The Man, The Bike and the Trip: Edan and the Sagada Loop

When I started doing long distance trips in early 2015, I came across this person who kept on sharing wonderful pictures of bikers heading to Sagada in several facebook groups… This person called himself the Sagada Loopers…

Honestly, I found biking to Sagada a totally extreme (and crazy) idea-I remember taking the bus trip there a couple of years ago and aside from being nauseous, it was just plain boring as the roads seem to be winding and the hours passed just noticing all roads-high and low and I didn’t remember anything in the path…from someone starting out doing long distance cycling trips, I thought, this could be a trip with climbing punishment written all over.

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The first photo I saw from the Sagada Loopers in July 2015 
Through a common friend, Jiggs Veloso, I heard about the Sagada Loopers…and if biking to the place was crazy enough, I was told that he was doing it several times-even days at an interval-I thought to myself, he must have all the time in the world to do this!

I met Edan in April 2016 when I joined Sagada loop 43 with members of the Centurion Cycling Club-he was quiet and calm…throughout the trip we had a chance to chat especially during the tough climbs (and there are many in this loop)-ranging from politics, gear (which he admits he has never been to conscious of in his arsenal of bikes) and different subjects. The group parted with him in Baguio (it was day 8 already) and all of us took the bus while he finished the loop on his own.

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The Centurion Cycling Club in Mt. Polis for Sagada Loop 43 (Photo Courtesy of Edan)
Again, we were reunited with the Sagada Loopers in November 2016 with a couple of new faces (Jiggs and I did it again-Buboy, Rahnel and Mark were on their first Sagada loop) and we managed to finish it this time with a lot of lessons and stories to share

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The crew for Sagada Loop 45 (l-r: Me, Jiggs Veloso, Edan, Rahnel Sison, Buboy Perez and Mark Braga)-the Sagada Loopers is always hiding when his photo is taken!
From those trips I learned a lot of things from him…

Why bike all the way to Sagada?

To paraphrase, he said that a friend of his always would talk about the beauty of Sagada in the mountain province and one day his friend took him on a road trip and from there, he took note of the route…since he didn’t have much resources, he turned to cycling and from there, he would take this epic route spanning close to 900km on two wheels. Hence, making the Sagada loop- “the poor man’s ride”

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chilling along the Halsema Highway

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lunch with the group at Nueva Ecija
Why so?

Doing the route multiple times, he has met locals who have shared their homes, whatever resources they had to make Edan and his companions’ lives comfortable. In fact, this probably makes the Sagada loop similar to those epic trips done by tourers abroad-locals-total strangers become sources of strength for the rider as they contribute in many ways. Whether through food, drink or shelter, these “good Samaritans” become part of the Sagada loop experience.

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playful salute with the locals
Which leads me to the second important lesson. While bike touring imposes great demands on the rider physically, Edan’s loop has been a spiritual experience-one that allows you to appreciate the very little things people often take for granted. He would often say, for a few days, you sleep on the cold hard floor, take extremely cold showers, don’t get to see a 711 to buy ice cold drinks or whatever common things that are of reach to you are taken out when you do the loop…in the hope that you become much more appreciative of these when we go back home.

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hanging out in the bus station in Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya
In a different light, he’s good at teaching his fellow riders to come into humbling terms with nature. I recall that in both trips, bad weather was always commonplace and while some may choose to risk riding under the rain to get to the target of the day, he would often choose safety and caution over the destination. Landslides, thick fog, fast cars and careless motorists are common here he claims and it wouldn’t be a pleasant experience to finish the loop sick or injured.

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It was a sizzling summer in April but was raining in Buguias, Benguet Province!
Moreover, his keen sense of timing is a lesson for students of the discipline. As a talented photographer, he would wait for the right time when the sun’s rays would hit the fallen leaves from trees to create the glow of autumn along the side streets of the Halsema highway or would stop other riders to witness the setting sun as clouds dance around the mountains. Using nature as a wonderful backdrop, he’d instruct his companions to pose and ride for that perfect photograph.  It would seem to me that the essence of the trip can be likened to the tourist experience where Edan encourages his companions to savour the sense of place. “Minsan ka lang makakapagbike dito at dapat enjoyin mo” (you don’t get to cycle here often and you might as well enjoy the experience of this whole place) he’d say. True enough, many spots that were covered in fog last time I did the loop had been clear and very much pleasant to see!

