A brotherhood of the trails: The Cordillera Epic 3 Day MTB Stage Race
THE Cordillera Epic multi-stage mountain bike ride. A rite of passage that will redefine a mountain bike rider through three grueling days of grit, exhaustion and even frustration. A total of 200 kilometers through treacherous rocky and twisted downhills, nauseating climbs, scorching sun and teeth-chattering cold. Thirty five teams with two mountain bike riders per team from different regions of the country gathered in Tublay, Benguet for the country’s first multi-staged mountain bike ride.
All the three stages rolled out separately on December 4, 5,and 6 starting at Halsema Highway dubbed as “The Philippine’s most dangerous highway” before entering into the pine tree-lined forests. A day before the first ride, riders were treated to a spine-chilling pre-race orientation of the horrors of the entire three stages. Race organizer Thumbie Remegio was barking instructions like a feared drill sergeant. Behind him stood Cordillera Conservation Trust’s chairman JP Alipio like a tobacco-munching army commandant wearing a sheepish grin while surrounding trail marshalls eyeballed for a potential weak rider like a trigger-happy sniper.
The first day was a 50 kilometer ride that brings you to the breath taking pine forest, momentarily forgetting that you are in the Philippines until you are rattled back to reality as you barrel down on treacherous twisted descents. The second day was a 90 kilometer ride to the infamous “Massacre Hill.” This was the same route of last year’s Globe Cordillera Challenge that left only 70% survivors out of 800 riders. Last year, the Massacre Hill lived true to it’s reputation as a murderer’s row where its wicked downhills left several injured riders thrown off from their bikes while those who escaped unhurt later surrendered to dehydration and excruciating muscle cramps following a nauseating climb under an unforgiving sun. Massacre Hill was so steep, and like the Greek mythology’s Sisyphus, they were pushing bikes on foot like eternity.
The third day was a 50 kilometer ride bound for the majestic Ambuklao dam. But the ride was neither a pleasant field trip as rain and fog playfully conspired for a chilly ride as if pins and needles repeatedly pricked on a rider’s skin. Worse, gingerly negotiating the rain-drenched and slippery rocky trails was like a death-defying stunt where one reckless spill will surely earn you a free ambulance ride. Our team baptized by my team mate Aries Espinosa as “Roof Riders 44.5” had all the makings of an ‘Aldub Kalyeserye.’ He was a veteran of two Cordillera mountain bike challenges and a finisher of the recent Mt. Pulag mountain marathon. I myself was one of the survivors of the Globe Cordillera’s “Massacre Hill” in 2014 that rode a bike on V-Brakes and a rigid fork. Three months ago when the epic race was announced, we were both helpless souls looking for a partner with a Cordillera ride experience until our paths crossed with our “wanted teammate ads” via Cordillera Conservation Trust’s Facebook account. Both to our delight, we were almost of the same age. And to my relief, we both shared the kind of bikes that have ‘seen better days.’ We virtually exchanged notes via FB, always waiting for the “tamang panahon” when we would finally saddle up together. To rephrase the song, the “Gods (of Cordillera) gave me you.” This testimony lends truth to the saying that the rider does not pick on Cordillera. It is Cordillera that picks on the rider. But fate behaved like a Lola Nidora who almost threw everything just to spoil our ride. As we surfaced at Halsema highway back to the finish line on the first day, Aries apparently bonked under scorching sun forcing me to slow down and pick his spirits up with my dull jokes and tall tales. On the second day, sniffles and heavy cough after a bout of fever slowed me down. On the third day, my chain suddenly broke that cost me almost an hour of linking it back with trembling and cold fingers while drenched by rain. Then Aries’ chains started to jump from the granny gear every time he shifts gears forcing us to walk and then ride like crazy on downhills all the way to the finishing line. On the last two rides, we finished every stage by the skin of our teeth. Thank you Aries Espinosa for sticking around. I will always be your wingman. To the riders of the Jojo Buenviaje-led Xikad riders, thank you for treating us like family. To the marshalls and sweepers, thank you for enduring with us along the agonizing miles especially to the one who boosted our spirits with Freddie Aguilar’s “Magdalena” on his radio. To JP Alipio, thank you for making this world a better place to live. Till the next Epic. (GAF)