Thursday, March 27, 2014

Enduro Biliran: It's Raining (Sulfuric) Mud

About a month ago, I met this Japanese guy named Albert while taking my advanced open water course in diving. We was going to be out in the sea all day and he only brought one piece of small bread with him. I asked him if he won't get hungry. He replied something like "What is hunger? What is real hunger? Hunger is often just a signal. Often when you feel hungry or thirsty, you don't really need food or water. It is just psychological or a force of habit. We have a lot of glucose and salt in our body. I only have one full meal in a day." When I raced in Biliran, I'm not sure if it was real hunger. But I was really hungry when I reached the finish line.

So I finally went on to join Enduro Biliran. My hopes were high and the pressure to perform is even higher as I finished 5th in the Cebu Leg of Enduro Pilipinas. Spoiler alert: I only finished 8th in Enduro Biliran. I probably just got lucky in Cebu because of time keeping errors or probably because I didn't get lost on the stages.

Biliran is entirely different. The trails were poorly marked and I didn't join the track reading the day prior to race day because I decided to go with friends to the beach. There were also very strong riders from Tacurong and Palawan. Even if I didn't get lost, I still couldn't compete with their skills. It was so good to see Chikkoy and Deney from Cebu at their best.

I could have survived the day with only one meal. But getting along is not enough. I've had to get enough nourishment to race. In mountain biking, finish is not what we aim for. I had to pack enough food to perform well throughout the day, enough to keep me fed just in case I get lost or separated from the group. But at the same time, I had to keep my back pack as light as possible because climbs can be tougher and controlling descents can be more difficult with a heavy load.

It is a pull of opposites that are equally strong. Thanks to modern nutrition, there is a way around it: I brought 4 GU Gels and 2 packs of salt sticks, enough to keep me fed on a cold weather and keep me hydrated on a hot day. Of course, it comes with a cost. The whole package cost me 470 pesos, not worth investing for for a race that does not have prize money. But bragging rights is always expensive.

The whole race was a roller coaster of emotions. On special stages, I get high when I'm riding really smooth on the trails. But my hopes drop whenever I get lost or miss a trail marking. I got passed by a rider twice, and it is not very encouraging when you are trying to get a spot on the top 5.

Before the 4th stage was about to start, I was ready to go home. In mountain biking, there is no shame in not finishing. Finishing is a given, finishing on the top spots is what competitors aim for. I have joined many races before where riders who can't finish on the podium just call it a day.

The only reason I kept on is because Jojo, our trail master, said that the easiest way out was through the trails. Riding the main fire road could take hours of going up and down. There was a delay on the start of stage 4 because there were no time keepers. It turns out, they hid themselves somewhere because it was too cold and rainy. I can't blame them. None of the riders did even if we had to wait cold and shivering for an hour. We understood how tough the weather was, we were right under it.

My adrenaline was blasting like the mud under my tires when stage 4 finally kicked off. I was the first one to arrive on the starting point and the first one to be released. (Arriving late on the starting point is a decision made by riders, I sometimes prefer to stay on the back, too. But I have waited long enough, I couldn't wait any longer).

I rode without pacing myself. If I did pace, I would have felt the cold biting through my skin. The silence of the isolated forest road, with only the sound of rushing waters and wind howling through trees and leaves, was unbearable. I've let my heavy breathing and splashing of mud and water muffle all that eerie silence.

I ran into some bad lines twice, and at one point got my front wheel stuck in about a foot of clayish mud. I pulled it up but the clay's grip was incredibly strong. I've lost precious seconds. But in a race, time is not the biggest lost. Momentum. When you lost momentum, you'll be losing a whole lot of time.

I should have paced and used better judgment at picking the lines. That's what better riders did, the ones who finished way ahead of me. But I was cold and under so much pressure because I got lost in the first and third stages on several occasion. I tried to gain time. But in the attempt to gain time, I've lost so much. I finished twice the time it took for race leaders to complete stage 4.

The finish line was at Palayan Elementary School. I don't know which part of Biliran that was. We made so many shifts in directions during the entirety of the race, I have lost my own sense of direction. The sky was so overcast, it was hard to tell where the sun was.

The rest of my Enduro Biliran story is just a remix of crashes and scratches and luck at avoiding serious injury. I am very thankful to Russ for lending me his bike for two years now. That Jamis Parker never failed me, not when I didn't need it, not when I needed it most.

I am thankful to the people of Biliran who helped me get through the race. I finally understood what my sister meant when she said there's a difference between being self-sufficient and self-sufficing.

Looking back, I am surprised how clean the trails of Naval and Almeria are. I was so caught up in the race I didn't notice that. No plastics on the trail (except the markings which I hope the organizers cleaned up), the rivers do not stink, and rain water flowing through the mountain ditches were so clean I used them to wash my bike.

I couldn't look far beyond my circumstances during the race, that's why I often felt discouraged. But I never failed to see the hospitality and care of the people I have met. It was so radiant that even during such gloomy weather, it's hard not to see it.

I went home ahead of my fellow riders from Cebu because my body couldn't take being under the rain any longer. It was still raining when I finished the rain at 5:00:00 pm and there was no shelter there, not even a small canopy.

Enduro is a poorly funded, as always. It is a very difficult sport with minimal exposure. It is not a wonder why sponsorship is rare. It's amazing how organizers of Enduro Pilipinas and the local organizers in Biliran take money out of their own purse just to get the sport going.

I was thinking of my friends when I made my way back to the town of Naval. The final stage was so treacherous, I wished they didn't decide to continue. It is easy to get lost on that stage when there was daylight, let alone when it is dark and you only have a small light source mountain on the top of your handlebar.


michael holtan said...

Nice blog! I just arrived in Cebu few days ago. Are there any shops that sell FS bikes?

Bal Marsius said...

hi Michael! thanks for dropping by. i would recommend YKK store in downtwon cebu. i would have accompanied you myself but i'm in Bukidnon right now. check out their website for their location and phone number‎

let me know if i could be of more help

Bal Marsius