Friday, March 23, 2012

Day 3 - Stairway to heaven @ Wuling Mountain Pass 3275m

Coleen leading Chris up yet another climb!

Pic - CW

Taiwanese Yong Tau Foo available 2050m at 7/11. Amazing! Pic - CW

Pic - Nick Wong

Derrick did the climb on his commuter Brompton - a true Hero!  Pic Joeel Lee

Pic TW

Government run hotel at Wulin, probably by Ministry of Defence sign writers. 

The dreaded curve that leads to Stairway to Heaven, note unpredictable weather clouds.

That's me soldier-ing on... Pic 

I'm pretty knackered!!! Right knee still pain after 3 weeks. TU for asking.  Pic - CW

Anything to inspire a climb - Pic Joeel

It was a bright and brilliant morning that we woke up to. The Vienna Resort spoilt us with a lovely Western breakfast of bacon and eggs plus a very thick slice of toast.

All of us were dressed for cold weather but it was a warm 23c, and we had to peel our layers off. I chucked my clothes in the bus, which was a big mistake that I regretted later. Coleen and Celia decided to follow the bus for some sightseeing and shopping with the rest of the women and 2 princesses, which proved a smart move. They visited a sheep farm and some factories. Throw in some shopping and they were all pretty happy.

Pic - TW

I was happy too! The first 10km was steep but I was on the Pocket Sports with hi-pressure skinny tires and it climbed like a mountain goat. A combination of a good night's sleep, a solid breakfast, beautiful weather and Bike Friday's coupe on small wheels really got me moving.

Pic - GL

The beautiful scenery got even better as we passed 2000m and looking down towards the bottom of the landscape gave us a deep sense of accomplishment. Imagine every minute the postcard scenery changes!

We took our first break at the highest 7/11, situated at 2050m. Many of us seized the opportunity to stock up on energy food and ate to refuel like it was our Last Supper.

Pic - TW

The tough ascent separated the men from the boys but whether we were granny gearing up or pushing, we were all having “fun” as our muscles say give up, but our minds say go on. Many of us took the opportunity to capture lots of pics and used this as an honorable excuse to steal some rest. The Police Station was a good break point and they provided free water top ups and clean toilets. In many countries, bicycles are frowned upon but not here in bicycle paradise. Everything is geared to ensure we are taken care off and every Police Station is equipped with tyre repair kit and tools!

Pic - CW

While Chris and I were waiting for the rest, we got a message that our wives needed help to assemble their bikes out from the bus. So we gallantly headed downwards, passing our climbing friends who gaped in amazement at why we would do such a thing! 

Turned out there was a miscommunication and the bus passed us by and we turned around to re-trace our climb, not exactly in the highest spirits. But it was wonderful to see our gals all ready and willing to climb with us. Unfortunately, this meant I was back on the thicked tire heavy duty Expedition which felt like a pig after the light footed Pocket.

Pic - CW

After 2500m, we all seemed to have grown significantly weaker and I started seeing black spots. The high altitude was making it harder to breathe and no wonder we were warned that the worse is yet to come, the dreaded Stairway to Heaven.

We rode passed Kimmi, who was not her usual determined self at the road side, another lack of oxygen victim. Just 5km from the peak, we stopped, regrouped and refreshed on hot Chinese Tea and the sweetest pears. Every type of energy foods we had were consumed in the hope that we will make it to Wu Lin peak in time.

Pic - GL

At this stage, my right knee started to painfully play up but I was determined to make it up by 5pm. After that, the weather can change and become dangerous. This was the toughest part of the climb with steep switchbacks and discouraging roads that kept pointing to the sky with no end. The group also started to be very separated and Celia and I found ourselves alone for most times. It was a great relief when we arrived at the marker for Tarako National Park and I collapsed on the bench in exhaustion.

