3:30 am, Saturday. The alarm rings. I get up, get dressed, brush my teeth and gather my things: Garmin, phone, charger, water etc. It’s 4:00 am, time to leave. I kiss my wife goodbye. She doesn’t stir. The cats do and give me their “are you crazy” look. I am out the door.
Outside my house two drunk girls are making weird noises sitting on the steps outside the bar opposite my house. At the 7-11 a group of foreigners are in a circle making toasts. It is still dark. For them, Friday isn’t finished. For me, Saturday has come.
Why the early morning? I was riding to Mt. Yulao in Hsinchu County, a 200 km round trip. I was going to summit from the North Cross Highway (Provincial Highway 7) and descend into Neiwan. I had read about this trip on the BikeExpress blog. They had left Yingge at 7:00 am and were forced to descend in the dark, which according, to them, it wasn’t pleasant. They started in Yingge, I was starting from Taipei. I figured an early start would be wise.
At 4:00 am the roads are empty. I drifted up Keelung Rd. Turned left onto Roosevelt Rd and quickly arrived in Hsin Tien at the intersection for the 110 to Sanxia. The Hsin Tien side of the 110 is usually a chaotic jumble of cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles and everything in between. At 4:30 am, it was empty! From here to Sanxia is about 20 km.
I pedaled past the welcoming neon signs of the convenience stores, gas stations and betel nut stands, the only open businesses at this hour and soon arrived at the only (little) climb on this road. I was quickly over it and drifting through the dark, passed the small villages that are scattered along this road. A group of motorcyclists passed me. Were they setting off on a Saturday outing, or ending Friday night? I had no idea. I was in Sanxia.
I turned left on Sanmin Road (三民路). I didn’t stop, I was chasing time to Sanmin (三民). As I edged away from Sanxia, the sky brightened, I didn’t need my light. I looked over my left shoulder. The sun was rising and I was riding under pink candy floss clouds. Beautiful. I stopped! My first picture of the day.
I pushed on for Sanmin (三民). The road started to rise. I still hadn’t eaten or drunk anything. And halfway between Sanxia and Sanmin (三民) a sudden, crippling abdominal cramp nearly dragged me off my bike. I stopped and drank, but I didn’t have food. Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate! The pain persisted, so did I. I refused to quit (although I thought about it). I focused on the beautiful mountains and trees and river running next to me. It eased the pain. The road got higher, the pain was still there but was fading.
It was 6:00 am and I was in Sanmin (三民). I turned onto Provincial Highway No. 7 (台7線) and headed to Sule (蘇樂), an important milestone. Sule (蘇樂) is the tiny village where you split off from the No. 7 and head to Mt. Yulao. On the BikeExpress blog they had only left Sule sometime between 13h00 and 14h00, which meant they only summited Yulao in the early evening. I didn’t want to do that. I aimed to be in Sule (蘇樂) by 11:00 am. I was making great time.
As I turned left on Road 7, I looked right and saw the Sanmin (三民) 7-11. I should have stopped. Stupid me! I needed food and water, but I wanted a real Taiwanese breakfast. I wanted egg rolls and hash browns and ice-tea. I wanted a Mei Er Mei, a JSP, a My Warm Day. Fat chance. Sanmin (三民) was still sleeping. Only the 7-11 was open. Too late! I was already 3 or 4 km further on in Fuxing (復興). I wasn’t going to turn back.
The lower reaches of Road 7 from Sanmin (三民) to Sule (蘇樂) is beautiful. It undulates through the mountains with no huge climbs, nothing terrifyingly steep. I passed through Fuxing (復興) and headed up a small hill. I looked up and there saw a Hi-Life. The promise of nourishment sucked me up the hill. And to my right was a beautiful valley bathing in the morning sun.