became a journey on a road to nowhere.

Ride to Pingxi (平溪) - Take Two

On the North 31 (北31) Road
The North 31 (北31) Road

I was quickly on my way to Pingxi (平溪). I was starting out at the 4 km marker on the North 31 (北31) Road and the road would climb for another 7 km before starting the descent into Pingxi (平溪). The road condition was good (see above) and I was surrounded by green most of the way. Sometimes the vegetation on the side of the road would open up and reveal amazing views of the city below and the neighboring mountains. It was a stunning days ride. Unfortunately the weather wasn't cooperating so I was struggling to get nice pictures of the city below. I am sure a better photographer than me could do it so you will either have to take my word for it that the view of the city from there is impressive, or get yourself up that mountain to see the stunning views yourself!

View of Xizhi from the North 31 (北31) Road
View of the city below

Mountain Views from the North 31 (北31) Road
Mountain View

As I was riding along the road I saw this old, run down traditional house. You often run into these traditional houses on the roads in the countryside of Taiwan. It is always fun to see them. Much of the traditional way of life in Taiwan is being wiped out by modern development all over the country. I am not sure if this house was occupied. There was a more modern house next to it on the right hand side (not shown) that was certainly occupied by people and one big vicious dog. I think the dog wanted a piece of me, but we had a chat and he went home.

Old Traditional House on the North 31 (北31) Road
Traditional House

The nice thing about the North 31 (北31) Road are all these radical switchbacks. They became more frequent the higher up the mountain you went and they certainly helped to reduce the gradient a lot and, lets be honest, they simply look cool. The one shown below was nice and circular. The switchbacks on the other side of the mountain were even more dramatic and made the ride downhill a little more complicated, but more on that later.

Switchbacks on the North 31 (北31) Road
Radical Switchbacks

As I got higher on the mountain the sounds of nature increased. There was one particular sound that left an impression: a high frequency bird call that echoed constantly on my ascent through the forest. I have no idea what type of bird it was. It was the first time (that I can recall) that I have ever heard that bird call. It was a very impressive sound. I kept looking around to see if I could identify the bird but no such luck. I just have to be content with the memory of its call. This particular bird call made me feel that I was in the middle of the jungle (although I wasn't really).

I quickly arrived at the top of the mountain. This was signaled by an incredibly green, towering mountain above the road. Unfortunately, once again, the picture below doesn't capture the drama of this mountain in quite the same way. A the top of the mountain there were also some more impressive views of the neighboring mountain. I stopped, sipped on my water, enjoyed the view, and then quickly decided it was time to start the descent.

Mountain View on the North 31 (北31) Road
At the top of the North 31 (北31) Road

More Beautiful Mountain Views from the North 31 (北31) Road
View from the top of the North 31 (北31) Road

And into a Chinese Painting

Clounds in the Mountain on North 31 (北31) Road
Mountains and Clouds on The North 31 (北31) Road

After getting to the top of the mountain and riding to the other side, I was met by these stunning views of the mountains and the clouds. When I rode to Fushan (福山) last week I wrote that "the most amazing views is that of the clouds doing their dance around the mountains," and this was even more true today. As I stopped to enjoy these stunning views of the clouds on the mountains, and as I looked down the road and along the switchbacks I would be hitting, I felt I was about to ride through a Chinese painting. It was beautiful! It is amazing that we can see these views considering I was not even that high up relatively speaking (maybe a little over 500 m above sea level). These views are majestic and no matter how many times I see them, I never get tired of them! (I just wish I knew how to take better pictures of them - any tips anyone?)

Up in the Clouds - A Little Bit of Heaven
Mountains and Clouds on The North 31 (北31) Road

After enjoying these views for a bit, it was time to head down. As I went down the other side of the mountain into Pingxi (平溪) I was sometimes riding through low level clouds. It was a tremendous feeling. Also, apart from being dwarfed by huge, green mountains on the side of the road, I was also covered with soft, delicate clouds. What a wonderful experience. Coming down the other side of the mountain, however, would prove to be a little more difficult. I think "real cyclists" would call it a technical descent! I wasn't in a rush to get down so I went down a little slower than normal: the roads were wet, my brakes didn't feel that good, I was on slicks and the switchbacks on this side of the mountain were quite vicious. I thought better to be safe than fall off and so went a lot slower down the mountain than I normally would.

Severe Switchbacks on the North 31 (北31) Road
Switchback on the other side of The North 31 (北31) Road

The road down to Pingxi (平溪), from the top, is around 7 km. You hit Pingxi (平溪) shortly after arriving at the 18 km marker on the North 31 (北31) Road. The trip down, as noted above, is beautiful. Unfortunately the ride down (as most rides downhill tend to be, was quick and was soon over. Before I knew it I was crossing the small bridge into Pingxi (平溪).

