I set off at six o’clock on Monday morning to ride across the Northern Cross Island Highway. This road, which Taiwanese call the Bei Heng (北橫), begins at Daxi in Taoyuan County and goes across the mountains to Yilan. I stopped to eat breakfast somewhere on the road between Xindian and Sanxia. Once I rode through Sanxia the worst of the traffic and urban ugliness was behind me. The scenery on Route 7乙 between Sanxia consisted of small farms with bigger mountains off in the distance.
Beyond Luofu the road narrowed and you really had the sense of being in the mountains as the road travelled along the side of a steep valley. The next stop was in Ronghua at an altitude of 510 metres. The Leaf Cafe (葉子咖啡) was a perfect refuelling stop. I made fairly good time and not long after midday I rolled in to the small town of Baling where I had lunch. Baling has hot springs and several hotels and would make a good spot for an overnight stop if you are cycling at a more sedate pace.
Beyond Baling the road headed further upward. You are really in the mountains here and there is very little traffic on the road. At the higher elevations there are cypress trees. The road kept going up beyond the sign in the photo above. I believe the high point of the road is around 1,200 metres. At this altitude the temperature is also noticeably cooler especially when the clouds started rolling in the afternoon.
Around mid-afternoon I reached Mingchi. I arrived there at the same time as two other cyclists and they asked me if I would like to share a room with them. I was grateful for their kindness and company. They were also riding the Bei Heng, but at a slower pace having taken two days to get to Mingchi from Taipei. Mingchi has a beautiful resort set amongst the giant trees of the Ma-kau Ecological Park (馬告生態公園). After taking a shower there was still enough daylight to walk around the lake at Mingchi and enjoy the beautiful forest.
The next morning I was on the road before seven. The road was fairly level for a while before the long descent down to Yilan began. On the narrow mountain roads people generally drive slowly and carefully. It is amazing how two vehicles can pass each other when it seems so narrow. Many people also shouted out encouragement to me as they drove past.
The road descends to the valley of the Lanyang River and follows its banks until it reaches the Yilan Plain. When I got to Yilan there was an ominous looking black cloud to the north and shortly before I reached Jiaoxi it started raining. I took shelter and waited until the rain stopped. I rode through Jiaoxi and started to head along Route 9 to Pinglin. It started raining again. I stopped for a while, but then decided to push on rain, hail or shine. The “nine turns and eighteen bends” afforded some wonderfully dramatic views of Toucheng and the ocean.
When I rolled into Pinglin for a late lunch the roads were finally dry even if I wasn’t. After a hearty lunch I started on the home stretch along a familiar road. A large golden statue of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva stands guard over the road on the climb up from Pinglin. It was still a bit further to the top of the hill but then it was a nice easy downhill run home.
The two day ride was a great experience and the forest and mountain scenery was especially beautiful. I should add that it is possible to take your bikes back to Taipei on the Capital Bus (首都客運) from Jiaoxi or Yilan if you don’t want to ride over Route 9 or one of the other routes.
*more photos in the Northern Cross Island Highway set at flickr.