Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Tour de Panay

Holy week in the Philippines. It is an interesting time of the year in the only Christian country in Asia. This year I opted not to watch the annual crucifixions. Instead I decided to relish my five day weekend (Thur/Fri/Mon) to test my ability to actually do a tour on my bike. I have spent enough time researching and money investing for my slowly approaching Southeast Asia adventure, but I had not accomplished a multi-day tour. I had completed a number of long day rides, some with a single overnight. A multi-day tour of a significant distance had yet to be completed and I set out to remedy this. A fellow volunteer, Mark, decided to join me for the tour of my island, Panay, and a bit of the neighboring island, Gimaras. He accomplished much more than myself. In order to arrive on Panay he biked 170k and took two boats, arriving last Wednesday afternoon in the city of Iloilo. I had biked the 45k to meet him and escort him to my home in Miag-ao. That evening we did some tuning on our bikes and spoke about our intended route around the island. The plan was to bike around the island in 3 1/2 days, and on the afternoon of the fourth day (Sunday) to take a boat to Gimaras to do a spot of biking there. Each of us would be heading to our respective homes on the 5th day.
On Thursday morning we awoke early. I was feeling good, the previous day while fetching Mark in the city I had biked 90K at a high speed and I was not feeling sore. A good sign. However I knew that with loaded Panniers (saddle bags) and the first day going through mountains with a serious stretch of climbing I may soon be. The day’s goal was to make it to a coastal town, Lau-an, to stay with some fellow Volunteers for the evening. Total distance would be 112k. With the exception of 2 flat tires, the first of many for me, the day went without a hitch. We even picked up some friends upon the way. Often while biking Filipinos will come peddling up fast on their bikes and bike with me. They just get a kick out of being with the foreigner. Not long into our ride on Thursday morning this happened to Mark and I. They asked the normal question I get asked every 2 minutes on a bike ride, “Where are you going?” When I responded, “Lau-an,” and they replied, “Us too,” I was a bit shocked. Not because they were going there but because one of them was on a one speed, BMX bike. With mountains coming ahead and a long stretch of road after that I thought he had a fat chance. To my surprise, and shock, this kid killed us through the mountains on only one gear and set the pace on the flat, and he had come from Iloilo so he did 40k longer than mark and I. So all and all he did 152K all on a one speed BMX bike. Crazy. I wouldn’t have believed it if someone told me. Mark took the bike for a spin during lunch, with him being 6 foot 3 he looked a little awkward. (See below).

Mark and our two companions on our first day at the top of our vist mountain pass. The guy on the right is who rocked the BMX bike.

That evening we had an incredible meal cooked by my friends, Pasta Alfredo. So Yummy. We were off early the next day. However we made a change in route. Instead of cutting across the top corner of the island we decided to follow the coast. I had heard that this coast had absolutely stunning views. However it was 90% dirt and rough roads through some serious mountain passes. I estimated it would add about 100+ kilometers to our trip but we would try to make it up the following day. As we started the road, the road rose slightly and fell and rose…..and fell. We were continually amazed by gorgeous vistas and villages, many times with stunning views overlooking the ocean and white sand beaches from above. We kept going through mountain passes and kept saying to each other “that must be the last one.” We kept being wrong. The final pass we made just before dark. It was the longest of the day and lucky for us it was paved going up. Going down it was not. Just as we road into the small town of Caticlan my trip odometer rolled over 134K for the day and the sun set. There we found a cheap hotel to stay for the evening. We quickly cleaned up our bikes; our gears were full of grit from the day of riding off pavement. We than went and ate a huge meal. Well a regular meal with lots of rice. We were in bed very early. With our detour we were planning on biking 180K the following day.

My alarm went off at 4:30. As I came from my stupor I asked Mark “What is that sound?....Is that rain?” It is not supposed to rain this time of year in the Philippines. I hadn’t seen rain since mid January. Yet as I looked out the window it was pouring! I gladly reset my alarm for 6:30 and went back to sleep. When we awoke next it was beginning to slow down. We packed up our stuff and heading down to load up our bikes. First thing I see is my flat tire. The third one! I was starting to get mad. I quickly patched the tire just as the rain stopped. Seconds letter I hear my patch blow. “Damn it!” I thought the patch may have gotten wet and not sealed well. I had already used my spare tube so I decided to round up another tube. I put it on and we headed on our way, seriously delayed, but on our way. Five kilometers down the road I hear my brand new tube explode. I’m not happy. I ride a tricycle back to town, find a vulcanizing shop and have it fixed. 4 holes! I can not believe my luck with tubes. Finally we are on your way again. Sixty kilometers later the same tire blows a hole again, I had already bought another tube along the way and I quickly change it. After this we realize we are not making it the originally intended 180K due to the rain and my flats. We had plans to bike a small island off of Panay, Gimaras, on Sunday and Monday and we had no interest in abandoning those plans. We decided from the next major city we would bus the rest of the stretch of the day. We rode into Kalibo City after biking 83 kilometers. It was a gorgeous road with great coastal views but I was annoyed the whole time with my tube situation. I was more than happy to bus the rest of the day. After a huge meal of Calzones we were on our way, via bus, to Passi City, our intended destination for the day. We arrive just after dark and realize that bussing was the proper decision. The road was bad and the scenery wasn’t great, if we had to skip a stretch that was it. We stayed the night at a fellow volunteer’s house that evening, enjoying Jollibees (Pinoy McDonalds) and a couple beers.

Early the next day we were off to finish the round trip of Panay with a short 60 kilometer jaunt to Iloilo City. Upon arriving there I headed directly for McDonalds, the real one, and had a McMuffin. It was worth the trip. We than were off on a short boat trip to bike around Gimaras and stay at yet another friend’s house. Once there I cooked some chicken curry, my friend cooked some awesome mashed potatoes, and we chatted the evening away. The next day Mark and I went our different ways. I had only a 65 kilometer ride home while he had almost 200K.

We both made it home safe and I loved my first multi-day tour. All and all it was 6 days and 564 kilometers. It was also the first time in years that I have done vigorous exercise for 6 consecutive days and that felt awesome as well. I came home with a bit of euphoria, a lot of motivation for my SEA trip, energy for work, and with more than ever to day dream about. It ranks as one of the most enjoyable weekends, however long, of the last few years.


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