Padyak para sa Binhi 2008
Since we are organising the Cordillera Epic this year, we thought we would share some of our origin stories of the Cordillera Conservation Trust with all of you.
November 15 to 3pm to November 16, 2008
Photos by Ian Daiguoy and Andrew Dulawan
Padyak para sa Binhi ng Kordi
“24 Hours? Puede ba yun?!” –Asked with a clearly skeptical face by Benguet Province’s Governor Nestor Fongwan during the kickoff for the Padyak para sa Binhi ng Kordi last November 15, 2008 at 3pm.
Our bikes are cleaned, oiled, and spit shined so you could see your reflection clearly on our crank arms. The drive trains are tuned to perfection, the bearings repacked, and everything that could break down has been replaced with brand new parts –new chains from Nelson, brand new tires from Agnes Bike shop, Break pads from Wesley, our support car even carried a whole spare bike just in case we had any catastrophic mechanical problems with our own bikes.
The day before saw the peak of my own anxiety as I tried to prepare myself for the next day’s ordeal, for the past few days I had limited my bike rides to roadwork of no more than an hour at a time just to keep the muscles warm and flexed for the weekend. I drank liters of water and Gatorade, and ate every meal for the last 2 days before the ride like it would be my last. Training for the Padyak, I had lost almost 15 pounds in 4 months and was as lean as I could possibly be, the last time I was this lean I had walked for 38 days across the mountains with 25 kilos on my back, but this was now an accumulation of over 3000 kilometers of training on my mountain bike, Doni was no different but if his muscles showed any fatigue from all that training he sure hid it pretty well, in fact he looked stronger than he had ever been.
3:15pm November 15: we were pedaling up the Halsema Highway towards Shilan with 2 police motorcycles escorting us up the mountain and a long line of cars behind our own support vehicle. A few minutes later we turn right into the dirt road that would lead us to Tip Top on the Benguet-Nueva Vizcaya road leading to the Ambuklao Dam. A light drizzle came down from the air and I looked at my smiling companions and wondered if this would turn into a rain storm, instinctively we start checking our breaks as the 30kilometer downhill ride towards the dam would surely run our breaks down to bare metal if ever the rain started to pour. We check our pace as we climb up the rough road to tip top and look back only to find that our support car is missing. A flurry of thoughts goes through our heads, but ten kilometers later we are reassured as they once again pull up behind us.
5pm we arrive at the Ambuklao Dam just as the sun is starting to set, the sky is painted a beautiful red and a rainbow from the mountain gods welcomes our arrival as we steadily climb up the steep gravel road to the top of the spillway. This was our first stop for the ride, where Ben would also shift from being biker to support crew. We quickly check the bikes for any problems start mounting our bike lights and headlamps to tackle the night do a little bit of preventive stretching, force down some food, and to the great credit of our support crew our water bottles are immediately refilled with Gatorade and our pockets packed with Bananas and cookies. Ten minutes later myself and Doni ride into the pitch black country.
This would be our 3rd time to do this section of the route but at night this was undiscovered country. Yet minutes into stepping into the pitch black Doni and I both seemed to find our rhythm and our bikes and bodies were now moving as one. After the ride Ben commented that looking at us from behind it seemed like we were dancing in perfect synchronization. Our legs beat steadily to the sound of the same music and even without talking or looking at each other we stood up and flowed with the terrain with the grace of a well practiced ballerina.
In fact I felt stronger now than at anytime during the many training rides we had done. The fact that it was pitch black did not seem to slow our pace at all and in fact we were going faster than we ever had during the day. I looked down at my cyclometer and we were averaging 13kilometers per hour, that was a full 3 kilometers faster than our normal average pace during training! And even at this faster pace it did not feel like I was pushing my limits, yet.
By the time we reach Bokod Central at around 7pm we realize that we had just mobilized the entire police force of Benguet Province. There were security personnel stationed across the entire route and each municipality’s police force would escort us till their boundaries and hand us over to the next municipal police command. Each car bristling with camouflage clad police armed to the teeth with M-16’s and even the occasional sniper rifle.
Doni was commenting as we biked with our escort up the mountain that this was how it felt to be a VIP, in fact with this much security we were pretty close to having as much security as the President of the Philippines. On my part this seemed to change my previously unpleasant view of our countries (country’s) police, where I have been on the receiving end of unpleasant interrogations on a quite a number of occasions, being the person who they were now protecting instead of grilling seemed to make me appreciate these hard working boys in blue. Especially since doing security work for 2 bikers and a support crew of 7 people, over the terrain and conditions we had in the Cordillera was a challenge, even for the best trained personnel. Not to mention that we had them all up late into the night and early in the morning in the freezing cold and over muddy and rocky roads. One of the commanders even commented that the whole police force of the municipality was now out doing route security for us that there were only 3 people left at their station.
