Early in the summer I posted about a cycling event on Taiwan’s most revered cycling climb. Each year in the early Fall, the Never Stop group organizes the biggest of these rides up He Huan mountain — or “iron ass” (鐵屁股) as the cycling community calls it — which attracts participants from right across Taiwan. Check out that earlier post for some background on the climb.
Departing progressively from 5am, every participant is timed and gets a certificate of achievement along with a commemorative medallion if they come in under the time limit of 8.5 hours–you need to be across the finish line by 1.30pm. Traffic control was from 6am – 3pm. This particular 鐵屁股 attracts the most riders of them all, and shows a great cross section of the cycling community, which I’ll give some indication of in this post.
Indeed, the aim of the day’s shooting was to focus on the variety of cyclists who ventured out on to the mountain, either for the first time, or to give it another go having either succeeded or just fallen short (many do) on a previous occasion. 4322 of the 6000 starters passed through the finishing gate this year.
“Wu Ling” (read from right to left) 3275m. Thats me from a trip made two summers ago my own GP1 ladies road bike at the fabled top of the climb. It was tough on a compact crank 36(!!)50 with 12-25 cassette. Still, it was doable, and it was done, although not easily. For today’s event, rider support and documenting the story was the order of the day. He Huan mountain will always be waiting to be climbed again another day.
Geographically, there’s not a lot too it. From Puli you climb to a ridge and the town of Ching Jing which ranges across an altitude from 1500m to 2000m or so. From there you ascend to the pass at Wuling between triple peaks of He Huan mountain (Main, North, and East), around 2700m of vertical ascent.
This photo was taken on the final approach to the He Huan pass at Wuling, high on the mountain. You can see parts of the Ching Jing ridge in the middle ground. Behind are the hills of the valley that cyclists have to climb to access the ridge from Puli.
This gives a better view of the valley cyclists must climb out of — it’s the view from Ching Jing looking down into the valley, towards the coast. If the day was perfectly clear, you would be able to see Changhua (near Taichung) in the distance. Cyclists must ascend some 12-1300m to the ridge from the start.
The view from Ching Jing looking up to the pass at Wuling. The East peak of He Huan mountain is just peeking over the ridge in the middle top third.
Here’s a closer view with the East peak visible in the top left. The last 10km of road is visible, the section of the climb that really tests any cyclist’s mettle. You’ll see what I mean later on!
Now, there are several thousand very excited human beings in the area on this day. Nevertheless, we need to get some perspective coz there are those in the area that really think it’s all a bit ho-hum, the locals for example.
Life on the mountain is hard. Anyhow, let’s pick up the day’s events from just outside of Ching Jing. Everyone makes it up to Ching Jing ok. But it is after this that the challenge kicks in and it all becomes really hard work. The first place I set up was on the first long ascent towards the first “pitstop” at Cui Fong where cyclists could get bananas and refill empty water containers.
Of course, many groups had comprehensive support and could by-pass this. Actually, it comes a bit late in the ride if you are a capable rider–by the time complex carbs are making their way into a strong rider’s system, they will have just about arrived at Wuling on top.
There are those who concentrate intently, riding within themselves, but with purpose. They know what is coming and are prepared for it.
Either this guy knows and does not care, or does know and is just, bizarrely, happy about it, or has just got the cycling vibe. It is the cycling vibe. The day is beautiful (it could have been pouring rain like last night), the air crisp — it just doesn’t get better than this.
There were also cyclists on the road who were not participating in the event. They had just decided today was the day to see what all the fuss, fear and hype surrounding the fabled climb to Wuling is all about. Put it this way, if you are walking at this point, with another 18km to go and 1000m of climbing, then it’s all over.
It takes around 2000m of climbing over 35 odd km to get to this point. From here, the day begins to take on the cast of a hiking event rather than a cycling event, which is absolutely understandable.
Ladies were climbing really well. 159 made it to the top: u-29 40; 30-39 years 85; 40-49, 30 completed; 50-59, 4 completed! Awesome!!
17 year old You-zheng powering into this section. He went on to complete the day in a respectable 3hrs 50 minutes, placing him inside the top 4%. He bettered his time from last year by 1 hour! Next year he hopes to better that time by another half hour or maybe more. The backpack contains his raincoat — he knows what the mountain can dish out when its mood changes.
Minibikes were out in some numbers. I heard a story about one guy riding one on a standard double crank and 12-25 cassette. He was complaining that his friends who suggested he “come for a ride” with them today said that the mountain was “really quite easy except for the hard bits”.
Red and black color contrasts nicely balanced works well.
Pink leg decorations boost confidence where your choice of machine guarantees that fairly tough times are ahead.
Support car getting ahead of another wave of riders.
Let’s face it, you can go almost anywhere on a Birdy.