Pingxi (平溪) and a Ride into Heaven (and/or Hell)

Arrived in Pingxi (平溪) and the end of the North 31 (北31) Road
Quaint Pingxi (平溪)

I got to the end of The North 31 (北31) Road and turned left onto Road 106. I had just ridden this road a few weeks ago on my way to Fulong. I had also ridden Road 106 on my way to Fulong a few years back too. I turned left onto Road 106 and was still thinking to follow my original route of going into Pinglin (坪林) along the The North 41 (北41) Road but started to think about the time and the fact that it would probably be another two 500 m climbs. After reaching the viewing deck for the river about 2 km outside of Pingxi (平溪), I decided it would be best to head back home. I turned the bike around and headed towards Shenkeng (深坑) along Road 106.

Beautiful River View in Pingxi (平溪)
River View Outside Pingxi (平溪)

Although I had been on Road 106 before, most times before I had been heading towards Fulong, this was the first time I would be riding along Road 106 on the way back to Shenkeng (深坑). Thankfully it was mostly downhill as my legs were a bit tired at this point. There were some brief uphills but nothing too dramatic. All the time on Road 106 you are riding next to a river and are in between the stunning mountains covered in green vegetation.

Walls of Green along Road 106
Walls of Green on Road 106

I easily cruised through the small hamlets that dot the landscape on Road 106 and before I knew it I was at the intersection for Road 106 and Road 106-1 (106之). At the intersection there is a 7-11, a Family Mart and a few restaurants. I decided (since it was now nearly 3:00 pm to have a quick lunch. I went into the Family Mart and grabbed some cold noodles. Up until this point I fully intended on riding straight home, but then I started to think (and that was BAD!!!). I thought I could ride up Road 106-1 (106之) where it intersects Road 9, and then drop back down into Hsin Tien and head for home. I mean, I had done this before. Unfortunately, Road 106-1 (106之) doesn't intersect Road 9 at all. To get to Road 9 I would need to take a right turn in Shihding, but I completely forgot about that and decided to just follow Road 106-1 (106之). And that is where the journey to heaven (and hell) began!

Into Shihding

Road 106 intersects Road 106-1 (106之) at the 6 km marker and I knew it would be a pretty wild climb up this mountain. I got on the bike after lunch and started pumping my legs to get up the mountain. I quickly went through Shihding and started the climb in earnest. Shihding looks like a quaint little town and certainly a place I should stop in one day for lunch! But not this time, this time I was trying to get to the top of the mountain as fast as possible.

Bridge in Shihding
River in Shihding

After Shihding I started to feel the pain in my legs as the lactic acid started to race through my quads and hamstrings. I mean it wasn't the toughest of climbs but my legs are still not in proper shape and this climb would be tough for a lot of people I think. I started pushing harder and harder to get up the mountain. For the first 7 km I didn't take any breaks: I just focused on pumping my legs and pushing up higher and higher on the mountain. Each pedal bought with it additional pain and I knew I was nearly done, but I didn't want to quit. Eventually I stopped and took a picture of the switchback I had just ascended. At this point I was strongly thinking to call it a day , to turn the bike around and head for home, but what fun would that be?

Switchbacks on Road 106-1 (106之) to Pinglin (坪林)
Switchbacks on Road 106-1 (106之) to Pinglin (坪林)

Near the top of Road 106-1 (106之)
Switchbasks on Road 106-1 (106之) to Pinglin (坪林)

I carried on pushing up the mountain but eventually my legs just gave in! I had nothing left to give the pedals. I decided I couldn't be that far from the top so decided, instead of giving up completely, I would just walk up. As I was walking up I found a small shop that offered some refreshments! I grabbed some sweet sugary drink and relaxed in front of the fan for about 10 minutes massaging my wasted legs. I spoke to the proprietor and she assured me that I was nearly at the top and the views were worth it. She said I was within 1 km of the top but she also told me that there was no Road 9 at the top of the mountain and to get to Hsin Tien I would have to descend into Pinglin (坪林) and then climb out again over the mountain along Road 9. It was already 4:00 pm. It was getting late and I knew I just didn't have the legs to do another 500 m climb. I decided I would ride to the top, enjoy the view and the descend the way I had come. My legs were wrecked, but the road and the views were heavenly. After resting for about 10 minutes I got back onto the bike and rode the final kilometer. It was worth the effort and the views of the mountains in the dying sun were as beautiful as ever.

Finally at the top of Road 106-1 (106之)

The views from the top of the mountain are spectacular. I could even see the top of Taipei 101!. It was early evening, the sun was going down, so it was even more enjoyable. I took a long break up there! I had earned this view with a lot of pain going up. But I was content and I was at peace with my decision to descend the way I had come. I just stood there enjoying the views, wishing I could stay up there longer!