But the peak was in sight and by hook or crook, we were going to get there. With a combination of cycling and pushing, we inched our way to the top. The sun was coming down fast and the temperature dropped drastically. Wearing only one layer of Skins, I was starting to freeze up. In the name of climbing light, I left my warm clothes in the bus earlier and that mistake was a shivering one. At one stage, Celia was pushing both our bikes just as I did earlier while I dragged myself up, trying to fill my lungs with whatever oxygen that the thin air could spare.

It didn’t help that halfway during the Stairway to Heaven climb Celia got an urgent call from our friend Kitty in Singapore, informing us that a relative’s cat got tragically run over. Then just 400m to the top, the mothership bus came and we were tempted to hitch a ride or die from freezing from the 6c temperature plus wind chill.

Pic - Joeel 

But I said no way we were going up the bus and waved her on. I later found out that even if we wanted to climb onboard, there was no space inside as everyone (15 exhausted folks) were squeezed inside with their bikes.

Papa Mike's face says it all! - Pic Joeel

When we made it to Wu Lin peak at 3275m finally, I rushed inside the bus to warm up and to put some clothes on. It was lovely that everyone was so helpful (thank you Mary) and we scrambled to take the obligatory group photo and to raise our Bicycle Club Flag. 

Out of 17 riders, only 5 made it and I was humbled that I scraped in. Ying Chang was the first one to make it and this was his second attempt. Riding a Dahon Smooth Hound, he won the respect and admiration of all of us.

Pic - CW

Next was GL, followed by George on a Moulton. Chris and I (with our wives) were the last two that rolled in.

Pic - GL

Our hotel was just 2km below the peak and what a difference it was to ride downhill. The steepness of the descent caught me by surprise and I had to muster the brakes to the fullest to maintain a sane speed.  Reaching the hotel, the temp registered 5.6c and we all wasted no time to rush into the warm hotel lobby and checked into our rooms.

What caught my attention was an Oxygen Room for those of us who were getting altitude sickness. That is a much needed and thoughtful service and was most appreciated.

We ate up our dinner hungrily and my huge steak was certainly well earned. Dinner was by far the most expensive at 500NT (US$15) but being the only hotel up there, we were a captive audience.

Pic - GL

It was a nice surprise that after a huge meal, George and Cindy, the Ride Directors, offered excellent Royce-styled after dinner chocolates. Such small but thoughtful touches peppered the whole trip and made this climb such a joy to do.

Pic - TW

We collapsed once again into our beds with every fibre of our body aching. For those who didn’t make it, there was naturally a quiet sense of disappointment but the fact that we all attempted to climb the highest road in Taiwan made all of us heroes in my books! The best part of the ride begins tomorrow, 100km largely downhill.

ps:  It was fortunate that we had relatively good weather despite being smack in the middle of the monsoon season. Some poor guys from Crazyguyonabike rode in worse weather... (thanks Chris for this link)


Michael Khor said...

Inspiring, Al. And heavenly, yes. Wuling is definitely on my list. My wife is also inspired by the cycling wives ... she's getting ideas in her head...

tylsteve said...

Wonderful post! The perfect trip description with lots of photos. I could practically feel myself there with all you heroes.

Anonymous said...

Hi, really excellent blog and pictures! Thanks for featuring a Dahon link on your home page by the way. We'd greatly appreciate if you could change to our new-look and authentic home Thanks! And will continue to check in on your travels.

Anonymous said...

Apologies that comment shows as unknown, I signed in with my google account. Anyway, yours Willow Hu, for Dahon.

Oldyonfoldy said...

Hi Willow. Thanks for yr info. Have updated as per your request.


DianneK said...

I'm the photo editor at Canadian Cycling Magazine and I'm interested in publishing a photo from your blog on riding the Wuling Mountain Pass. The shot I'm looking for is the first shot at the top of the blog with the caption "Coleen leading Chris up yet another climb!" Would someone be able to contact me at ? I couldn't locate an email address on the blog. Thank you, I hope to hear from you soon.