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Sunday, August 14, 2022

Turned On to Off-Road | Motourismo

by Toby Alberto

All Himalayan Ride participants.


Budol. The term “budol-budol'' originated from the Hiligaynon language referring to a gang that specializes in doing the con. Budol has also come to mean “to break from the original plan” or “embark on something unplanned,” (e.g., In the context of outdoor activities, “Nabudol ako. Sabi sa akin madali lang yung dadaanan, yun pala halos kunin na ako ni Lord!”)


The Ride Culture

Even before I got my Royal Enfield Himalayan sometime in the middle of 2021, I took note of and was quite impressed that there is a cool “ride culture” within Royal Enfield (RE) Philippines. Part of this culture is to gather RE owners to group rides, be it product line specific or as “One Ride.” One such ride event is the “All Himalayan,” where owners of the RE Himalayan are enjoined to go on a day ride somewhere outside of the metropolis, and in true Himalayan fashion, the ride would involve an adventure!


All Hima Ride

At the start of the last week of January 2022, a Facebook posting about an “All Himalayan Ride” in the Royal Enfield Himalayan Owners Philippines FB Group caught my eye. It was slated for January 29, a Saturday. I immediately thought, “Alas. Another Hima event that I can’t join.” I had another (conflicting) engagement scheduled on that day, just like the other RE rides I missed. As the week went on, however, I was informed that the event that I was supposed to attend had been postponed! Lightbulb flash! I excitedly opened the Hima FB Group page and promptly signed up without further thought. I was going on my first RE ride event!





While I was excited for that ride, I also had some misgivings. Although I opted to own a RE Himalayan to “expand” my riding possibilities, save for a few very short dirt paths that I have done with the Hima, I have never really gone off-roading with my bike.


The event description on FB was quite specific: “Trail to Langit-langitan (the prime destination) will be short and relatively easy. There will be an optional additional trail ride after breakfast. It will be of moderate difficulty, not recommended for newbies.” That was all the information I needed to know. I would only be joining the FIRST LEG of the ride.


The highly anticipated (at least by me) morning arrived. It was Saturday! All participants were scheduled to meet at the brand-new Royal Enfield HQ in Quezon City at 5:15 am, a briefing to be conducted at 5:45 am, and “wheels roll” at 6:00 am. 


I excitedly set my phone alarm at 3:30 am. Having prepped the night before, I left my place in Mandaluyong at a shade before 5:00 am. Expectedly, there was not much vehicular traffic at that hour, so I made it to the meeting place within 10 minutes. I was the only one there. Seeing that I was early, I decided to top up my fuel (three-quarters full at that time) and get my tire pressure checked at a nearby gas station. Done with that, I headed back to Royal Enfield and, this time, one other rider arrived the same time I did. 




I parked my bike and was welcomed by Julio Veloso, who was one of the event organizers and a member of the Royal Enfield Himalayan Adventure Team. After shooting the breeze with him for a few minutes, other riders started to trickle in. With close to the expected number of riders present, Julio kicked off the day with the ride briefing. The briefing was pretty straightforward, with much of the details indicated in the FB “flyer” covering the discussion. 


The sole deviation from the original plan was an “easy” side trip through “Dagat-dagatan” trail, which added a first off-road trail ride for the novices (i.e., me and a few others), and a practice run for the more seasoned off-roaders before the more difficult 2nd leg later that day. On schedule, our group of 20+ riders rolled out of RE HQ toward our adventure in MARILAQUE (Marikina, Rizal, Laguna, and Quezon road to the uninitiated).




Channeling Noraly

The way to the turn-off point was quite uneventful. We re-grouped 30+ kilometers on Marilaque at the corner of a narrow, paved road leading to a dirt path. After a moment’s wait, we again went on our way, guided by the event’s organizers. 


Rolling down this relatively little-used road, we were immediately rewarded with the vistas of lush green sierras common to the area but a rare sight for an urbanite like me. As the pavement disappeared, we were greeted by a steep downhill track made of packed reddish dirt and gravel. This gave me my initial thrill! This went on for a few kilometers until we were signaled to stop for another briefing. We were told to expect that the terrain would gain more rock and gravel and that a stream crossing would be met at some point! 




Someone also advised me to take on a more relaxed grip on my handlebars and “let the bike do what it was built to do.” Apparently, somebody took notice of my nerves and that some (much welcome) seasoned rider wisdom was due. We saddled up anew and went on our way again. After a brief patch of more of the same, the landscape began to shift to what was described in the briefing. I tensed up again and soon found myself in a wet patch on the trail. I landed on some shallow, wet mud and felt the bike’s rear tire slide a bit. After a vocalized “whoa!” and an instinctive tug at the bars, I was able to correct and get back on track. 


Still gripping the bars a tad too tightly, I then recalled the recent advice I was given and thought about what my hero(ine) Noraly “Itchy Boots” Schoenmaker would do. Loosen up. I did and as I got comfortable with the new stance, I slowly got into the groove of things. My ride felt more enjoyable and relaxed from then on.


Gently across the stream

We then happened upon this trail’s highlight – the stream! But, just like in life, it was not just any other fresh obstacle. There was a “twist.” At the other bank of the stream was an abrupt climb on a gravelly road. As I paused before crossing the small body of water, I was told to keep a steady throttle on low gear and expect the climb as soon as I cross the stream. I kept that information in the back of my head as I was very intimidated by this new obstacle. 




