Biking Mt Pinatubo
Like exploring an alien planet

Mt. Pinatubo probably has the strangest landscape in the Philippines.

While biking across its lahar-covered foothills last week, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the deserts of Utah, Arizona and the Sahara. While I’ve only seen those places in magazines and on TV, their resemblance to Pinatubo’s blasted landscape is uncanny.

I’ve been to Pinatubo before. Back then, while riding in one of the 4X4 jeeps that ferry hordes of wide-eyed giggling tourists to the crater, all I could think of was how much fun it would be to get down and pedal across this desolate landscape that looked like something wrenched from a scifi alien planet poster. Last week, I finally got to pedal across Pinatubo’s beautiful desolation. All I could think of was that I was like an astronaut on Mars.

Biking Mt Pinatubo
Start early in the morning to escape the worst of the heat

For a mountain biker, Mt. Pinatubo presents a different set of challenges. There’s the lahar left over from its massive eruption a quarter of a century ago. The lahar/sand is so soft that it sucks the energy right out of your wheel, and makes every pedal stroke an effort. Then there’s the utter lack of shade. The landscape doesn’t just look like a desert, it also feels more and more like one as the sun crawls higher and higher in the sky. You can really feel the water evaporating out of you and your strength slowly draining away. Finally, there’s the countless number streams and rock gardens you need to negotiate. All of these, come together to offer an unforgiving but also unforgettable experience for a mountain biker.

Biking Mt Pinatubo
Water comes running

This ride has been several months in the making. Last year, I contacted one of my readers (Codename: Urge Blueskyniner) who had done the Pinatubo ride before. I was hoping to get his help in organizing a ride there with some friends. I was hoping to do it around October or November. Unfortunately, Urge informed me that the US military was using the lahar fields in Sta. Juliana, Capas Tarlac for some combat training at the time.

Since my idea of adventure wasn’t exactly about dodging bullets, killer drones, howitzer shells, smart bombs and missiles during the Balikatan Exercises, I had to give up on this idea.

Found Footage: Apparently, this is what happens to mountain bikers who insist on riding Pinatubo during Balikatan Exercises

Still, Pinatubo remained high on my list of must-bike destinations. And then earlier this year, Urge told me that they were organizing a Padyakan sa Pinatubo around May. I immediately said: Count me in!

Since Capas Tarlac was more than a hundred kilometers from Quezon City, I needed to leave early so I could be at the Sta. Juliana venue on time. I loaded my bike and other gear onto the car at around 3am and proceeded to drive towards NLEX 30 minutes later. Since I just had about an hour and a half of sleep, I was worried that I’d end up snoring at the wheel and becoming an NLEX fatality statistic. Thankfully, I didn’t fall asleep while overtaking ten-wheeler trucks.

Biking Mt Pinatubo
Avengers, assemble!… your bikes

Dawn found me assembling my bike in the grassy parking area along with hundreds of other eager bikers. Whatever sleepiness I had quickly faded away as I absorbed the energy of fellow bikers raring to put their bodies and machines to the test.

The weather forecast for that weekend was grim, with the temperatures expected to hit 40 degrees Celsius in some parts of Luzon. I wondered if the 3 liters of water I brought were enough, or if I was going to end up dehydrated and hallucinating in the sand dunes.

I looked at the bright side and told myself: “”Hey, maybe I’ll hallucinate about Solenn Heussaf! That’s not so bad, eh?”

Biking Mt Pinatubo
The landscape is just so unique
Biking on Mt. Pinatubo
The terrain transitions from soft dry sand to soft wet sand

We rolled off for Pinatubo around 7am. Since the crater was just 30 kilometers away, and the ground was relatively flat, I thought that I could finish the whole trip in three hours with plenty of picture-picture stops along the way. Heck, I even brought my DSLR so I could capture decent photos of the event.

Biking Mt Pinatubo
4x4s and MTBs

Just like in my last ride in the Cordillera, I underestimated the effort needed to cover 30 kilometers of strength-sucking sand on Pinatubo. I didn’t realize how difficult it was to pedal in the shifting sands. The numerous stream and river crossings also slowed us down. Even the riders on fat bikes were having problems.

Biking Mt Pinatubo
Even fat tires meant to float on sand were getting sucked up by the lahar
Biking Mt Pinatubo
Stream crossings galore
Biking Mt Pinatubo
Sometimes you have no option but to haul your bike
Biking Mt Pinatubo
Some bikers had to be rescued because of mechanical and fitness problems

I had never used the granny gear so much on terrain that seemed so flat. The sand got in the drive train and caused irritating grinding sounds, which made some bikers wonder if their hubs were running out of grease. Meanwhile, some chains broke.

