Monday, 30 July 2012

4th Miaoli Trip: Mingde & Yongheshan Reservoirs

I took the train up to Miaoli again yesterday - this time getting off at Miaoli city and riding the bicycle up to the back of Mingde reservoir and halfway up the mountainside. There were no paths down to the river, so I shot the weir from a little rest-place by the side of the road about 200 feet above the weir.

That road - 126 - is very steep and even with my now somewhat improved fitness I struggled to get up it (in fact, I eventually had to dismount and just walk). After shooting the weir I momentarily thought about continuing uphill and coming down the other side to go and take a swim in the river, as I had done on my first trip (the heat and humidity was very strong). From that point on the other side of the mountain down from 126, I could have taken the northern road (highway 3) up around the back of Sanwan district and westward again to Yongheshan reservoir but I decided against it; in the first place, the topography of that route is unknown to me; secondly, the distance is considerably further than the route with which I had already become familiar with, and third, my time was constrained by the fact I had my seat booked on the 2.28pm train back down south from Zhunan. So I turned around and rode back downhill and around Mingde reservoir to highway 13.

Back at the little hamlet at Mingde reservoir I stopped at a little corner shop for water; the couple that own the place are originally from Tainan and are very talkative - I started to think I wasn't going to get away without having to change my tone. I don't mind chatting with the locals but I was time limited, and I wasn't even sure I was going to make it back to Zhunan train station on time. And his daughter wouldn't leave me alone, which was embarassing...

Taking highway 13 northwards toward Zhunan, I took the right turn off onto the little farmer's road ("Shuankeng Industry road" according to the map) that runs through Sanwan district, which is full of stepped rice paddies and livestock farms (mostly ducks and geese). After about two thirds of the way, I had to tackle the monster hill which marches the road up around the back of Yongheshan reservoir which was where I wanted to be. That hill has got to have a slope of between 20% and 30% - it is simply unclimbable. By the time I got to the top - just walking and pushing the bike along - I was exhausted and had to lie down on a wall for a few minutes to get my breath back. Pushing on, I stopped for more water at the farmer's restaurant I stopped at last time - this time the old woman's husband and son (Jeffrey) were present and I spent five or ten minutes talking with them about fruit farms and so on (their crop is "Japanese water-pears") while I knocked back an apple soda.

Eventually, running around the back of Yongheshan reservoir I made it to the point where I could hear the rushing water I had heard last time, and so I dismounted and carefully made my way down a long-since disused track now overgrown with weeds to find the source. What it is, is a narrow (perhaps five feet across) underground channel through which the water flows before passing over a steep weir about six feet in height to enter the reservoir. There is also an additional channel off to the right diverting a percentage of that water off to what looks like a small fish farm. The whole area is very narrow and "claustrophobic", overgrown as it is with weeds and filled with massive cobwebs from the golden orb weavers. I found it very difficult to get a good picture, i.e. one that could take the whole scene in - this would have been another one of those times when a proper wide-angle lens would have done the business, but as it is I am limited to my 18mm-55mm. I'll have to get one eventually.

By the time I reached the observation platform overlooking Yongheshan reservoir it was already 1.50pm, so I rushed off a few landscape shots, bought one of those strange herb tea drinks from the old man with a blue truck there, and took off downhill to race my way back toward Zhunan train station. I momentarily regretted not having stopped a little longer to take some shots of the reservoir's entrance gate, but those regrets were put out of my mind when I reached the 7-11 just outside the train station. I grabbed a couple of beers and realized it was nearly 2.20pm - barely enough time to dismantle and pack the bicycle and rush to the end of the platform.

In the end I made it with a couple of minutes to spare. That little beer I had before I got on the train tasted like magic. Unlike Tainan, where it had apparently been overcast and drizzling all day, Miaoli had been absolutely scorching from the moment I arrived at 9.30am all the way through until lunch time and into the afternoon. I spent about five hours cycling around in that heat (temperature in the mid to high 90s) forcing my way uphill and racing downhill with a wet flannel draped around my neck (which I left on the train in a moment of forgetfulness).

Before I set out, I had had doubts about whether I could make it to the end of Mingde reservoir and to the back of Yongheshan reservoir in the same day, given that I was having to sweat my way around on a bicycle. I was pleasantly surprised that I did make it, and on time too.

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