Tuesday, November 8th, 2016
Here's were the fun starts. From Chiayi to Alishan it's 60-something kilometers with 2100 meters of elevation gain. Since we're taking back roads (with their vicious grades) most of the way it will be a roller coaster, probably well over 2500 meters of actual climbing.
Breakfast is not bad. Not quite the all-you-can-eat orgy of gluttony provided by last night's 5-star hotel but we won't be starting the day hungry. The hotel is a bit goofy, they've tried so hard to make it hip that they've overshot the mark. Nice people though, and the food is good, so roll with it.
It doesn't take long for the hard climbing to begin. While we're still under a thousand meters it's quite hot as well. Just like I've experienced around Taipei, the less-traveled mountain roads have brutal grades. If there are not trucks you know it's going to be good.
After topping the first climb we're in roller coaster mode for the rest of route 159, with the trend definitely on the up. We wind around cliffs, mountain sides that line a deep river gorge, sometimes with looping switchbacks and sometimes with straight-up climbs of 15 and even 20 percent.
Our love affair with route 159 mercifully comes to an end when it runs into route 18, a well-traveled and therefore much more humanely graded road that we will be following all the way to Alishan. We are running out of daylight though.
We're getting close to 2,000 meters elevation, it's cold, the sun goes down, it get's colder. We break out the lights. Still no sign of Alishan. Victor bonks, he flags down a truck. I can't blame him, today is a bit much for a first tour. The two guys in the truck help us load the bikes and we spend the last 4 or 5 kilometers sitting on bags of rice in the flatbed staring up at the stars through the pine trees. They drop us at a kind of toll booth at the entrance to the Alishan park. We ride through an unoccupied gate but the guards yell at us to come back and pay. $300 NT, no freebies or discounts for cyclists. We find the hotel but they don't have my reservation...a moment of terror...then it turns out it's the hotel next door that I booked but the on-line service sent me the wrong confirmation. We drop our stuff, shower, stuff our faces at a restaurant, then blissful sleep. Long frickin' day.