If I were asked, what could be the most difficult yet fulfilling rides I have done, it would have to be the Sagada Loop. Not because of the long distance or punishing elevation that one has to go through but the experience drastically changes your views of bike touring-While the route may seem daunting, it is fulfilling as it rewards you with beautiful scenery…In this entry, I share our itinerary and experiences as well as tips for other riders…
Day 1: Manila to San Jose, Nueva Ecija
Sagada Loop 45 started at Valenzuela City Center where riders from different parts of the metro converge. Since the rides are small, we were 6 riders in total…Starting at midnight we pedaled our way to San Rafael Bulacan to Edison’s restaurant-They serve lugaw and tokwa’t baboy (highly recommended dishes!) and napped for 2 hours…
Taking off at 6am, we stopped by the famous red house in San Ildefonso Bulacan, where comfort women were used to be held during World War 2. Sadly, the house has deteriorated and as locals claim, the owners are putting the lot where the house stands on sale (so much for preserving a historical site!)
Though our trip was supposed to be a breeze as weather was fine, our ride leader had to deal with a flat tire and we had to stop at a bikeshop in San Miguel Bulacan…After having the tire fixed, we pedaled our way through Nueva Ecija and decided to call it a day at San Jose. Good thing Kuya Edan (our ride leader) knew people at the Barangay Hall and slept at the Barangay Hall.
Day 2: San Jose, Nueva Ecija to Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya
We rode out early and visited Ate Anitz who was supposed to host us in Day 1 at Carranglan, Nueva Ecija and even met Kevin, a tourer from the UK and saw his nice Thorn Nomad powered by a Rohloff Hub…we had lunch near the lake along Carranglan and had photo ops…
Leaving early afternoon, we took the famous Dalton Pass (Balete Pass) to get to Nueva Vizcaya. This route which spans approximately 8km of zigzag roads and climbs and 6km of downhill were manageable but rain poured towards the end of the route…instead of heading to Bagabag Airport (our next stop), we decided to stay at Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya due to heavy rain…
Day 3: Aritao to Bagabag Airport, Nueva Vizcaya
Rain was heavy and we had to wait for the right time to get to the our next stop…good thing we had a nice photo op along the small mountains on the road and we got to the Airport in a very wet, yet safe state.
Day 4: Bagabag to Banaue, Mountain Province
The sun was up but it wasn’t too hot and we entered Ifugao province and started our trip from Bagabag passing by Lamut-Lagawe-Banaue. Personally, I found this day very difficult as we had to hurdle with approximately 50km of punishing climbs (with very little recovery). We managed to get to Banaue in the evening with very tired legs!
Day 5: Banaue to Mt. Polis, Mountain Province
Though we needed to travel only 22km for this day, we had difficulty heading to mount Polis due to heavy rain…added to that the cold was just too much as well as heavy fog made the climb really challenging.
Day 6: Mt. Polis to Sabangan, Mountain Province
We had a late ride out since it was raining and fog had covered our path. We decided to hang out for lunch and get some of our friends’ bikes fixed at Bontoc, Mountain province. Instead of heading to Sagada, we went to Ate Doris, our host in Sabangan, Mountain Province for much needed rest and laundry since it was raining for several days!
Day 7: Sabangan to Sagada, Mountain Province
We were lucky that the Sun came out again and we took our time heading to Sagada…while we were met by several dogs at the start, we spent time taking photos and enjoying the scenery…We rode back to Sabangan at Ate Doris’ place for a well needed rest to head back to Baguio.
Day 8: Sabangan to Buguias, Benguet Province
This was the start of our journey to Baguio City and the Halsema highway didn’t disappoint in terms of challenging climbs but we were rewarded with beautiful scenery and sunshine…we made the occasional coffee breaks from time to time and encountered several mountain dogs (good thing they were in a good mood not to chase us!)…We got to Buguias around 7pm for dinner and called it a day.
Day 9: Buguias to Baguio, Benguet Province
The highlight of this day was reaching the highest point marker for the Philippine highway system…but added to that we had a sweet treat when we saw clouds and fog dancing in the sky as the sun was about to set…though it rained a bit, we got to Baguio safely and had a mini celebration at Camp John Hay
Day 10: Baguio to Pozzorubio, Pangasinan
Going back to the metro, we passed by Kennon road and took photos of the popular Lion’s head…though heat was now very much apparent as we were leaving the mountains, we called it a day at Pozzorubio where we were hosted by Donald Uy of Surly FFFinas
Day 11: Pozzorubio to Manila
We took off early but one of our riders had three consecutive flats due to the debris on the road…though we got past Tarlac city quite early, we had to nap in the afternoon in a resto in Bamban to let the sun’s heat trickle down a bit..though we arrived late in the evening and bodies all beaten up, we were all happy to finish this route..
Here are some insights drawn from the trip:
- The Sagada Loop drastically changes your views of bike touring. When I tried this the first time in April 2016, I initially thought that the loop will be done by covering as much distance as possible in a given day. However, the trip has taught me that for an extended multiday trip such as this where many things can happen, flexibility is needed and setting a target location is much more fruitful and less frustrating.
2. Eating, Hydrating and Napping are good for you. While constantly eating and hydrating are a given in a tour, napping helped as we regained energy midway through the day. It was no use riding it out under the sun or rain and napping kept us alert for the duration of our ride.
- It’s always man vs nature. Since the whole route spans an estimated 900km and about 20,000m of elevation (too bad there’s a strava error in my elevation!), it pays to stay on the safe side and not slug it out when heavy rain pours in your path. For instance, there have been sections of landslide areas in our path after several days of rain.
- The tour isn’t time bound, but timing is crucial. We were fortunate that Edan (aka the Sagada Looper) has emphasized timing as part of the experience. I remember that in my first loop in April, I missed the scenery along the Halsema highway. But for this trip, it was rewarding to see the sunset on the mountains. Many of Edan’s photos considered timing of the day, using sunlight and nature’s beauty as a backdrop.
- A cohesive team helps. I am thankful that all of the members of this batch had the same mindset before this trip (pressure was light, no one was left behind). It was also good that we had done several multiday rides together before the Sagada loop and we were familiar with each other. While many will say that strong riders survive trips like these, it isn’t the case-rather, a supportive group will always have an edge to overcome, physical and mental challenges in a tour.
- Dog problem? Ride as a pack. Don’t get me wrong, there are dogs that are relentless in chasing bikers…but I found out that if three or more riders speed together, your chances of being chased are lessened.
- Being self-sufficient is key. In total, we had 7 flats and a couple of problems with brakepads but we dealt with these with ease as all of us came prepared.
To end, I think the Sagada Loop can never be the same trip twice as your experiences with the people, route and nature will likely be different. Further, the Sagada Loop is not a “challenge to be conquered” but rather an experience worth sharing. From my end, I believe that the whole tour is a humbling experience in coming to terms with nature’s brutality and beauty. And perhaps more enlightening, the trip helps you restore your faith in people…in many of our stops, good Samaritans, total strangers, extended their help in offering, food, shelter and even assistance…
So if you have a lot of time in your hands and you’re looking for an adventure, this is it
*the usual proviso applies