But you will find it easier and a good deal cooler if you are on a Primavera Festino Red. . .
. . . or better still, a Rondone.
From here I moved on up the road past Cui Fong and the rest station there. The vista opens out towards the coast as we head along the ridge deeper into the mountains. I re-established a position in a leafy shaded glade just a few hundred meters before the beginning of the last 10km section of the main climb. . . and the main game.
This gentleman really reflected the mood of the day — well, prior to the killer grades that lie just ahead anyway. This is the spirit of cycling, of a day in the mountains well spent.
“Doing the climb on a fixed gear?” “Yes, there is no derailleur in behind there.” I heard from someone else that there was another rider on a standard fixed gear that are so popular these days. Now, that would be a finish and a half!
One of the older participants on one of the more unique decal displays, although I imagine someone may have just taken to it with a paintbrush and a whole lot of (controlled) passion. In the 50-59 mens group, there were 298 who completed the day, with 26 entrants in the 60 and over category crossing the line inside the time limit.
How do you define ambition . . . ? Seriously, this is the spirit of the ride multiplied over and over especially since on this very same stretch of road, the mountain is beginning to claim victims in increasing numbers.
And from here the event begins to transform into a hike-fest.
Just around the corner the ride swings out onto the face of the mountain as riders head into the final ascent. Here is a view of Cui Fong, the ridge that leads out of Cing Jing and into this main section of the climb. Riders are ascending thru 2400m here.
A bit more of a zoom in, and you can see the rest station giving a continuous stream of riders what they need.
This is where the real business starts: heads are down and thoughts are on one stroke at a time.
This rider has strained something and really needs to re-think his situation. It looks like he’s going for his cellphone. There’s no shame in calling for backup when the mountain strikes!
This would be the right move. For these riders, the top is a long way away. Colnago or no, a paradox of this mountain that the closer you get to Wuling, the ultimate goal, the further you get from success. Is this a bit like life? Sometimes.
Looking back at this section that is beginning to claim so many riders, the climb is very steep out of Cui Fong.
It stays this way for most of the remaining “journey” to the top. If you want to know what the rider in blue is looking at and the guy next to him just does not want to see . . .
. . . it’s the constant terror of the steepening grades ahead. That’s what marks this section off from the rest of the ascent. Just around the next bend, the road goes up again, around the bend, and up again. . .
This is the constant. The only thing that helps is that you know it, eventually, comes to an end.
As you climb, the road narrows down with a yawning drop-off to the right. Cyclists are crowded in on each other and even if you were able to ride, this becomes increasingly difficult. He Huan Shan: life’s metaphor?
Don’t look down. . .
. . . except if there is no more hope and you are all-in.
But as the road stretches on and up. . .
. . . it is legs that need to be stretched . . .
. . . and despair from exhaustion managed.
As progress is made, the great hike gets going in earnest,
although some, like the “dragon rider” are feeling like going the distance — much ado about nothing!
But most everyone else is walking.
Or sleeping! It’s such an early start to the day and if you made it this far, you are doing pretty well. If time is not of the essence — and of course it is not because that is the essence of cycling — then take a nap.
But, like the dragon rider, not everybody is faltering. There was this little guy that I snapped on the one interlude in the relentless ascent thru this section. He and his younger brother along with their Dad and Mom’s encouragement did a great job.
These two little guys are fantastic…and the bikes are cool. We’ll catch up with them later.
Anyhow, for those who are still on the hunt for success the end is actually almost in sight, literally. The intermediate goal is Kunyang, the official entrance to the wonderful Taroko Gorge National Park.
This is 3km from the ultimate destination, Wuling, which you can see on the skyline in the right 6th of the photo.
This is the view from Wuling looking down to Kunyang.
A closer look reveals the road on the left 3rd of the photo. That’s the corner you come round having survived the murderous, truly murderous ascent from Cui Fong. But it does not really help, believe me, when you can see the end in sight. At least it is within an hour or so hiking distance from the bend!
Some come round in style and are in a minority.
Just about everybody came around the bend to sight the finish way off in the distance on foot, a sea of refugees, victims of the mountain. And the grade of this approach into Kunyang is not apparent from this photo. It is a real battle to ride up this having dealt with the preceding climb.
As they came over the hill past the carpark, this is a sight that would have cheered them up, and perhaps caused them to wistfully reflect that the day might have gone easier had they been on such machines, as many were.
This encouragement to “go go” is also welcome spiritual sustenance coz its not far till the end. Most who make it this far, go all the way.
This is what the finishing area at Wuling looks like from the summit of He Huan mountain’s East Peak which tops out at 3420m — tough climb on foot with the altitude really having an effect on many people.
You can see this peak in the photos taken from Ching Jing at the beginning of the post. This was the day before the event, Saturday around noon, just before they closed the car park and began to erect the tents and equipment for the finish.