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The reflection of the pond (Courtesy of Sagada Loopers)

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At Bagabag, Nueva Vizcaya (Courtesy of Sagada Loopers)

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One of those autumn like shots along the Halsema Highway (Courtesy of Sagada Loopers)
But most of all, perhaps his greatest trait of all is his patience and encouragement to others. I recall last April during my first Sagada loop, I have been skeptical as to the kind of skill level needed for bikers to do this and he’d say, even those who have not been able to do multiday rides or long distance trips have finished the loop. In Sagada loop 45, I understood his point. While the riders that joined were not trained intensively (but love to ride leisurely), he encouraged us to endure, to take time and finish what we started. Indeed, the experience of this loop is tough yet, something you’d like to do over and over again because it has been an enjoyable trip.

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All smiles with Edan’s support and encouragement (Riders of Sagada loop 46, courtesy of Sagada loopers)
To end, I think, the cycling community in the Philippines is blessed to have Edan around. A bike tourer who isn’t just riding for the sake of reaching a destination but someone who inspires others to create their own meaning in life through an epic journey on two wheels.

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a reunion of sorts with friends after Sagada loop 45
  • feature image courtesy of Sagada Loopers

 

The gear, the goods and the bulky: review of gear for Sagada Loop 45

I this entry, I describe in detail the gear used for my recent trip to Sagada.

The bike: Grimace the troll

Specs:

Frame/Fork: Surly Troll

Groupset/Brakes: Shimano SLX 3×10, 11-36t cogs

Wheelset: Velocity Aeroheat, Hope Pro 2 Evo Hubs, Pillar Spokes

Tires: Schwalbe Big Apples 26×2.0 with Panaracer Flataways

Cockpit: Dajia Trekking bars, Ergon GP1 grips, Easton EA 50 85mm 6 degree stem

Saddle: Brooks Cambium C17

Racks: Ibera pakrak (rear), Sunlite front rack, Salsa Down Under Low riders (front)

Others: Giant Fenders

Dubbed as an apocalypse bike which is part of Surly’s touring line, the Surly troll boasts of a 4130 chromoly steel frame and fork making it a beefy, heavy steed. Though speed may not be its best features, it shines in terms of cargo hauling and comfort as the geometry prompts the rider to take an upright position while riding. Given its 26er geometry, the Troll performs well in climbs and descents as it is stable and handles with a relaxed feel (no constant twitching of the handlebar as you make steep climbs sapping your energy in maintaining balance while climbing). The beefy body of the frame helps dampen the harsh vibrations which may be annoying for riders especially with off road or unfine countours of pavement or occasional potholes.  Since I packed heavily for the extended tour (as I always do), the Troll manages to carry my cargo without problems. While the frame provides the backbone of my bike, the SLX groupset provides a stable, maintenance free ride…considering that exposure to harsh elements, I didn’t experience problems in shifting or braking or breakdown with the small parts.

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the tunnel marking the end of Dalton pass

As regards the wheelset, the Velocity Aeroheats are able to take a beating from the loads of the bike and the rider as well as the moderate, near harsh roads taken during the trip. No cracks were developed. Much like the previous long distance trips, the Hope Hubs worked satisfactorily-very minimal drag and is responsive to the ever changing pedaling effort done during the trip. The saddle has assured me of a comfortable ride throughout the tour and the cockpit gave me more comfort as the grips and butterfly trekking bar afforded me several hand positions minimizing the numbing of my hands or arms.

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the stream along Carangglan, Nueva Ecija

Since the trip was harsh on tires due to broken glass, staple wires and other pieces of trash in the way, the Big Apples had excellent flat protection and the panaracer flataways held well . Upon inspection after the trip, several pieces of broken glass were found but did not penetrate the thick wall of rubber. The big apples were also helpful in cushioning the ride to add extra comfort in tackling the roads. As for performance the tires held well in different types of terrain-grip, responsiveness to steering and traction were satisfactory.