At the top of Road 106-1 (106之)
View from the Top of Road 106-1 (106之)

Taipei 101 from Road 106-1 (106之)
Taipei 101 from the Top of Road 106-1 (106之)

As I mentioned earlier, Road 106 and Road 106-1 (106之) intersect at the 6 km marker on Road 106-1 (106之). The climb to the top of the mountain is about 12 km. I saw the 18 km marker near the top. I had been on this road before, except I had ridden it the other way, from Pinglin (坪林) into Shihding. I did it many years ago. The descent into Pinglin (坪林) is only 7 km as I recall so the gradient down is very steep. I remember when I did it the last time, I couldn't even pedal up some parts of the road it was so steep. Anyway, today I wouldn't be going down that way. After spending some time at the top of the mountain, it was time to head down and head for home!

Homeward Bound

The Perfect Picture Except for the Van.
Tunnel near the bottom of the Road 106-1 (106之)

Going down is easy! I just jumped on the bike and coasted all the way down the mountain. I was at the bottom within 20 minutes. I was relieved to finally be heading home. But the day was not finished with me yet! A few kilometers before Shenkeng (深坑), as I pushed down on the pedal, all the muscles in my left thigh cramped at once. It was severe pain and I nearly fell off the bike! I managed to get off the bike slowly and I sat on the side of the dirty road slowly flexing the leg and stretching the cramp out. It wasn't the best experience but I was ecstatic! Since my knee operation in December, these muscles have been severely atrophied. I have been working out and trying to build them but no matter what I do I haven't really had the sense that they were being worked. Today was the first day I felt them! I was happy. It means all the walking, cycling and squats are paying off and that the muscles are building and starting to do their fair share of the load. Good News! Although it was a little undignified sitting on that road!

After I dealt with the cramp I headed through Shenkeng (深坑) for Muzha. Riding through Shenkeng (深坑) at rush hour is terrible and I decided I didn't want to be on the roads anymore. Once I got to Muzha I jumped onto the riverside path next to the Jingmei river and headed for Gonguan. This is a path I know very well so I was quite content to just cruise along the bike trail and not stress the muscles anymore than was needed. It was good to be back on this path (it had been a while) and it also meant I was close to home!

Incinerator View Behind the Jingmei River
The Jingmei River - looking back at the incinerator

Riverside Park Opposite the Taipei Zoo
Riverside Park Opposite the Zoo

Along the riverside path you see some of the homes and buildings in the city. These views are not the nicest but at least the path is safe and you don't have to worry about cars, motorcycles, buses and trucks.

Jingmei is Ugly
Not the Prettiest

Silhouette City
Silhouette City

I was quickly back in Gonguan and riding through the University for home. It was a great days riding, despite not achieving specified goals, I still managed to do 97 km and climb 1,200 m or so, not much wrong with that!

Final Thoughts

Girls on Bicyles Rock
Girls on Bikes Rock!

Sometimes planned routes don't work out. I planned to leave at 5:00 am to do the original route but there was too much rain. I only got out the door at 10:20 am. I went for a ride and didn't follow the route I intended. I got stuck, my legs weren't up for some of it, I suffered a lot of pain (especially the cramping) but so what. It was an awesome ride. I would do it again in a heartbeat. The beauty of the clouds in the mountains, the beauty of the green vegetation lining the streets, the stunning views of the mountains in the dying sun make it all worthwhile. I never regret my rides, no matter what happens. To ride is to be free! Seeing Taiwan from the seat of a bicycle is a privilege, and in my honest opinion it is the best way to see Taiwan. It is a magnificently beautiful country.

One other great thing about this ride is I have developed a bunch of new routes for the future. I think there would be some interesting rides in this part of the woods. Everyone rides Yangmingshan, but I think these mountains, while not as high as Yangmingshan, have great potential for some awesome views, and are not heavily touristed, which makes it a lot safer. So I am looking forward to many more happy days with my butt in the saddle, and my tires screaming (at relatively low speed) along the tarmac of Taiwan! C'est la vie!

As always, thanks for reading and comments are free!


  1. really great article, Paul. you're so expressive that my legs started to ache along with you as i was reading! lol glad to hear your legs are getting back into shape. one of these days i would love to join you on the trike. take care.

    1. Hi MJ - would love to have you join me :) - once again thanks for your kind words on my reports and continued support of this blog, it is much appreciated - take care and I look forward to riding with you soon.

  2. Good job writing this up Paul. Spent the day yesterday on the beach and read the blog. My body was at the beach and my mind was in those mountains! Mona and I used to ride motorcycle with a group whose motto was, "The destination is the journey." I think of that when I read your blogs.

    1. Hi Dudley - yes I saw the pictures of you guys on the beach. Was so jealous - ha ha - looked like a nice day for it. Thanks for reading my post and your continued support. Those mountains are beautiful - especially the first mountain road. I am trying to explore outside of Yangmingshan more as I think there are too many tourists going up and down Yangmingshan. And I do love your old Motto - I think it sums up us too :).

      Cheers and God Bless


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