Cycling is like life. Cycling with no goal is meaningless. What meaning is there cycling in circles? Or living aimlessly? Meaning comes from direction and destination. Join me in my life's journey on a mountain bike :)

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Highs and lows

13-16 Feb, Cebu, Philippines, 301 km

My bucket list includes a modest wish to cycle in all of ASEAN. The "easy", nearer countries are done. Two more to go: Philippines and Myanmar. Onward now, to the country of over 7,000 islands: Philippines, in a quick getaway.

Gearing up
View from Mt Busay
Day 1, 13 Feb, Cebu. This is my third trip to the Philippines, but first time I'm cycling there. When I get off the aircraft, 3 guys "help" me by pretty much just touching my bicycle box then ask me for tips. That took me by surprise.

Also surprising was when a motorcyclist shot out and almost side swiped me.

Most surprising of all was a climb up a 550m hill called Tops (Mt Busay). I'm glad I found it; the housekeeper at the bed and breakfast told me how to get there. I max out all my gears and I'm not even fully loaded. At one point, my speedometer shows 0 km/h, which means I'm going so slow, below 4 km/h, that the speed doesn't register. It's a wonder I didn't stall.

My ears pop and water bottle goes "psst" when I sip it.

Going downhill here is no fun. I ride my brakes but still go down at over 30 km/h; it is that steep.

Nightstop (for the whole trip): BugoyBikers B&B, run by a German who also runs a bicycle tour with three full time cyclists.

Herculean, sisyphean
Day 2, 14 Feb, Cebu.  We agreed breakfast at 7 and ride at 8. Past 7, the cook scurries in. "Sorry, sorry," she says and whips up breakfast. I wolf down eight slices of bread and two eggs. We needn't have hurried. Cook notices and asks me what I'm looking for. I point out that the guide is not here. She makes a series of calls.

Guide, G, shows up 45 minutes later. He didn't know he'll have to ride all day today. I choose the longest ride: over 70 km, though it is marked the most severe: "breathtaking", with gradients in some places at 19%, according to the guidebook.

We ride in the clouds. Downhill all the way, right? Wrong. It's a series of rolling hills. Down, then up. Interminable. Isn't this supposed to be the top? But up we still go, as slow as 3.6 km/h. My mind comes close to snapping. I tell myself: "Don't fret. Don't fight. Just sit back and pedal." So long as I pedal, the crest will come. One after another.

My sweat band gives up. Sweat drips into my eyes. Ouch.

Going uphill is tough. Going uphill on broken road is tougher; tyres lose traction going up and going down when braking.

As I head downhill, a jeepney comes up. Too close. I make a snap decision to ride into a gully filled with gravel. To brake here may break something. I roll out of the gully as another bus comes up. We pass with inches to spare. And there's cats and dogs crossing too.

The guide keeps going even after two hours of his. He stops only when I ask him to. We have just two short breaks and lunch. With two peaks at 700 and 890m, and total of 3,000m, he says.

The guides I met so far know their toys. "You have a strong bike."is it a Tank? I've only seen it online." "Nice saddle, a Brooks."
Copper mines, I'm told

G says today is he longest he's guided. "You survived back there. The Europeans I guided didn't make it. How old are you? How much do you ride?" I reply: "About 40 km per week." "You're the strongest ride I've guided. What's your secret?" "Drink Coca Cola."

Back in the city, G weaves and turns. I dodge traffic to keep up. Once, a pedestrian brushes against me.

As requested, G takes me to a bicycle shop, YKK. It is the biggest in town, and bigger than all but one shop in my country. It's even got Merlin and Lightspeed. The price tag is in six figures. Pesos.

Back in my room, I see the dirt from the aircon is still on the bed, though I did say the aircon was on the fritz. I raise the matter. The servicemen are other bike guides. They remove the entire unit to clean it and clear out the ants.

Sweet trip
Day 3, 15 Feb, Bohol. At around 4 am, the aircon shrieks like a banshee again. Dogs bark, roosters crow. I get out of bed at 0530 and prepare my own breakfast. The guide, D, is just 10 minutes late. But we needn't have hurried. The 0730 ferry is kaput. The next one is an hour later. So we do a fast and furious ride to Mactan and back. Sunday morning and the traffic is like a workday as we near 8 am. "People are going to church and market," says D.

Chocolate Hills, background, Green Grass, foreground
On the ferry, I lie down on the sundeck (at least, it looks like one) for a snooze. It's more peaceful here, no dogs, no roosters, no aircon.

Bohol has rolling hills. Not as bad as yesterday, but I'm already knackered.

There's a 600m climb, then up steep steps to see the marvels of nature: Chocolate Hills.

We head back the way we came to catch the penultimate boat, at 1845. We have a night ride back to "the office" (that's what the guides call the B&B.

Over the top
Day 4, 16 Feb Mount Busay , Cebu (again). I'm up at 0630 but cookie doesn't come at 7. So I help myself to breakfast then head out to cycle.

It's a manic Monday morning rush hour. Yesterday, a pedestrian bumped me. Today, a jeepney passenger hopped off and ran into me. Good thing I held steady. The bad city air and frenzy gets to me. Too many lungsful of PM2.5.

Enough. I head back to the suburbs. It's nice and quiet but I keep heading into dead ends.

Enough. Back to the mountain. Mt Busay.  'm relieved to reach the top. Not just because of the tedium. I've to check out of my room. It's scary on the way down the second time round. I reach a max speed of 52.6 km/h. That doesn't sound fast but this is with overtaking and oncoming traffic.

I do one more lap around the area and call it a day. At noon, checkout time, the owner reminds me to checkout. He gives me more time so I pack my bicycle in air-conditioned comfort.

It's been somewhat of a bad trip. It was arranged at short notice. A day's worth of photos ruined because of wrong camera setting. A lighter wallet, because of an air ticket booking error. The assistant supervisor goes out her way to escort me to a rival airline, works out a low fare and gets me a priority booking. I get a flight home the same day - which then gets delayed by 1.5 hours. But then, any ride you can walk away from is a good ride. Despite the mishaps on the road, off the road and in my room, there's not a scratch on me. And I do get my bicycle back notwithstanding the change in airline.

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