We make holes in teeth!

Monday, January 03, 2011

Taiwan Day 4 - Climbing the Quarry

Full picture set of the day here: Flickr set or slideshow.

Note the link above - I put it at the top of each day to see all the pics. Nat said she didn't notice it yesterday.

For breakfast this morning I needed to eat some fruit, so I had a kiwi and a banana, plus the usual cup of coffee. When the sun came up I geared up for a ride and hit the road, still not sure where I was going. The big mountain still lured me on, but the warnings from yesterday were still sort of in the back of my mind. Of course, I went straight in the direction of the mountain, and figured I'd "wing it". It took me only 20 minutes to get there, but the road wasn't marked so I wasn't sure what to do. Well, it was marked but it didn't have the English name so I missed it.

Eventually I turned around in the other direction it was marked, so I started going up. Immediately I was met with 3 trucks full of stone, which is apparently what they mine for up on top of the hill. I continued on past the lower quarry entrance and kept going. Shortly after the entrance the road turned to gravel, and I thought my day was done. But I looked out across and saw that it was pavement on the other side so I rode through it and started climbing.

And climbing.

To say it went up fast is an understatement. I was in my lowest gear quite a bit and it was still a hard slog. I had been warned about the trucks coming down but after 1500 vertical feet I had seen nothing. But then, the first one came down. Did I mention this was a 1 lane road?

The first few trucks were a little nerve-wracking, but after that I made my peace with them, and they with me. I saw that the first guy was on his radio when he passed me, so I can only assume he was sending back the message of, "Holy shit stupid fucking white man in blue and orange neon is riding his bike up the quarry road!"

The looks on the truck driver's faces ranged from a nod, to shocked surprise, to smiles. One guy even stopped his truck and we cobbled together a conversation in mixed Chinese and English. We both knew a little of each other's language so we were able to get through that it was really high up there, my wife is Taiwanese, her family lives here, we're on vacation, I work online, and my boss lives in Chicago. He asked a few more questions which I didn't understand. So I told him he had a big ass (ni de pi gu hen da!) and we moved on.

One thing I find fascinating about this island is the prevalence of hiking trails. Apparently, when the Japanese colonized the island they forced the natives to build all sorts of cross-island trails, roads, and railways. Many of these are now washed away in landslides and from general lack of use. But some are still active and yesterday I caught a few glimpses of trails here & there. Note the rope to help you get up:

I also found the next pic insanely interesting. There was a bucket conveyor that went all the way up the mountain. It was essentially a ski lift for rocks, but I presume to send them down. As I started climbing the hill, I saw that it went way, way up. As I got way, way up, I later came to a spot where the mountain just loomed over me in gigantic fashion. I had thought I was getting close, but I rounded a turn at one point and saw that I was, in fact, not close. The crazy conveyor kept going up:

They apparently wash down the rocks before they load them in the truck, for whatever reason, and this leaves a stream of water on the roads after the trucks pass. This was good going up, as the trucks all took the same route. So when I would approach a truck I would see where he was going to go, and I would avoid it. I presume I was much less of a hazard this way. As I got closer to the top, however, it struck me that the water was also mixing with stone dust, which is the same stone used to make cement. Everything on the island is made of cement.

So, for those of you who have ever mixed cement, you know that when it's wet, it's slick as grease. What was basically slowly covering the road was a greasy film. As I went further on, it started to rain.

Just after I had talked to the driver who stopped, and rounding the turn to see the massive mountain looming ahead, I realized I'd never have enough time to make it to the top. I had to get to the point where the GPS said 2500 feet, but then had to turn around and head home. This was unfortunate for 2 reasons. The first is that this will be my only trip up this hill, as it's pretty dangerous and dreadfully dirty. The second was that I was now faced with the task of going down the hill that was covered in greasy cement dust, in the rain, with the trucks now coming up the hill. I thought it would be a slow affair, and it was, as I only averaged something like 12 mph going down. But the GPS reeled off the vertical in rapid fashion, going from 2500 feet to -150 in absolutely no time. Even putzing along, it was a rapid descent.

My bike and I were both covered in this shit when I got home:

We had loose plans to hit up a local museum but the light rain made it less appealing, as it is partly outside and it's not as cool if you only stay inside, apparently. So we ran some errands which included going to get a data plan for my phone, grabbing a coffee, getting 2 Ethernet cables, going to an arts and crafts store for Julia, and then grabbing lunch. But before I post the pics of food that you weak-stomached mortals complain about, let me just say again...

Data plan bitches!

Let me also say that the 3G here is just about as fast as my wifi at home. This island is data saturated.

Ok, with that out of the way let me give you the sticky rice with pork sauce on top:

In the afternoon we went for a little walk again, which resulted in us buying more stuff. The danger of living here is that there is anything you can think of within a half-mile radius. So we go out and wind up buying something to eat & drink each time we go, plus something we forgot the last time. This trip was bubble tea, the bakery, an extension chord, and some lotion for Julia. They put these on the sidewalks when they don't want scooters to slaughter the area:

Back at the apartment where I get back into a little work, though I admit that the first day is hard to find my work groove. I did some documents earlier and figured out a little of what I need to get done. but it's hard to really get into anything when the rest of the company is sleeping and the market hasn't even opened yet. So I punch out a few emails to help with some of the stuff I'm doing and then mull around the house all day. I need to define some concrete work items to make it easier to get stuff done.

Later in the afternoon my FIL comes back and tells me he's found me some more riding partners, presumably a bit more capable than Darin. They happen to be going back to the store so we join them for a bit, and they discuss various local routes. With the limited I can understand and in looking at the pictures, they do seem more capable than Darin but really well below what I'm used to, even with my 20+ pound bike. They have done the "toughest climb" in the country, which goes up to something like 3200 meters, almost 10,000 feet. It's apparently the highest road climb in the country. The cutoff to qualify is 7 hours. That's solid, I'll admit that.

He also told me about a local hill climb challenge that is supposed to be really hard in he last 200 m. Yes, everything here is m and km. I loaded it up on the GPS and plan to do it tomorrow morning. By the time I post this I will have likely gone out & come back already, so the FB users will likely already know if I made it.

Dinner for us is noodles. But Julia eats like most of you and is disgusted with our stuff. She gets Pizza Hut, which I have to admit is actually pretty good:



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