Cycling Aurora's Pacific Coast
Meeting up at 4 AM isn’t usual for cyclists. First of all, the sun’s not yet out. But we were about to ride 120 kilometers and I guess we had to make the early start.
It was the morning of December 2 and the riders were herding into Costa Pacifica’s lobby. Fondo Manila’s Patrick Joson greeted us all a good morning and proceeded to give out the ride briefing. Like all of Fondo Manila’s rides, this was not a race. The ride was about discovering roads and sharing stories. And the day’s route was to follow the Baler-Casiguran road along Aurora province’s coastline.
We assembled along the resort’s driveway and did a headcount. Gathered that morning were sixty-one riders looking like fireflies with our blinking bike lights ready to head out into the dimly lighted and (still) sleepy streets of Baler.
Members of the Aurora Bikers Association served as our guides. And we were accompanied by several support cars with food, drinks and other equipment.
For some stretches on the way out of Baler our bikes were the only ones who lit the way. The group stayed compact. Each cyclist led each other with each other’s lights because it was still too dark to read the road signs. I did peek at the sky a to check if the sun would come up soon. Instead, I was amazed to see something only a clear rural sky can show you, we were blanketed by stars.
We rode north for about 20 km until we reached the Ampere Beach and Rock Formation. It was our first stop, just in time to watch the sun rise. We got off our bikes, took in the sea breeze and admired the waves from the Pacific crashing into the pebble beach. But after several minutes, it looked like the sun was still too shy to come out. We had to make time, so we rode off with some photos of each other and the Eastern twilight
We pedaled for about eight kilometers until we reached our first major climb at Barangay Dibutunan. We were briefed about this one, but I guess not all were prepared for the actual slope (including me haha).
Joseph and Pat on the climb. Photo from Patrick Joson's Instagram account (@patrickjoson)
The support crew egged us all on. Patrick cheered us by yelling, “Amore!”, referring to that blissful feeling we’ll get once we’re over the hill. Eventually, we all got to the top where refreshments and bananas were handed out of the back of our support cars. We were winded, but I did whisper to myself, “amore”.
Then we got back on our saddles and glided down on hill’s opposite side. I couldn’t really enjoy the glide down because I was just thinking that we’d have to climb it again on the way back. Once the gradient eased, I caught up with a small group of cyclists and we all shared the same feeling. Then again, that’d come much later. There was still much more to see!
The herd of 61 riders thinned out after that hill. Everyone road at their own leisurely paces. At kilometer 40 I took another pitstop and refueled (read: bananas). I decided to continue on my own keeping in mind Patrick’s reminders: there will be Fondo Manila road signs; if the lanes disappear turn back; and if you’re unsure of the road, wait for the guides or turn back.
Sometimes it’s easier to notice details when you get the space to be on your own. The Baler-Casiguran road tightly hugs the Sierra Madre mountain range. Houses along it are far and few in between. A number of vans were traveling too, perhaps ferrying tourists up and down beaches on Aurora’s coast. During the briefing, Patrick warned us of crossing dogs, but most I saw were just sleeping on the shoulder with their heads within the road line. It was cute but, was also concerning.
I wondered how residents felt about this large group of cyclists passing through their otherwise quiet roads. Did we disturb them? Were we a novel sight? I didn’t notice any evidence for the former but the number of kids that came out to give us high fives as we rode by seemed like proof of the latter.
Our turnaround point wasn’t exactly clear. We reached a point where the road started to look unsafe because of landslides. I waited for a guide who was with a larger group of Fondo riders. Our guide went ahead to scout the road.
When he came back, he told us to turn around. The ground underneath the road already eroded, leaving only the concrete to bridge the gap. As we turned around we saw an even larger group of riders stopped behind us. We had a few photos, a few laughs, then started on our way back to Baler.
Fatigue had already set in. My pace was slower and the uphill slopes made my legs stiffer. I also rested a little bit longer at our pitstops to prepare for my second time up that hill. This climb wasn’t as encouraging as earlier because I ended up by myself. It really does help having a group with you.
It’s the community that helps you get through. From being able to draft with them, being more visible on the road as a group and even with small words of encouragement, being with other cyclists makes the ride safe and enjoyable. And I’d like to thank Fondo Manila for bringing all of us along for this ride. We met knew faces, discovered another road and shared more stories about our lives and about Baler.
I got back to Costa Pacifica at around 1 PM, with my odometer reading 123 km. I was exhausted, but happy. A tray of lychee coconut coolers welcomed me at the lobby; it was just the thing I needed.