My turn to cross. I did what I was told. I tried to force myself to relax and be aware of my surroundings. My front tire dipped in the water and it gave a slight wiggle. I kept the throttle constant, with the engine at a strong purr on first gear. What felt like slow motion, I managed to span the very short wet part of the trail. 


As I reached the other side, I gave the gas a bit more and assisted on the clutch as I kept the gears on first. I felt a slight lurch but stabilized eventually and proceeded on this steep climb. The Himalayan is a tractor. I completed the hill pretty smoothly and reconvened with the group at the top. Awesome.


Animal planet

With (one of) the ride’s “highlights” behind me and with me getting the hang of the off-road topography a little bit more, I began to gradually shift my focus more on my surroundings. I noticed that a lot of the fenced-off properties were actually private farms. This was made more apparent as I encountered livestock and domestic animals along the way. 


At one point, before crossing a particularly craggy part of the road leading to a small bridge, a small irate dog decided to chase me and nip at my heels! My initial panic at this faded as it really was a small dog, I was getting comfortable with the ride, and I was also wearing thick-ish riding boots. Not much later on the same rocky path, a calf waited for me to come closer before opting to cross. More thrills! 


Lost

My going was slow, so much I guess that I eventually noticed that I was riding alone. On the path, no Himalayans in sight. I decided to put this off my mind as I went on with my ride. With the obscure forks on the road, it was easy to get lost in that area. But, I also thought that one of the exciting parts of an adventure was getting off route! So, I was not too worried about this development. 




A few moments later, a fellow rider caught up with me and told me I took a wrong turn. We promptly turned back and re-joined the rest of our group. We soon found our way on the main road and wended on to our breakfast site destination, Langit-langitan.


BOO-DOWL 

The highway leg of our trek to our destination was surprisingly long. When we reached the “red clay” trail to the “breakfast” site, it was nearly 10:00 am. The ascent up the well-packed “clay” surface was relatively easier than the trail we experienced just a few hours ago.




The climb brought us new views of the Sierra Madre range as we approached the peak of our ascent. Right before we turned to the direct path to our intended place, we stopped for another briefing. Julio described the grassy, rutted track we were about to enter. He said there were a lot of uneven surfaces along the way and that it would be best to go it slow in a rut rather than the narrow “flats,” the logic being a fall could be averted lest one loses his balance on a higher “flat.” 




With this in mind, we went on our last assault up the summit. The path was rougher and more rutted than we all thought (and this was originally described as “short and relatively easy!”). Several riders took mild spills along the way. I had some near misses and even gladly accepted an “assist” when offered to traverse a particularly technical part of the route. With a few more spills from the group, we all finally made it to Langit-langitan!




Side note on the back-up vehicle. One thing I appreciated with this ride (and apparently, I was told, all RE-organized rides) was that Royal Enfield Philippines provided for a back-up vehicle to assist the riders “just in case.” It was (unfortunately) put to good use when one of my fellow riders experienced a tear on one of her tires. Rather than have her tire serviced en route, she opted to transport her bike on the vehicle provided and she rode in the vehicle with the RE crew as well. Kudos on this touch, RE Phils!




Sunny disposition

Back to the ride. The clearing of the site was tree-less. The sun was very much out and there was no shade in sight. A smattering of clouds provided occasional respites from its rays. We all proceeded to rest and nourish ourselves with food and drink we each brought.


To set the mood, a fellow rider, Mr. Dino Gomez, put on some Classic Rock tunes to blast from a compact speaker that he brought. The brief playlist was kicked off with “Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf. How apt! 




After taking advantage of the marvelous scenery around us with photo ops, we packed and saddled up to begin our descent. The way back down was comparably easier than the summit assault. However, towards the end of the grassy path, I realized I made a wardrobe faux pas (not what you think). I dressed warmly for the trip as I had expected the weather to be chilly, considering the destination and the time of the year we went. 


True enough, my attire (a long-sleeved drifit, topped by a cotton shirt, all under a plaid riding polo – which is supposedly less warm than the conventional armored riding jacket) served me well in the cool morning of the Rizal mountains. However, adding the unabated beating from the sun close to midday, my choice of attire took its toll.




I felt a bit dizzy and hard of breathing. Through my Cardo coms, I informed my friend Ed Taca that I think I was having sun stroke. I was told by some from the group to alight from bike and remove my helmet and top clothing. I did as advised and a co-rider, Mr. Jason Almario, miraculously reached in from his bike gear a still cold ice pack and applied it on my nape (thank you, Jason!). I felt relief instantly. The ice pack and the cool breeze combined to speed up my “recovery.” Noting that I was already able to tell jokes (the tito kind, of course!) with the group, we all proceeded to get back on track and get on with the rest of the day.


Disney Senior

Getting back on the highway, the group split – some heading back to Metro Manila and some others going to the second leg of the ride. I buddied up with my friend Ed back to the city, going nice and easy through the twisties of Laguna and Tanay. I recall joyously laughing with Ed on the coms during the ride back. 


What a day it had been. I felt once more like what a fidgety, excited child would feel at his first visit at an amusement park. The feeling was good to say the least. Another validation on why I took up adventure riding at 50 years of age. Looking forward to the next BUDOL!

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Toby Alberto is a career bank officer with The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, but his real job is driver and cook for Mesdames Catherine and Audrey at Chez Alberto. 



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