Here’s a zoom-in view. You can see the approach road to Wuling on the top left. On the right the road drops away on the long descent to the West Coast and Hualien. That’s such a great descent on a bike with one stretch continuously downhill for 60km! There is talk of a ride up from Hualien along this road to Wuling next year by 100 elite riders in celebration of Republic of China’s centenary.
The thin sliver of road that heads towards the east coast through one of the most spectacular areas in Taiwan.
But, back to the event.
This is an overview of Wuling when large numbers of cyclists were finishing. A key goal for everyone is to get a snapshot of them by the Wuling sign that displays the altitude: 3275m.
This is my ascent up this last bit a while back. Nice when you have room to move!
Today it is packed with riders coming into the finish, and riders beginning the descent.
As you come through the gate, the sensors mounted on the top scan the chip that is implanted in the number on your helmet. It goes through to a computer and you quickly get a print out of your time on a certificate of achievement, and, of course, your medallion.
One of the 4322 to finish receives his certificate. His medallion is already around his neck.
Remember the young champ from earlier? Here he is with his Dad having just crossed the finish line.
He’s just about to receive his certificate of achievement. His younger brother made it across the finish line about 30min later with a great roar of approval from the crowd. Unfortunately I was not in position to get that.
Once you have got your certificate and medallion, it’s time for a photo next to the Wuling sign. Everybody was lining up, with the line stretching back down the hill past the finishing gate!
At the top of the stairs, it’s a right turn to the sign. This gives a good overview of the finishing area. You can see the lineup of photo op seekers on the left. Just below the small cliff at the back is the finish line and just to the right of this is the awning covering the certificate processing area. All pretty well organized.
One by one, cyclists have their photo taken by Wuling’s famous sign, proof of having physically been present at this point.
You may have noticed that the cloud is closing in. It’s about 1pm at this time with the cloud reducing visibility to 100m or so. There’s probably rain on the way; there were rain showers at this time yesterday. It’s time to descend.
Many riders are still on the way up. Some are having great difficulty. Others are just having a casual day of it. The fact is, the higher you go at this time of day, the nastier the weather will become.
Most people have finished and are heading down. Beginning half way along the road from Kunyang to Cui Fong, transport and support cars and buses are waiting to whisk riders and bikes away.
This transport enabled mass movement of bikes through a special rack fixed in the tray. This is one group who really like to participate in these mass cycling events.
Buses await at Cui Fong as the weather closes in.
A section of road between Cui Fong and Cing Jing. It is a constant task to shore up the road right the way to the pass at Wuling and beyond. The mountain is always restless.
Not far past this latest display of the mountain’s restlessness you suddenly emerge from the trees into the upper reaches of Cing Jing and one of the highest 7-11 convenience stores around: 2000m. For those without transport, it’s a case of descend all the way back to the start at Puli. But an extended rest stop at this famous 7-11 with hot soup and all sorts of rewards for a hard morning’s work means this joint is really jumping!
Of course, after hot soup or even a fine 7-11 coffee (no..really 🙂 ), you might find that jumping just does not cut it — a nap is a far better way to go! Amid the chaos of bikes and riders swapping stories and catching up with each other (“oh…you’re here too!! long time no see…”), it’s nice to drift away into sleep and dream of next year’s ascent, or maybe something else.
And a surpise. A lady from Taipei riding one of my “Opes” ladies mountain bikes. She was with some friends who were heading up to Wuling to stay overnight at the Sung Xue lodge located about 1km down the road descending to the East Coast. But the crowds were so bad that they decided to backtrack to the 7-11 and wait until the crowd thinned out, and then press on. Go girls!!
I’ll finish off with a few photos that my PA, Vanessa, discovered after trawling through masses of photos that have been put on the net since Sunday night. She did not make careful note of who the photographers were, so I cannot directly attribute the photos. Apologies that you remain anonymous. Your work is wonderful:
“The kid”, 17 yr old You-zheng cruising in for a 3hr 5omin finish. He’ll be looking to cut at least another half hour off that and put pressure on the guys at the top end of the field in the years to come.
This is the lady on the Blue Festino that I photographed earlier in the day. She is just approaching the finish line. An excellent ride and what a great shot.
The rider on the Red Festino that I captured earlier on cruising into the finish. Nice job!
The cyclist on the Rondone that I photographed having a good time earlier. He looks like he’s just ridden around the block. Excellent!
The gentleman with the one arm was there again. Each year he participates and rides very strongly. I have seen him riding around Taichung city. He sure loves his cycling.
Where would you be without your tall bike? This rider came around a corner near where I was shooting. He turned to go back down the road going back around the corner, so I missed the shot. Anyhow, lots of fun in all sorts of ways today.
I’m looking forward to next year already.
Wherever and whenever you go cycling, may the spirit of the ride be with you.