The Stone Deer Trail is spoken of in legendary whispers amongst our mountain biking circle – few had completed it, and even fewer knew what the conditions were after leaving it for a few years. We dabbled with the idea of taking a large group to tackle it, but with impending bad weather and mixed reports of the trail’s status George, Mark, Norbert and I (visiting from Germany) stepped out at 4:45am to take the bus into the mountains.
Mark and I mentally prepare ourselves for the climb
The weather had gifted us with cool air and clear skies, bags were laden with Power Bars, Snickers, litres upon litres of water, spare parts and first aid kits, and in the warm sunshine of the morning things were looking good. The first kilometres of riding were simply fantastic, weaving up through the hills, up until the point that my lungs started trying to exit my body via my nostrils. The climbing.
Winding up through the French Alps
Feeling pleased with ourselves in the sunshine, munchin‘ on Chocolate
The ascent got more and more extreme with the increase in altitude. Rocks became bigger, the trees loomed down upon us and gradually, the first of the hike-a-bike began in earnest. My sharp road saddle was already cutting into my shoulder and the weeks out of the saddle were beginning to haunt me. It was with some hilarity and amusement that we met the first of the rope climbs; cameras at the ready we happily snapped away, laughing at the idea of hauling ourselves up with our arms.
The price of old rope
After passing through the saddle of the range, and munching on further Snickers bars, we began the first kilometres of epic descending. With the gradient with us, the sun shining through the trees and bamboo forests rushing back past us it really was one of the finest half hours of my mountain biking life. We took it in turns to lead and it was a pleasure to follow the tail of my compatriots as leaves were kicked up by the rear wheel in a plume that must have been directly lifted from a computer game. Gorgeous, sumptuous, luxurious descending.
Mark my words, it was fluid
Pictures are better than words – mine anyway!
Indiana Jones – it’s safe, honest!
The one mechanical failure of the day (except for me popping a spoke near the end) – not a bad setting!
The trail began changing for the extreme when we reached the bridge. 120m across and probably about the same above the torrential water below, it was quite a sight to see it gliding off into the distance through the canopy. Mark took the lead and walked over – I could almost sense his relief on reaching the other side. After Norbert reached the other side on two wheels it was clear that I was going to have to do the same thing, especially with George watching over my shoulder! The first ten metres or so were easy, but then the canopy suddenly gave way, and with an abrupt change in acoustics and that strange feeling of infinite parallax in your peripheral vision, a strange sense of elation and fear gripped me. With no way to stop, I had no choice but to continue this semi-religious cycling experience to the other side, and safety.
Built in the 1920s, you say?
… by Taiwanese?
Pausing at an abandoned police station for more glucose-laden treats and snouts, we neared the area where the first of the land slides had occured. Before we got there, we had to negotiate some more switch backs – this time with rather larger cliffs on our side. Mark had warned us that at the exact moment we felt like we could accelerate was the precise location of a hairpin turn, with a backdrop of a 200m cliff. I managed my way round the corner, but with my body tiring and my nerves wilting I had a wee bit of a crash a few hundred metres further on, luckily without any usual cliff jumping antics.
And then we meet the first group of hikers, and the rope heading up the hill. The sun was beginning to beat down on us and to the shrill, enthusiastic screams of the Taiwanese walkers we lifted the bikes onto our shoulders and began the climb, rope in hand. Several different techniques were developed for carrying the (bloody) bikes, but at the end of the climb everyone’s expression told the tale – one slip, and we were fish food. And much more climbing than this, and our bodies would shut down.
Redefining the words ‘Mountain Biking’
Mark’s face tells the story
Mark does a stirling job on the second descent / ascent of the day. This rock fall was so severe, and the ground so unsteady we decided to dismantle the bikes.
After two major sections, our bodies were screaming and we were seriously beginning to lose concentration and motivation. On top of that, we were beginning to keep a closer eye on the time – the light was beautifully warm, but we knew our chances of getting back to the waiting bus if the sun set. It was with these thoughts on our mind that we rounded the corner to a scream of dismay from the leading rider – a river crossing, followed by a huge climb up what looked like another vertical face. We stared in disbelief, seriously considering hiding our bikes and returning the next week, and hardly in the mood to record the event with any photos.
With a push, Norbert lead the climb and managed to negotiate his way up the slope, the major distraction and danger sadly became the over-enthusiastic locals again, who began tugging at the ropes and trying to pull the bikes off our backs. I personally came quite close to saying some pretty rude things as they ran up and down the rocks in front of us. This was absolutely not the time for being a happy Brit abroad.
Still, we persevered and eventually reached the summit – by rights the zero point of the trail as we had made a net altitude gain of precisely zero metres. It was with immense relief that one of the team heard a motorbike and with it the realisation that we were back to fully maintained trails away from the reaches of the Taiwanese landscape trying its best to return to the sea.
If Jesus rode…
Not a happy camper
Spirits lifted as we began our last few kilometres of singletrack descending. Norbert lead the way with me giving pursuit. The site of his BMX legs flailing, leaves flying and the bike flying was simply marvellous. It is amazing how quickly the human body can recover given no more than a hit of adrenalin.
With the sun setting behind us, we finally returned to the waiting bus. We left, but not before taking an extended dip in the hot springs. Swigging on cans of victory Coke, the team was jubilant, the bikes were intact, and we were certainly ready for the ride back to the relative concrete safety of Taipei.
Human Shabu Shabu
The Stone Deer Trail
… and if you check the date, it looks like we were the April Fools!
I need to make a special thanks to Georg, who happily ignored our cries to STOP taking photos and provided the wonderful photos for this post!