Well here it is folks; day three on our Taiwan mountain biking bender … the Stonedeer Trail (also known as Syakaro or 石鹿古道) . The last time we rode the trail in 2007, it dished up a bewildering series of large landslides, leaving us ragged and exhausted by the end. This time, we aimed to hit the trailhead early, and get the opening section of the ride cleared, ready for the tiring and dangerous hike-a-bike across the rock fields (and building up credit for the sublime singletrack descending).
Logistics are the trickiest aspect of riding Stonedeer; you first need to get deep into the mountains of Hsinchu County, and then work out a way to get from there back to your car, or to Taipei (an option I would like to try next time). Last time, we rented a van for the day to do the dirty work for us, but this year instead found a local willing to drive Mark’s car to the end of the trail.
Enough with the car. Kicking off from the trailhead, we slowly made our way up the long climb to the highest point on the trail, some 4km away. Naturally, our memories all conveniently deleted the climb, and we huffed and puffed our way to the top – we did it in good time, however, and conditions were close to perfect.
I don’t remember it being like this!
Please stop taking photos.
A sight for sore eyes – the saddle. In my head this was the peak; but sadly there was a little more work to do yet.
Breaking through the ‘saddle’ of the climb is always is always a good feeling, but in this case the architects that built this trail really knew what they were doing, drowning a gap in the trees in fabulous light, and signalling the start of the (mostly) downhill. Time to munch on one more energy bar, strap down our shoes, clean our glasses, and hunker down for some of the finest mountain biking this island has to offer. Yes, kilometres and kilometres of pristine single-track, divinely laid-out for us by the gods of mountain biking.
You can even see Mark’s grin at speed.
Yes, one more thumbs-up from Carlos, to the trail!
But once again, we did not have it all our own way. Time saved on the climb and opening sections were lost when we met the first of the bridges over one of the multiple streams and rivers. Untreated wood, humidity, rain and the odd rock-fall meant they were in a sorry state of repair, and in stark contrast to the conditions from last time. Each crossing took a group of us to pass the bikes from one side to the other, but this is the stuff that teams are made for, eh.
Less than ideal conditions.
I am sure there is a thumbs-up somewhere in the background.
Some then whizzed across the scary suspension bridge…
… and some walked it. I don’t blame you , Mark.
But the guys who rode in 2007 knew what was coming. Landslides – and lots of them. The condition of the bridges was not boding well, and really we had time to be making up time if we expected to get people to the airport in the evening. So, with a hearts pumping from the steep drop to the river below, we started the first climb. Thankfully, new ladders had been installed, which aided climbing to a large degree. However, I did not really trust the steps when completely new, and I shudder to think of the consequences should the wood break, but never-the-less we made it to the top, bikes slung over our shoulders and eager to press-on. Phew.
Yes – that is the river down below!
Our fears for the integrity of the rest of the trail were well-founded, but the trail-builders had been working hard in the last few years; despite the heavy rain of recent weeks, reasonably navigable tracks had been cut into the landsides, and bridges had been installed in a couple of places. This made for a far more pleasant preparation to the final kilometres of singletrack!
Contrast with the last attempt was stark, and welcome. Last time saw us disassembling the bikes, descending straight down in two trips to gather wheels and frames, straight up the other side twice more, and reassembling the bikes on the other side.
The final section of trail was as sublime as ever, and Mark locked-on to my back wheel and pushed me to the limit, the speeds getting ever higher. His attempts to pass me through the (very attractive – but no time for photos this time!) glades of bamboo were repeatedly met with aggressive lines from yours-truly, but I had met my match that day, and an unforced error saw me sliding along the trail as I hit a helpfully-positioned, diagonally-orientated trunk of bamboo lying across the path. I was exhausted, and Mark disappeared as my legs went into screen-saver mode. Tired, sweaty, bloody, muddy and numb from nettles, we arrived at the end of the trail, grins on our faces, and triumphant.
Bikes – intact.
Bodies – mostly intact.
Stonedeer, we salute you!