“Dalawa lang ang bikers?” was the question of the police captain of Kabayan as we scarfed down the pasta we had prepared for the ride. Considering the amount of police they had deployed for this project, it seemed slightly disconcerting for them to learn that they were guarding just 2 bikers and 7 support crew, all of whom did not seem important enough to have the resources of the entire provincial police force at their disposal. Of course a couple of smiles, flash bulbs, and a minute of conversations later and they were pretty much as excited as we were to be along for the ride and were clogging the police radio frequencies with blow by blow updates on our progress.
Getting to Kabayan seemed easy enough, in fact I found it easier to do in the cool night air than during the day when the sun just continuously sapped me of my strength. The full moon finally decided to show through the clouds as we rolled into Kabayan, although probably a little late in the night to help us with our downhill runs since we had already passed most of the long and rough downhill sections of this part of the route and were now going to start our climb towards Abatan. This section of the route this evening was probably the most technically challenging section of rough roads. The road was littered with loose gravel and large rocks that made climbing or descending extremely difficult. Not to mention the deep mud pools that were formed by the heavy vegetable trucks that regularly plied this route, which in the dark was even more difficult to get through as you could not spot a clear exit from the mud. By the time we arrive at the bridge spanning the Agno River, our bikes and bodies are practically coated in the brown mud.
On the long climb up to Abatan, my damaged rear derailleur seemed to have taken a habit to locking up due to the mud bath coating the bearings of the pulleys, and on a few occasions almost throws me off the bike when I am pushing hard up the mountain. It got so bad that every hundred meters I had to stop and back pedal to unlock the pulleys, and somewhere near the top of the climb the pulley locked again I had gotten so annoyed that I pulled my bottle of Gatorade and sprayed the derailleur with sports drink just to clear away the annoying mud.
The hard climb up to Abatan did little to mask the fact that at 4am, this ridge along the Halsema highway was freezing cold; the temperature must have been just a little bit above 5 or 6 degrees centigrade and with the wind chill –that dropped to minus five or lower. In fact the support crew whose bodies were not heated by physical exertion had either fallen asleep from the cold or were desperately trying to hide themselves from the harsh wind that was blowing as they rode behind us.
Abatan was a major pit stop for us; by this time we had been biking for 12 hours and had covered approximately 125 kilometers. We took refuge from the cold inside the Abatan police station and tried to push down as much food and coffee as we could. Extra layers of clothing were worn and 30 minutes later we were once again pedalling our way through the dark along the Halsema highway ridge.
It was pitch black, foggy, and the wind was relentlessly cold. I tried to push bigger gears and pedal standing up just to heat up my body but every time the wind blew it seemed to push my core temperature back to square one… freezing! My hands were numb from the cold and the wind passing through the vents of my helmet was starting to give me a really bad headache. And even if this was probably the smoothest 15 kilometers we would ever pass through during our 24 hour journey this was by far one of the hardest sections of the trip. The cold and darkness seemed to work together as a potent sleeping pill and I was practically forcing my eyes open, a few times on the 15 kilometers from Abatan to Sinipsip I actually caught myself falling asleep for a few seconds on my bike, and the support crew had taken to trailing us quite closely as they had noticed that myself and Doni were now precariously teetering into dreamland.
But then to the east a slight glow started to rise from the mountains and even through the thick fog it seemed call us back up from the dead. To keep ourselves awake we take to shouting at the support crew and making jokes through the radio, who had by now fallen asleep, and posing for funny pictures through the fog.
Sinipsip even in the sunlight was even colder than Abatan as it was quite near the highest point on the Philippine Highway system. We were now about 2400 meters above the sea. And at this elevation air was thin and freezing cold even in the day. The lack of sleep had suddenly sapped me of strength and during this small pit stop I pulled and crawled my myself into a corner and just leaned my battered body on the tire of a parked truck. I looked at Doni and found myself extremely jealous that he seemed as fresh now as when we started 140 kilometers ago; while here I was almost completely spent, not knowing how I would pull myself through the last ten hours of the ride.
In Sinipsip the support crew informs us that they needed to have the car looked at by a mechanic since it had been breaking down throughout the night. This was of course the first we had heard of the problem, and found out that the delay that happened during the first 30 minutes of the ride was due to the car breaking down and the support crew having to push it just to get it started.
Being on a schedule we decide to use the police jeep as a temporary support car while the support car was being repaired by the mechanic. While myself and Doni pull our legs together to start on the long and rough downhill ride to Amposongan, this was the end of the last 15 kilometers of smooth and paved road –it was just rocks and dirt from now till the end of the 24 hours.
Going down a cold mountain with your legs feeling like they had frozen solid made the rough downhill even rougher as we could hardly pump our legs to use them as shock absorbers, our knees felt like they had just come from the freezer and would refuse to bend to lessen the rock pummeling we were getting on this long descent. It wasn’t till we had descended about 500 meters (vertical distance) down the mountain that our knees started getting oiled up again and we were flowing with the terrain. By the time we arrived at the bridge that led to Amposongan we were fully awake and relishing the beauty of the forested mountain ranges of Bakun.
