Travel Tuesday: Cycling at Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan

A series of stories & tips about training & traveling. 

File_000Taiwan’s beauty and variety blew us away. Our ten days were filled with fun outdoor adventures, but cycling in the country with the most mountains over 9,000 ft. was something I was really looking forward to in Sun Moon Lake, the cycling leg of our trip.

Little did I know, I’d end up inadvertently climbing 9,000 ft. in 3hr 40min of riding, while fending off farm dogs and bonking after running out of Pineapple cake.

Much more on that adventure below. But first, some tips for anyone looking to ride bikes in Taiwan, specifically Sun Moon Lake.

GETTING TO SUN MOON LAKE

Most people who think of riding in Taiwan likely think of the Taiwan KOM Challenge, and rightfully so. We stayed along the route in Taroko Gorge and while we were focused on hiking the breathtaking trails and relaxing in hot springs, I can confirm a little piece of me died each time a cyclist rocked their bike back and forth up the steep road. The route is nothing short of epic.

Unless you want to drive 10 hours around the top of the island, the only road to Sun Moon Lake from Taroko, is 90 miles of mountain roads, often big enough for one car, but with two way traffic. It’s pretty white knuckle driving and takes over 4 hours. In fact, we were turned around at a  road closure due to rock slides and had to try the next day, which was also slowed by rock slide.

Sun Moon Lake is accessible via the West Coast, either by car or bullet train + car/bus, so if you’re coming from Taipei, that’s definitely the recommended route.

WHERE TO STAY, WHERE TO RENT

There are a handful of bike rental spots where we stayed, but a proper day of cycling was made possible by the Giant retail/rental shop in the Shuishe Pier Plaza.

Spa Home Hotel – Yuchi Township, Northwest corner of Sun Moon Lake, Shuieshe Pier. Clean, lake view rooms at a reasonable price.

Giant Bikes – Rent ascending levels (read: entry level through Dura Ace Di2) of cruisers, hybrids, road or even TT bikes, right next to the hotel. A bit more expensive than neighboring shops, totally worth it for quality and support.File_004 (2)

WHERE TO RIDE

After each choosing our steed for the day, it was now time to figure out where exactly to ride: a loop around the lake and out to the mountains.

Riding Around Sun Moon Lake – This ~18mi loop of mainly lakeside paths is given to you on a map when you rent from Giant and has great spots to peel off and get your tourist on. Some spots even involve stairs and walking. It’s a totally rad cruisy option to see the beautiful sights. Dani and I rode part of this on our first evening in town and she crushed the whole loop the next day fueled by ice cream at an outdoor market along the way.

Heading for the mountains – Taking a flyer on Strava segments/heat maps, like I do in most places I visit and want to ride, I opened up Strava to find a general route out of Sun Moon Lake and into the mountains for some climbs. I intended to ride for 3 hours with some climbing.

It’s fair to say I vastly under estimated my route.

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AN ADVENTURE ON TWO WHEELS IN THE CENTRAL TAIWANESE MOUNTAINS

  • 56.7mi
  • 8,767 ft
  • 3hrs 40min
  • See the route and stats on my Strava
  • Gear:
    • Brought my own: Louis Garneau kit & shoes, pedals, pedal wrench. A lot of space on a one-backpack trip, but totally worth it to make any bike work.
    • Rented: Giant TCR Advanced Ultegra, helmet
    • Nutrition: Brought some GU gels & tabs, bought pineapple cakes & Coke

I settled on taking 21 North, where I linked up with a Taiwanese cyclist who I traded pulls with to 14 West, a beautiful, sweeping, well paved road along the river. At a stoplight, I pointed at some mountains and signaled “Up?” with an eager smile. He laughed and shook his head no. I was going to have to climb solo.

I peeled off the first steep rode I could find, a small farm road and started climbing. I rode past chicken farms and into a forested area super punchy climbs. Very soon however I topped out and began descending going the other direction. As I scanned the area for longer, sustained mountain roads, I looked up and came to a screeching halt.

Not your granddad’s sheep dogs

In the middle road was a man on a motor scooter and two farm dogs, which did not appreciate my unannounced presence. I’m sure the spandex and helmet + glasses combo didn’t help either.

In an instant, they charged to within a foot of either side of my now-dismounted legs, barking ferociously and showing their teeth. These were not your granddad’s sheep dogs. They were grizzly with a deadened look of “I don’t give an EF” in their eyes. I thought I was toast.

I wanted to keep my eye on them to be ready to fight back if they pounced, but looking at them only made them more aggressive. So, I took a deep breath, exuded the most calm energy I could and looked up at the trees that domed over the road.

As I threw fate to the wind, the man on the motor scooter called to them repeatedly and after what seemed like five minutes, but was probably one or two, they slowly backed away, returning their attention any time I moved.

The second they were next to their owner, I clipped in, turned around and stomped over 600 watts to get the HELL out of the farm roads ASAP.

Onward and upward…and upward

A bit shaken, I collected myself and continued on 14 West until 136 at Guoxing, which crossed the river and looked like a road that could lead to a climb in the nearby mountain. Boy was it ever:

  • 7.1mi
  • 1,480ft gain
  • Strava Ctg 2 climb
  • Segment

File_005

After stopping to consume some pineapple cake at the bottom, I began to climb like a giddy kid who was just let out to recess. This climb has it all: varying grades, lush vegetation, great views, local architecture and of course, more dogs, which I skiddishly rode by.

I topped out, took some pictures and began my return home, vastly low on calories. I was definitely going to bonk if I didn’t stop, so I hit the 7-11 in Guoxing for Coke and chocolate wafers from a gas station. Cycling food – truly a global cuisine!

Not long into my return on eastbound on 14, I realized something: the way out either slightly or vastly downhill. Which meant I was going to climb 2K feet over an hour to get home and also totally be late. I sent a text to Dani that I hoped would reach her (we didn’t have great international plans).

On the back half of the trip and over a week removed from real training, it’s fair to say that this crushed me. Out of water, out of food, every time I made a turn thinking surely it was time to coast back home, I’d go up hill again. I began to laugh. What more could I do?

When I finally reached the hotel lobby to find Dani waiting, I was a shell of a human. I walked like a zombie to a couch and plopped down, drinking out of a water jug while staring at happy tourists depart on their Sun Moon Lake ferries. It was time to find all the dumplings in the Shuishe Pier Plaza and eat every last one of them.

 

***

Taiwan is a great destination for anyone looking to experience the outdoors in East Asia. The people were incredible, the food delightful and the adventures plentiful. Which, of course, means this isn’t the last Travel Tuesday in Taiwan.

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