Bags

Since I usually carry my loads more in front, the Ortlieb city roller front panniers were helpful in storing my clothes and in keeping with their promise, despite moderate-heavy rain throughout the trip, my clothes remained dry. Condensation was not felt in the interior of the bag

In hauling my sleeping bag and other items for lodging, I used the terrapin drybag by Relevant Designs  (https://www.revelatedesigns.com/index.cfm/store.catalog/seat-bags/TerrapinDrybag) and it too made my stuff wet free. The valve also assured that my stuff was airtight and free from moisture.

The Lone Peak micro rack top bag  (http://lonepeakpacks.com/shop/index.php/packs/rackpacks/st085.html) kept my tools and other small items intact-not waterproof though.

The PacGear (https://www.facebook.com/PACgear/) half frame bag served me well in the journey…Though it wasn’t 100% waterproof as condensation occurred in the interior of the bag after several days of rain, putting stuff in zip lock bags prevented my gadgets and other items from getting wet. The zipper and stitching held through despite the load. No leg rub was experienced throughout the trip as well.

The Conquer Scout feedbag (https://www.facebook.com/conquercustombags/?fref=ts) was used for my waterbottle and throughout the trip, it held well…other small items were stored and the straps didnt deteriorate throughout the trip.

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Other items:

During the trip I also used the mount anywhere cage mounts (https://www.facebook.com/MountAnywhere/?fref=ts). Attaching them to my rack, my bottles didn’t fall off during the trip and were very much secure despite bumpy sections of the road.

Since I have been doing multi day rides, I have avoided using jerseys as aside from being uncomfortable, they are difficult to dry out when washing. I have recently used the Lagalag trekking long sleeved shirts (https://www.facebook.com/lagalagstoremanila/?fref=ts) and the slits on the shirt have helped in the ventilation and are easy to dry out when washed.

For protection from the cold, the Uniqlo heattech undershirts when sleeping or in cold weather at Mt. Polis. A much cheaper alternative and decent clothing to stay warm.

Overall, I felt that the gear used in the trip was adequate for the extended tour.

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Bike Adventure: Sagada Loop 45

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…

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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!)

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At the Red House, San Ildefonso Bulacan from left to right: Mark Braga, Buboy Perez, Me, Rahnel Sison, Jiggs Veloso (Courtesy of Sagada Loopers)
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entering Nueva Ecija (courtesy of Sagada Loopers)

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.

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day 1 at San Jose, Nueva Ecija

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…

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At Ate Anitz’ place, Carranglan, Nueva Ecija
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Kevin, A bike tourer from the UK
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lunch at the Spring (courtesy of Sagada Loopers)

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…

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the end of the climbs at Dalton pass
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Edan instructing Mark for the photo ops at the tunnel

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.

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en route to Bagabag Airport (courtesy of Sagada Loopers)
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At the Bagabag Airport (Nueva Vizcaya)

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!

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Coffee midway the climb (courtesy of Sagada Loopers)
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fab five at Banaue (courtesy of Sagada Loopers)

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.

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Coffee at Banaue (courtesy of Sagada Loopers)

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!

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foggy ride to Polis (Courtesy of Rahnel Sison)
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The towering Mother Mary at Mt. Polis

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.

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One of the bridges along the road to Sabangan, Mountain Province (Courtesy of Sagada Loopers)
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group shot at the Church at Sagada (Courtesy of Sagada Loopers)
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hanging coffins at Sagada

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.

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one of the nice mountain dogs along the way

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

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a sunset all worth it (courtesy of Sagada Loopers)
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Highest Point for the Philippine Highway system, Atok, Benguet Province

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

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The Lion’s head at Kennon Road

 

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..

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the journey home begins
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The Steel bridge at Bamban, Tarlac

Rider Notes:

Here are some insights drawn from the trip:

  1. 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.

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brown/red rice  (abundant and cheap up north) is good for you!

 

 

  1. 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.
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landslide struck area going to Bontoc, Mountain Province (courtesy of Sagada Loopers)

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.
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not strength nor brawn but teamwork! (courtesy of Sagada Loopers)
  1. 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.
  1. 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