Biking Mt Pinatubo
Pinatubo’s beautiful desolation
Biking Mt Pinatubo
Our little version of Arizona and Utah?
Biking Mt Pinatubo
Picture picture muna

Ah, but then there was that stark, magnificent landscape.  And someone must have been praying hard for some shade because the clouds came and covered the sun.

Biking Mt Pinatubo
The way to the crater looks deceptively flat, but it’s actually an uphill slog all throughout
Biking Mt Pinatubo
The way up ain’t easy

I reached the start of the hiking trail around 11am feeling desperately thirsty and tired. There was a stall there selling Gatorade and San Mig Light. Despite costing 100 pesos per bottle, I still ordered a Gatorade from the vendor there. I would’ve bought a beer, but this didn’t seem like a good idea for someone who was tired, sleep-deprived, and still needed to drive a hundred kilometers to get home.

Biking Mt Pinatubo
Bahala na si Batman! Basta iaakyat ko ang bike ko sa tuktok!

I could’ve just left my bike at the entrance to the crater trail, but something at the back of my head nagged me to bring it up. So, against common sense and the protests of my aching legs, I hoisted and hauled the bike all the way up.

Biking Mt Pinatubo
The view from the crater.

Not much has changed in Pinatubo since the last time I went there. It’s still one of the most incredible views you can gaze your eyes on, here in the Philippines and anywhere beyond our sad borders.

Biking Mt Pinatubo
Pinatubo is big sky country

After resting for an hour at the crater and taking a few pictures, I hauled my bike back down the trail.

Sometimes I wonder why I do such crazy things. It’s not as if I could’ve ridden my bike down the hiking trail. Was it all for Instagram vanity? Were the pictures of the bike with Pinatubo’s crater worth all that pain and sweat?  These are philosophical questions without any certain answers.

Biking Mt Pinatubo

Biking Mt Pinatubo

<a href="http://www.outsideslacker.com/?attachment_id=3765" rel="attachment wp-att-3765"><img class="alignnone size-full wp-image-3765" src="http://www.outsideslacker.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/biking-pinatubo-30.jpg" alt="biking-pinatubo-30" width="1000" height="592" /></a>
Proceeds from the ride go to the Aeta comunities around Pinatubo

But one thing was certain: after the painful hike-a-bike up and down the crater, what came next was some happy joyous downhill riding.

Biking Mt Pinatubo
Like biking through a desert

It wasn’t quite obvious that we were riding uphill all morning. But on the way back to Sta. Juliana, the flowy force of gravity made it s presence felt and negated whatever cruelty the hot sun was radiating.

I passed a few bikers on the way back to Sta. Juliana. Sometimes you follow a trail, oftentimes you make your own trail in the sand. It was all cool.

biking-pinatubo-30

16 thoughts on “Biking to Mt. Pinatubo

  1. Congrats, Art!

    That’s a nice place to bike albeit the unforgiving trails you encountered.

    It’s still in my wish list. Meantime, I’m just contended with the trails near my place.

      1. if you’re riding Licao Licao mga sirs, baka pwede makisama. i live in Fairview, but only have been to Licao Licao a handful of times, kaya hindi ko pa kabisado. hehe.

  2. sir thanks for coming in our 3rd pinatubo ride,sayang nung patapos nlang dun nasabi sakin n nandun ka btw im from capas bikers…may hidden lake pa dun sir (Tambo Lake) di nalang napuntahan..thank you for coming..

    1. hi patakla, thanks din for a great event. one of these days puntahan ko rin yan. inggit nga ako sa rides ni adriel paglinawan dyan eh 😛

  3. Awesome ride sir and nice write up!. This is a great step on advertising mt. pinatubo trails to mtb riders.

    Any how, I’m just wondering on how to get there. do you have a map or at least instructions on the way there? and are there any fees that we should expect? like entrance fees etc. Thank you sir!

    1. Hi Mimoy, i just plotted “sta. juliana, capas” on google maps to get to the jump-off point for the ride. about the fees, meron. to know the specifics, mas ok if you ask the guys who organized the “padyakan sa pinatubo” on their fb page. i’ll complete the info for a DIY pinatubo ride, pero medyo busy ako right now 🙁

    1. hi dheus, sorry for the very very late reply. rainy season is not ideal for rides to pinatubo as the risk of flashfloods is high. you may try contacting mr. adriel paglinawan on facebook. he is from the area and he rides to pinatubo often. again, sorry for the late reply 🙁

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