The Bobok Bisal Trail is definitely the most challenging ride I’ve done so far. This trail, which winds through the heart of the town of Bokod in Benguet province, will test your lungs and legs with its punishing ascents.
However, the true test comes later when it’s time to descend. The long technical downhill will push your handling skills to their very limits. Loose gravel, babyhead rocks, roots, deep ruts, berms, cliffs and a very steep grade that recalls the roller coaster route that is The Wall in some sections: Bobok-Bisal has plenty of these.
But along with the extreme challenges come epic rewards. The views of the pine covered peaks and slopes are simply fantastic. The downhill shoots a drum full of adrenaline through your frail shaking veins. And the flowy singletrack in the cliff sections is the stuff of mountain bikers’ wet gushing dreams.
I have been in love with the Cordilleras ever since I set foot in Sagada nearly two decades ago. The travel writer Pico Iyer often describes his first journey to Lhasa Tibet as the most life-changing trip he has ever taken. I am not sure if my first trip to Sagada could compare with Iyer’s Tibet, but the Cordillera is just as special to me.
Thus, when I got invited to try one of the Cordillera’s more famous trails about two weeks ago, I immediately said yes. I had no idea what I was in for. And besides my friend Bong, I knew no one else who would be coming with us. But passing up a chance to do an epic ride like this was not an option.
The Late Comers
Our group of four riders (Bong, Mike, Reynan and me) was hosted by Alan Baldoria in Rosario La Union. Alan is an old-time mountain biker who is not easily impressed by any Manileno’s tales of epic riding. While talking to him over bottles of Red Horse, you get a sense that he has ridden more trails in the Cordillera than you have spokes in your wheels. Alan was also going to be our guide to Bobok-Bisal, and he said the ride was going to be a real treat.
To shake off some of the rust from days of desk-bound lethargy, Bong and I rode up Kennon Road to Baguio a day before the Bobok-Bisal trip. It was tiring, but it also felt good to get some blood pumping in the calves again.
The next day, we woke up at 4am to load the bikes onto a huge jeepney that was going to take us to the trailhead. Our group of five, was joined by another five riders from the Late Comers Harcor, (sic) and Once in a Blue Moon. I immediately liked them because of their groups’ names. Apparently, they got that name because punctuality was not their strong point. These guys were slackers too.
The trip from La Union, through Baguio, Ambuklao and finally Bokod took about five hours with plenty of stops along the way. When we arrived at the trailhead, everyone was already raring to mash their pedals.
Bobok Bisal’s trail includes two climbs which were moderate in length, but were still steep enough to make veterans of Shotgun and The Wall dismount and push their bikes. But the hike-a-bike was made more tolerable by the tall pine trees which lined up the trail and provided more than enough shade for our group as we made our way up the trail at high noon.
We were all thankful by the time we got to the start of the descent. Finally, we were going to get some respite from the pushing, and get a healthy dose of adrenaline.
I thought I had prepared quite well for the downhill. I had changed my front tire from a fast rolling WTB Nano 2.1 XC tire to a Continental Trail King 2.4 with lots of biting teeth. I also swapped my Spyder Helix XC helmet for the all mountain Spyder Grip helmet. I was also advised to bring along some armor, but I thought that it was unnecessary as I had never experienced a serious crash on the trails.
Big mistake. While the first few minutes of downhill seemed well within my limits, things turned exponentially more challenging soon enough. What was supposed to be hardpacked earth became loose gravelly soil that barely had any traction. Ruts, roots, rocks, and a cliff on the side made things even crazier. I was white knuckled from gripping the handlebars for dear life, and my legs and feet were ready to leak battery acid from the strain.
I crashed on one particular turn as my rear wheel lost traction and I lost balance. Maybe I should have also changed that wheel to a 2.4. Or maybe I should just ride more trails like these so I can level up my skills. Scrapes and bruises aside, the downhill ride was the best I had done so far.
Seven Hanging Bridges and Flowy Singletracks
After having lunch at Bisal, we took off for the final leg of the trip. This was supposed to be the XC leg of the trail, and I was assuming it was going to be a walk in the park.
For the most part it was like a walk in one of the most scenic natural parks you can imagine. Nevermind the narrow footpath where you could plunge over a rice terrace or a cliff with a moment’s inattention. Nevermind the tight turns on the singletrack where you will definitely go over the edge if you foolishly try to negotiate it at speed. Nevermind all of these because your eyes are feasting on some of the best views a mountain biker can ever hope to see in the country.
Seven hanging bridges later, and we were back on the pavement. We could have kept on pedaling but it was the end of the trail. And it was already getting dark by that time.
Bong’s bike odometer said the whole trip was only 17 kilometers. I couldn’t believe it. That device is definitely lying or broken. A ride like that is worth more than the hundreds of kilometers I’ve accumulated in so many weekends this year.
Mark Twain said: “Twenty years from now, you’ll be disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did do.” Honestly, I’m not really sure if he said that–I only picked it up on the Internet. But this bit of wisdom resonates on an epic bike ride like this. Bobok Bisal is definitely one for a Pinoy mountain biker’s bucket list.
Thanks to Bong Madriaga for this great video
And this is a video of the Bobok Bisal downhill shot by the legendary Team U.L.A.W. You gotta admire how these guys zone out fear and just ride.
And this is team U.L.A.W’s video of the singletrack that follows. Absolute respect.