(The La La Shan Experiment Part Two - Back
to Part One)
The hotels in Shang Baling (Paling) are an 11
km road ride down from the park gate on a road most notable
for the horrifically poor driving skills displayed by locals
and tourists alike. We all agreed there was no way we were
going to ride back up this one in the morning. So at our first
stop, a rather nice coffee shop with an outstanding view,
we organized a 6:30am pickup by Mr. Chen, the waiter/owner,
and his little blue truck from our hotel a few more kilometers
down the road. Warm shower and beer-enriched hindsight told
us that this early start time was wishful thinking. With clearer
heads and a chat about the 8 and half hours walking we had
done, a far more realistic pickup time of 8:30 was arranged.
The morning started with an insane western-style
breakfast complete with a pot of coffee, vegemite, jam and
omelets, (which the hotel manager Mr. Chen #2 wants us to
tell you is available on request) followed by scrounging for
snacks for the ride down. Selection was small as there aren't
any small shops up here for that type of stuff, so with packs
full of potato chips we hopped in the back of Mr. Chen's truck
and froze on the way up to the trailhead, on yet another perfect
day. The first thing we rode past was all the old Cyprus trees
that La La Shan is famous for. These ancient trees attract
huge numbers of visitors who seem to feel some incredible
danger whenever a bike nears them, much like the other trails
we ride. There seems to be no danger when these people walk
aimlessly on the road, yet when a bike nears on a wide trail
it is like death has just walked through the door.
It takes about an hour or so to get back to
the real trail and then the fun begins. The previously
questionable ledges we had walked across now seemed eminently
rideable, and the moss-covered rocks had thousands of lines
to choose from, with the left side of the trail almost always
providing a safer route around the roots and rocks. The top
section of the trail is by far the more technical and body
draining. There is no trail in Taipei that can even come close
to this place. It just keeps on going and going. Being a hiking
trail there are places where you have to hop off and lift
your bike over obstacles, but in between the riding is incredible.
After completing the top section about 5 times
quicker than the previous day, with only one disc brake burn
to show for an injury, and one of my shoes completely blown
out, we were ready to tackle the remaining sections, which
are all winding dirt singletrack. It was insane. Every time
you came around a corner another perfect trail seemed to wind
off down into the distance, except for a few fallen trees.
In the middle of the ride this can be a little bit trying
as you just get into a great rhythm and then another unrideable
obstacle appears. Fortunately, some of the unrideable sections
have been made rideable by some incredibly well made North
Shore style bridges.
The bottom 7 kilometers was just incredible.
It is all downhill and for the most part smooth singletrack.
Whoever was leading would be letting out some groan of satisfaction
every time a new section became visible and then race off
with the others following in total ecstasy. Whatever seemed
dangerous walking felt much safer being ridden with a bit
of speed and only Dennis managed to launch himself off the
edge of the trail, luckily falling into a nice bed of ferns
and not down some steep endless drop. The further down we
got the better the trail became, if that was possible, and
the longer the sections. The last 3-4 kilometers, which didn't
look so good the day before, were a favorite, with little
drops, tight tree lined trail and roots to add to the excitement.
It doesn't get much better than this and would be worth a
walk up just to ride down.
After ending up back at the suspension bridge
completely high, we all proclaimed this the best Taiwan has
to offer (so far) and started talking about the next time
we ride it. One thing will change: we won't be walking up.
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