The most difficult climb: the last time I did this I walked up the mountain, this time I was determined to pedal my way up this 5 kilometer pitch that rose at a near 45 degree angle and was completely covered in slippery loose gravel. I got half way without walking; the rest of the way was spent pushing my bike up the mountain. Nearing the top of the hill I was looking forward to getting some food from the support crew but to my dismay they had not stopped at the pass and instead had gone all the way down to the boundary about 6 kilometers away. I was spent from the climb, and even the fact that our original support car was now repaired and had caught up with me did little to raise my spirits.
Finally we caught up with our support crew in Palina where we find out that the Pasta we had cooked had now started to spoil. So we were reduced to bread and cookies for the last few hours of our ride. We had been on our bikes for 19 hours now and covered over 170 kilometers, this in itself was something but we still had 5 hours left on our clock and we were going to try and push ourselves a little further and gain a few more kilometers.
Kibungan’s mountain range loomed in front of us as we cranked our way up the dry dusty road up into Central Kibungan. The rock walled mountains watching over us while the waterfalls and streams to our right and the green rice fields that they fed provided us with the constant inspiration to get through the final hours of our epic adventure.
The freezing cold of Sinipsip had been replaced by searing heat. At the bottom of the mountain that lead to Kibungan we find that our coffee had been completely depleted and I finally succumb to having to drink a bottle of Red Bull just to keep myself awake.
The extreme temperatures seem to have taken its toll on me as my speed drops from an average of 10kph to a mere walking pace of 5 kph. The heavy diesel engine of the support car constantly revving behind me did not help my tired body in any way in fact it just annoyed me enough so that I wanted to pedal faster away from it.
By 1pm we had arrived at Kibungan Central, our odometers registered 180kilometers and once again we felt like we would soon pass out from the lack of sleep. We had 2 hours left on our clock and we wondered if we could make 200kms in that time.
The road after Kibungan was a mild climb to a pass only slightly higher than the town center, but even though the incline would be considered as easy by most I could no longer push bigger gears besides the last 3 lightest gears on my drivetrain. I watched in front of me as Doni still consistently pushed the same gears he had pushed a hundred kilometers ago, and just smiled in admiration at how strong my friend was.
About 30 minutes into the ride to the saddle I find that my shades are actually blocking out too much sunlight that I am steadily falling asleep. I stop to remove the shades and immediately the natural waking properties of sunlight give my senses a little boost past the point of the state of dreams.
Finally an hour later I reach the Saddle and the hardest descent of the ride starts. It is now hour 23, I had taken to not wearing a watch for the entire ride but now I turned my cyclometer to the time mode just to watch where I would be at 3pm. Then I feel the pressure releasing from my legs and my bike picks up speed, 10-20-30kph, then the rocks start, limestone rocks big as human heads continuously pounding you and your bike threatening to throw you offline! This descent is treacherous even when you are still fresh and full of energy, completely spent after 23 hours on your bike on rough roads and it is ten times more dangerous!
30 minutes into the downhill the rocks seem to take a backseat as little droplets start falling from the heavens. It starts small then suddenly like a big bucket from the sky the rain falls and the limestone turns into smooth slippery marble that not even the best mountain tires can stick to.
The final blessing from the mountain gods, it is water from the heavens. You struggle to fight your handle bar as the slippery rocks pull your tires in such unexpected directions that you now fear for your life. It is downhill but most of your energy is spent trying to keep your line down the mountain and not slam into a wall or fall into a ravine. Your legs may not be moving much to push you forward but the rest of your body is struggling just to keep yourself upright. A task made much more difficult with so much mud and water being slung into your face that you wonder why the road dirt tastes so salty.
Then suddenly you spot it at the turn of the road, a group of people clapping, as tired, dirty, and muddy as you are and you realize that you are here. You had made it 24 hours through the freezing cold and searing heat, the long climbs and jarring descents, the sleep deprivation and the rain. The god’s had blessed us after all; we had covered 206.35 Kilometers in 24 hours. And after the hugging, shaking of hands, and obligatory muddy pictures, I looked up into the heavens and saw a glint of blue starting to peak through the rain, and thanked them for such a wonderful journey. I just realized that we started our journey with a small drizzle to send us off and ended it with a down pour of rain to welcome us home.
I found myself with the best people in the world, friends who counted and loved each other as much as we all loved the mountains we had just passed. We got through the entire journey together. We were at the Amburayan River one of the life bringers for many that lived along its banks, and now through the Padyak para sa Binhi ng Kordi we would bring some life back into the brown patches of our mountains. And finally we could rest.
Padyak para sa Binhi 2008. Mountain Biking 24 hours straight over rough roads of Benguet covering 206 Kilometers in 24 hours and 8 Municipalities for new forests.