This one is a bucketlister that every Filipino mountain biker should try once in his lifetime. If mountain biking is like a religion to you, then the Cordillera region is where you make your sacred pilgrimage.
The land of the Igorots is home to some of the highest mountains in the Philippines. It is also legendary for having some of the most beautiful mountain vistas in the country. And thanks to the organizers of the Globe Cordillera Challenge, it has also gained renown for some of the most awesome mountain biking events.
Globe Cordillera Challenge (or GCC to to the initiated) takes mountain bikers through some of the most lung-busting and leg-cramping climbs as well as most knee-crushing, ankle-shattering descents in the country. But the reward for all this pain and suffering are worth it. You get to bike through pine forests, colossal cliffs that plunge hundreds of feet deep, and massive mountainscapes that seem like the very essence of epic. Plus the rush you get from sending the downhill sections is just incredible.
I’ve biked in the Cordillera a few times before. But this place just never gets old.
But the truth is I wasn’t really planning to join this year’s GCC. I didn’t think I was prepared for it. My new schedule at work just wouldn’t allow me to put in enough hours of training for the kind of brutal climbing required for a race in these mountains. From the few times I visited it, I knew that biking in the Cordilleras without adequate training was like going into the “Fight of the Century” with a shoulder injury… whoops, did I just say that?
I had already written off this year’s GCC as impossible, and told myself that maybe next year is when it really, finally, ultimately happens. But then I got a message from the folks at Team Spyder. They asked me if I wanted to join this year’s GCC and said they’d sponsor me.
I felt like Michael Corleone in The Godfather III…
I took it as a divine sign that I was meant to do this event–that it was destiny itself telling me that I needed to strap on my helmet, fill my hydration bag, and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime… or at least a great weekend.
Just to be on the safe side, I opted to join the “mini-epic” event. I thought that it was something I could easily handle. After all, the distance was just 28 kilometers.
“Haha. 28 kilometers? Parang bumili lang ako ng suka sa tindahan nyan!” I told myself with all the confidence and arrogance I could muster.
But the folks at the Cordillera Conservation Trust apparently have a sick sense of humor. While the so-called mini-epic event seemed short in terms of distance, it was packed with over 2,100 meters of elevation gain and loss.
I ran the numbers in my head and realized that 2,100 meters is equivalent to three full trips up Shotgun San Mateo and back. I wasn’t laughing anymore.
The organizers of GCC don’t promote it as a race. Instead, they say it’s an event meant to raise awareness about the environment and let bikers appreciate the beauty of nature.
So that’s what I told myself: “I am here to appreciate the beauty of nature, not to race.” Fortunately, that was also the motivation of a lot of kindred slacker souls who joined the GCC6.
From the starting line at the Tublay School of Home Industries, we pedaled at a relaxed pace. Except for the few hardcore XC guys who sprinted out of the starting line, everyone else seemed to be content to just soak in the cool mountain vibe. It was nothing like Timberland’s King of the Mountain event where every participant seemed have their pedal strokes set on turbo.
It was normal for bikers to stop, whip out their smartphones and take photos of the scenery–after all, it wasn’t often that they got to bike in such awesome surroundings.
But this ride was no walk in the park either. The ascents seemed like a neverending painfest. Despite the aircon-like climate of the Cordillera, a lot of us had steam and sweat coming out of our pores as we pushed our aching calves and quads to their very limits.
I thought that our climbing sacrifices would be rewarded with some ample downhill time on the trails. However, most of the downhiling we did was on the paved road leading back to the starting line in Tublay. This was the only disappointing part of the event for me. I really wished we had more gravity miles on dirt. Medyo bitin sa technical sections at downhill.
But this mild disappointment was completely erased when I got to the finish line and saw… BEER. And this was not some cheap crappy lasang-kalawang beer that you chug down when you want to kill your brain cells and render yourself retching and unconscious after a week of tiresome tedious labor. Nope, this was a special beer brewed by craftsmen who think that good hard work needs to be rewarded by a drink that dances on your tastebuds and nourishes your soul.
The beer served by Xavierbier was kinda expensive, but it was worth it. I especially liked their Pugaw IPA, which had just the right blend of bitterness and strength to soothe away the day’s pains.
I let the beer buzz take over while I lined up to get lunch. And here was another kudos to the organizers of the GCC. Instead of using non-biodegradable styrofoam to pack our lunch, they used the trunks of banana plants. The fried chicken and salad made from organic vegetables were also delicious.
At the closing ceremonies, MTB darling Arianna Dormitorio was awarded the third place overall finish in the epic category, just a minute behind the male winner. Arianna again proved that she can slug it out with the toughest of the male bikers. Actor Oyoboy Sotto meanwhile also proved that he’s the real deal as he grabbed the 8th place finish in the mini-epic category. I was amazed at the times of the winners, these guys are definitely a bunch of supermamaws.
I did not win anything, but the experience of biking through the Cordillera again was already a reward in itself. Knowing that I was somehow helping preserve its environment was a bonus. Many thanks to Team Spyder for dragging me into this event. I’ll definitely be back next year.