Thursday, March 12, 2015

Three-wheeled Recycling Rigs

Context. That which surrounds, in a temporal and geographic sense, and links a concept to the firmament. My way of saying, there's a story behind every photograph.

I've been so tied to taking quick and easy photos with my phone for the last year that when I finally got around to using my DSLR, its batteries were dead. I tried to order some online, but the supplier said they were on back order, so I cancelled the purchase. Months later, I was at Guanghua Market and saw the type that I needed, so I picked up two.

When was I finally motivated enough to go out and take some photographs of my favorite subject, scooters in all their variety, my trusty Kymco died halfway to the city. It wasn't really dead, but it wasn't going to start till I took care of a fuel line problem, so I parked it. And then I got on a bus and rode it into Xindian. Then I took the MRT to Gongguan, and switched to a U-Bike. 

My destination was the edge of an old military dependents community, the closest thing Taipei has to squatter camps. One of the occupations for people living in these areas is collecting recyclable materials. They drive around in their three-wheel trucks, powered by motorcycle engines, picking up plastic, cardboard, metal, and glass. And at night, they park them outside their homes.

I have no idea where these are made, or by whom, but I admire the spirit of those who drive them. The vehicles carry no license plates, and the drivers ignore or follow traffic laws as they wish. The three-wheelers each have a unique character linked to that of the owner, and there is a beauty in their anachronism.

Modern Taipei rises all around, but these motorized ox-carts trundle down boulevards and narrow alleys alike, gathering what others reject.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Cycle Route 4: Pinglin to Shiding

Here's the 4th of 6 cycling routes in the mountains southeast of Taipei City, from Pinglin to Shiding. The 13.3 kilometer ride begins with a climb of 5.5 kilometers in length, rising 357 meters. You can find the route on Google Maps.

If you're doing these routes on your bicycle, this is the one you'll remember as the toughest. The average grade over the climb is "just" 6.6%, but significant portions are above 13%. And there's a downhill section halfway through to scrub a lot of the elevation you climbed at the beginning.

Bike friendly restrooms under the #5 Highway bridge.

This is tea-growing country, and along this back road you'll see pocket plantations tucked into the folds of the steep mountains, with jungle rising at the edge of the well-tended fields.

Tea and a scooter along the road

A leather living room set's final resting place

The road is empty for the most part, and that's both a blessing and a curse. Not much traffic to worry about, but the road is slipping off the hillside in some places, with long, wide cracks running down the middle of the single lane.

The video doesn't often reflect the true steepness of the climb, but these images from switchbacks show how quickly this road can climb when it wants to.

Here's the view leading to the top of the climb. It's not spectacular, but you'll be thrilled to reach it.

And then there's the moss that grows on the road, threatening to cause your tire to lose traction and slip to the side. This is not just a problem for bicycles, as scooter riders will also want to exercise caution, in both directions. This is no place for fast descents, and when climbing, you're well advised to follow the dry path.

After the initial, hairy phase of the descent, the road condition improves, and you'll have a chance to enjoy the scenery, and the statues that people have set up along the road. Guanyin, the goddess of mercy, I can understand, but a zebra? No idea.

Huafan Road leads to a university, so you'll see more traffic on this lower section of the descent. It's a twisty road, and no one seems too inclined to stay to the right of the double yellow line. When you hear about college kids getting in wrecks while riding their scooters in the mountains, keep these images in mind.

The ride ends in Shiding, the town huddling along a river in a narrow canyon. Refill your water bottles, and grab something to eat, because another climb awaits. Cycle Route 5 starts here and heads up, and up, to Highway 9, the Beiyi Highway, before descending toward Xindian.

On a technical note, this video was made with GoPro 3. The camera was attached to my helmet. The scooter I'm riding is a ten-year-old Kymco Techno GT 150.

On a musical note, the music in the video is a bootleg recording of the Wild Alibis, performing at Alley Cat's in 2010. The song is Long Haired Doney, by R.L. Burnside.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Cycling Route 3

Here's a fantastic ride from Shiding to Pinglin. The total distance is about 16 kilometers, and the road rises 492 meters in elevation. It'll be a good workout for your scooter, or your heart if you elect to do it by bicycle.

Shiding is a little town to the east of Taipei. It straddles a stream that has carved its bed in the soft stone. If the weather is nice, grab a drink at the convenience store or a snack from the vendors and sit in the plaza or down by the water, if you dare. There's a great hike along Huandidian Ridge, not far from here, but that's a subject for another blog.

The road heads up the valley, through a couple of short tunnels, and then begins to rise over a series of switchbacks. The #5 Freeway is overhead at first, but soon just blue skies and green mountainsides will be above you.

There's a shrine on the left at the top, and then the descent begins toward Pinglin. You'll notice the golden Buddha statues lining the road, and the tea fields on the steep hills.

Road work is almost constant on these mountain roads, so be ready for a construction crew working to stabilize the hillsides. It's a narrow road so stay to your side, especially for those blind corners. Those deities aren't just there for decoration.

You'll be traveling on Route 106乙.Pay attention to that last character. Route 106 heads east to Pingxi, and Route 106乙 goes south to Pinglin. At the bottom of the descent, you can go right via Route 42 into Pinglin, just two minutes away, and then either to Ilan or Taipei.

If you want to take the next ride in this series, turn left on Route 42, proceed for about 200 meters, and turn left. It doesn't look like much, but it's the beginning of a great ride back to Shiding.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Cycling Route 2

Here's the second of six cycling routes in the mountains southeast of Taipei City. It starts where the first ride ended, on Yanjiuyuan Road in Nangang. This second route is approximately 12 kilometers long and begins with a climb of 5.5 kilometers in length, rising 319 meters in elevation.

Here's a map showing the location of the ride relative to Taipei City. Click the image below to see the Google Maps page showing the route in detail.

You'll encounter some traffic on the ascent, but not much, so be sure to keep to your side of the road. There are some tea houses at the top if you feel like taking a break.

On the video, the grade is really only evident on the switchbacks, as you can see the difference in height between the different levels.

On a bike, you'll definitely notice you're riding up a hill. The average grade is 5.8% At the top of the hill, the road levels out, and you'll see the mountains stretching away to the east and south.

The descent makes it way via Route 33, which you'll turn onto right at the top of the climb.
The start of Route 33

Shiding to the left, Nangang to the right.
There won't be many vehicles on Route 33, but the ones you may meet won't be expecting you either, so exercise caution when approaching corners  with limited visibility.

I saw one of the two bikers of the day on this route. He was making the climb up Route 33. I did not shout at him to go faster.

Near the end of the ride, before crossing the bridge and reaching Route 106, I spotted these two retro-style motorcycles parked next to a stand of banana trees. Oddly, the riders were nowhere to be seen.

When you reach Route 106, turn right and continue straight for about two kilometers. When you come to the corner with two convenience stores, the third route will begin, leading towards Shiding proper.