Introduction: The Binangonan-Teresa Loop
The week-long vacation is every amateur cyclist’s nightmare. Seven full days away from the stresses of work and the daily grind. Seven full days off the bike. While we always have the option to cross train by running, rowing, or swimming; these all feel like chores compared to a couple of hours sweating it out on the saddle.
I recently took a similarly long trip back to Manila for some downtime with the wife and daughter. As we had our hands full with baggage filled with infant milk and diapers, I had to, with a heavy heart, leave my road bike behind.
Nevertheless, after several such trips in the past that have left me bloated and unfit. I made arrangements to send my old aluminum rig to the shop and had it fitted with a fresh gruppo. Nothing like a “new” bike to welcome me back home. With a fresh bike waiting for me upon landing, I penned into my calendar an old favorite ride after getting permission from my boss-wife. Thankfully, she agreed, not knowing it would take longer than the usual hour and a half Kranji loop.
There are many ride routes in the Philippines, but this one holds a special place in my list as it was popular way back on the 80s when you could count the number of Manila roadies in one hand. It is still popular today, but one would come across fewer cyclists as most have gone to newer routes.
Meeting a friend at his house, the ride began at 7 am an hour after sunrise. The plan was to keep things moving at fast pace to avoid the expected heat wave that pours over the archipelago as noon closes in. Keeping a steady clip of 30kph to warm up within the city limits while every so often bunny hopping those pot holes so common inside the city we increased the speed slightly once outside the city and thanked our past presidents for doing a poor job and slowing down economic progress.
Just 10 kilometers of riding can get one out of the city and into rural areas and the much sought after national highways. These are well paved 2 lane roads with nary a hint of traffic. A dream for roadies anywhere in the world.
Let’s Go! Soaking in the views of the countryside
Great view of the lake
You’d know you are in rural territory once the landscape changes from skyscrapers to vast farmlands. Our route took us through several fishing town, and skirted by the huge Laguna Lake. Despite the endless beauty that spanned beyond both sides of the road, we did not have time to appreciate the view as my ride buddy and I kept our heads down and the pace high using all hills we came upon to try and drop the other rider. As is normal behavior amongst all roadies, each hill had a finish line at the top, and a quick look back with a silent snicker was the winner’s reward. Needless to say, my buddy won all KOM’s, and I had to use most downhill sections to coast and catch my breath.
One thing I love about cycling in the Philippines is the amount of roadside carinderias (small, family run restaurants) that litter the side of the road. These completely remove any use I have for energy gels as the food they serve is both cheaper, and tastier. Looking forward to this part of the ride, I forgot to bring my gels on purpose and we had to stop for some chow at around 40kms. By this time, the temperature had already risen to a barely tolerable 35C, and I failed to stop myself from ordering too much soda to the delight of the lady manning the counter.
A typical roadside carinderia
Hydrating failed to keep cramps at bay
After a few minutes of harmless trash talk, we noticed that we were running late and set out on our bikes, trying to keep the pace high as we rushed home with one eye on our wristwatches.
The route home was slightly short but took in a 3km climb we call “Teresa”. Climbs in the Philippines are not named after the road or mountain they lead up to; rather, they are named after the towns they start or end in.
Teresa is a fairly easy climb on most days. Peaking at 236m and averaging 5% with some steeper grades along the switchbacks, the climb was heavily used by cargo trucks several years ago. After a section of the road collapsed in a landslide in 2009, the road was repaved, widened, and closed to heavy vehicles to the glee of local roadies.
Almost there! The Teresa Climb
The view is inspiring while you suffer
The last time I rode Teresa was in 2010, so seeing the base of this climb was like meeting an old friend. At this point, the temperature had reached its peak of 41C and had started to take its toll on me as quads on both legs had begun cramping. As a sign of respect for the climb, or maybe to keep my pride intact, I began the ascent with my usual 18kph pace which I used to be able to hold all the way the top. Sadly, with my will broken, and my ego in tatters, the cramps won and I ambled up the remaining 2.5 kms at a grandmotherly 13kph. Pedaling in squares, and accompanying each stroke with a curse, I eventually reached the top and thanked the gods for getting me there without having to walk.
The weather was not cooperating
I would have preferred a flatter profile in this weather
The ride back home was fairly pedestrian affair were it not for the extreme heat. Both riders just wanted to get home and out of the extreme heat, we were taking risks in the descent. Riding downhill at 60+ kph is a gripping exercise when the road is very rough like, dare I say, Paris Roubaix, and traffic ahead of you can always unexpectedly stop suddenly to drop off a passenger in the middle of the road. Nevertheless, our brakes held (love the new Shimano brakes) and we both got to the bottom in one piece but not without a few choice words from my buddy for descending “too fast.”
Despite the insane temperature, I was immensely satisfied with being able to ride an old favorite route again. Unfortunately, the rest of my trip did not allow time for me to go out on another 3hour ride so I will have to wait till next year to ride back to Teresa and peel the pieces of my cyclist pride off the road. Till then, I’ll be doing Faber repeats in 3 layers of sweat suits.