I tend to keep a loose itinerary when traveling. It’s always worked best for me. One contact will lead to this contact and so on. So when I met my friend Epos while racing in Thailand, I knew I’d be spending some time with him in the Philippines. It would prove to be the most fun destination yet for me.
After a quick stint in Australia, I booked a flight to Cebu. Upon arrival I was greeted with warm smiles and stifling humidity. Dave and Epos whisked me off for an immediate beer and checked me into my meager new digs on Mactan island, where I would spend my first week getting acquainted.
I happily settled in and slowly began to pedal around my new home. The first thing you notice is the street traffic. It’s insurmountable. Every artery is either completely stopped or nearly plugged with scooters, motorcycles, and new cars alike. However, the actual driving culture here is surprisingly calm and relaxed, and road rage is nonexistent. In fact, I had felt no aggression or even angst from anyone, anywhere here. A very pleasant vibe full of smiles, waves, and cheeky humility surrounds. I can’t help but compare to Mexico as far as the pace, and lifestyle.
Riding here is very unique. We spent some time shuttling some short trails about thirty minutes south of Cebu, in Naga. One of the most fun aspects of shuttling here is, it is done on a scooter. You hire a driver, and put your bike upside down, on the seat in between you and him. All you can do is hold your bike and hope you don’t swipe something on your way up the hill. You can watch Epos assist me on my first experience doing it on the video below: Hopefully it plays, I was having trouble with it.
The trails are a mix between short, choppy sprints which cut through small hut neighborhoods, and wipe open, fast descents. The trails have many blind corners, making it difficult to keep flow at times. The soil is a mix of clay and petrified coral heads. A small spit of rain can turn any section into an all out slide fest, eliminating all hopes of traction. So when race day was upon us on Sunday morning, I was nervous to discover I would be starting first, the only foreigner, on a trail with no lines, after rain all night.
I had a specific strategy learned in Thailand where I would survive the sliding on stage one, and pressure my remaining stages hard, where traction and my confidence would be. Stage one would start as I expected, an off camber, greasy mess, before blitzing down into a hillside neighborhood of thatch roof houses. The good thing about starting first was I wouldn’t be held up by any other race traffic. The bad thing about starting first was no one would tell the chickens and livestock in the trail. A chicken flew into my lap on stage one and remained there for around fifty feet of trail. I finished stage one conservatively knowing it wouldn’t be my best time on the day.
Stage 2 was a pedal fest. The stage would start with a ripping full speed fire road into a short climb up into a fast and flowy grass field. Later in the stage, a sketchy stair section would link into another fast single track down into the finish area. Stage 2 was the longest stage of the day and my most enjoyable. After scorching down the fire road start, I was shocked to see a group of children playing in the middle of the trail (another qualm about starting first on every stage) but they quickly disbanded and I didn’t lose momentum thankfully. After warp speed slowed I sunk into the pain cave and blasted out a handful of short, rocky climbs before sweeping down across the finish. One last stage to go, but not after an amazing Filipino lunch provided by the race venue. Simply awesome.
The last stage of the day had the highest consequence as well. Perched on the top of the hillside over looking the Naga coastline, a small ribbon of pristine singletrack snaked it’s way down a grassy ridgeline and would flow all the way to the town below. Rain alongside thunder and lightning would show while waiting for the start of the last stage. After the weather passed, we were greeted with scorching mid day heat, and inescapable sun. An hour and a half would pass before my start and the sun bore down on my pale skin with no remorse. Finally, my start time would commence, and spectators would line the sides of stage 3. I knew I had to lay it on the line to solidify a top spot, something I don’t always enjoy doing. I sat at the top, waiting. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and I sprinted out onto course nailing my lines with precision. I found massive traction amidst the rain, and even threw a massive two wheeled drift across a sweeping left hander close to the finish line. Pedaled hard, and crossed the finish. Race over.
I breathed a huge sigh of relief having raced hard all day with zero mistakes. Without times posted, I could only speculate. I had some very fast local talent alongside me in Elite, and they would be hard to top. But a few hours later at the race venue finish, I was elated to find myself on the top of the podium.
Easily the most fun race was in the books, in a place I had never really planned to be. With resources running low, I am now looking for work here, and my race winnings are the exact amount I need to extend my Visa here for another month. As I write from my room this morning, I’m slowly packing up for a surf trip tomorrow to another island. Still enjoying my time here more and more each day. Four months in now, and I do experience some homesickness from time to time but the overwhelming hospitality here in the Philippines definitely makes me feel at ease.
The support here has been amazing and just an example would be what happened with my bike. My bike is over 3 years old now and has seen an unreal beating these past few months. I let my friend Heydar borrow it to fix a creaky bottom bracket. He returned it only 2 days later after rebuilding the rear shock, bleeding both brakes, swapping out a wheelset and tires, degreasing my entire drivetrain, servicing my headset and installing new derailleur pulley wheels. All for under $100. My bike had not felt that amazing since it was new, and I can only attribute my result on my equipment. A similar job at home would’ve been hundreds and taken weeks.
Overall, my entire idea of life in the Philippines has changed. I think this is what travel does to you. Any preconceived notions or stereotypes are laid to waste. I never thought I could have so much fun somewhere I never planned to go, and between the people, the food, and the riding, I would say the rowdiest destination yet. I went from relaxing in a high rise, beach front condo on the Gold Coast of Australia, to sleeping in a hammock over looking the Philippine jungle mountainside in the same week. All the while, enjoying every moment. Until next time.