Of Great Adventures and Ominous Starts

Monday, April 27, 2009

Great adventures could still spring from ominous starts. One simply needs to persist.

First ominous sign of the day was that I left the house in Paranaque at 5am, for a trail run in Rodriguez town of Rizal that was supposed to start at that same time. A night person, I always struggled waking up early and it didn't help that I lacked sleep for the last 5 days. In addition, I suffered from slight nasal congestion and throat irritation, and I was tired and drenched from a short but terrible bike ride in pouring rain the previous day. Ominous indeed.

I wanted to experience trail running, however, and I wanted to spend my weeke
nd with fellow takbo.ph addicts - diverse group of people with just the right mix of passion, non-chalance, seriousness and comedic gifts. So I ventured on hoping to catch up with the guys. The problem was I was not familiar with the route going there. Rizal for me is a province connoting serious distance from the metropolis. I called run coordinator Mar for some directions. From Philcoa, you turn right at Batasan Road, make two more turns, and then follow the directional signs to San Mateo and Wawa Dam. Hearing them from Mar, the directions sounded easy. I did make it to Batasan Road and followed signs pointing to San Mateo, but after some point I was no longer sure I was on the right track. I tried to find Wawa dam in my map book of Metro Manila, but sadly, Rodriguez town is NOT in Metro Manila.

I was getting distraught. I wanted to follow after the group but I did not want to inconvenience or bother them further. I was late by my own making and I had no one else to blame. It was at this time that I texted Mar to tell him I was lost and that I would just settle on going to La Mesa ecopark which fortunately was on my Metro Manila map. I tried to cheer myself that La Mesa ecopark, which I had not seen yet, looked suitable for trail running and possibly even for some bike time on the roadie I brought with me.

But first I needed to know where I was. I asked an amiable old man at the street intersection which happened to be near Puregold San Mateo. Manong, paano ho pumunta ng La Mesa ecopark? Gaano ho kalayo? San Mateo na ho pala ito. Gaano ba kalayo ang Wawa dam? The helpful man's responses felt like a crossroads of sorts for me: Do I go to nearby La Mesa ecopark via 3-5kms of circuitous, small roads? Or do I follow 9-10kms of straight highway to Wawa Dam. Already lost, I opted for the long but less complicated way to Wawa Dam. I was at least an 1hour late and behind the takbo.ph group, so I would just go to Wawa to do trail run and possibly bike, not necessarily counting on the possibility that I could still see my group. Faced with the sad prospect of doing this alone, I passed by a Mercury Drug store and got a bagful of chips, choco bars, hopia and fluids to sustain me in my lonely run or ride.

Hills. After kilometers of flat concrete roads, I finally saw some hills.
The dam must be near. That was my first smile of the morning.

After numerous directions from strangers, eventually, I found the Wawa Dam. Under the shade of trees and in front of the local tourism office, a horde of cars presumably from my takbo.ph buddies were neatly parked. The person manning the gateway confirmed my impression.

I felt strange starting my trail run/walk. There I was in some small town clad in blazing red dry-fit shirt, black cycling shorts, and attention-grabbing red, white and black Fuel (hydration) Belt. The locals were looking at me respectfully but with quiet curiosity. They must be thinking, Ano ang ginagawa ng taga-ciudad na ito sa bayan natin? Inside me I wanted to retort. Probinsyano - isang Tagalog - rin ho ako tulad ninyo. But I knew I would not sound convincing for the occasion. The children were more amusing but direct: Kuya, ano yang nasa beywang mo? I took everything in stride and smiled back at every local I met along the way.

Less than a kilometer into my trail run/hike, I realized: Schumacher, this trail seemed forever uphill! What have I gotten myself into? Does Rene the jazzrunner always do trail runs like this? My God, no wonder he did well in the Condura Run! I intended to test-run my NB 812 all-terrain shoes by running, not by hiking and panting my way up. This lethal potion of doubt and regret corroded my resolve for a good 2-3kms of the run. The lore of trail running was supposedly filled with stories of wonderful adventures. What I had been having was the drudgery of pulling myself up and forward over initially gravelly/grainy dirt road. I tried to amuse myself by examining my immediate surroundings, but all I saw were grass, small herbs or shrubs, and banana plants.

I recalled my childhood and teenage years growing up on the foothills of Mt. Makiling in Los Banos, Laguna. Boy scouting meant the requisite climb up the resident mountain, pass through asphalt university roads, through the lush rainforest, and often ending up on the other side of the town with a splendid view of Laguna de Bay. I hated the compulsion and perfunctory of those treks, but I remember with vividness the sight of birds, ferns, majestic trees, and exotic flowers along the way. I might not know all their scientifc names, but I could identify most of them and be able to differentiate them. I have had two decades of mountain memories. These include lazy summer days lying on our rooftop proving with our own eyes that the mountain was indeed shaped like the legendary Maria Makiling lying down. From our rooftop, it was very clear.

Did I need to do hill or mountain trail runs to relive the mountain memories? It was rather ironic that I could not remember a single townmate who ended up being a mountain climber. Well, our batch produced a champion mountain biker, but that was it. If you grew up on the mountain, would you be inclined to take its beauty for granted? Or would you simply be not as mountain hungry as the city-bred? Such thoughts raced through my mind as I hiked up the trail in pursuit of my supposed companions. Loneliness has an insidious and creeping way of testing one's resolve, but I persevered. You wanted to do Baguio half-marathon right? You would be doing your first short trail race in a few days, right? Be careful what you wish for, for they will be granted! Be prepared to receive them!

Every now and then great vistas would lift my spirits.

At a certain point I thought this was the top of the hills
and on top I would find friends...

But behind these hills I only found more challenges...

Yesterday' s rain has turned the red clay into sticky mud
at least 2-inched thick on my trail shoe soles

Walking with mud weighing down your feet was an arduous experience. Along the way I would often ask the local villagers if they saw a gaggle of runners/hikers. All said yes but I was not certain I could still catch up with them, or if they would make a U-turn and follow the same path back. I asked myself if I should call/text them, if not to bother them at least to inform them that I was on the same mountain. The place radiated calmness and serenity but tourists have been known to be hurt or killed in calm Sagada or Ifugao. I cringed at the thought but banished it instantly. In my heart I knew no harm will befall me.

Eventually I was rewarded with the most gratifying view: hordes of takbo.ph runners having a blast on top of the mountain. Many meters away I could already hear their merry banter.

On top of that hill are my photo crazy friends.

And from above my people saw me and called my name.
I rejoiced with them.
The doubts, regrets, drudgery: they all vanished,
engulfed by the memory of being one with them.

Can you see me against the red clay wall?
photo courtesy of Edu Fabian

I've never felt happier in recent days.

photo courtesy of Rodel (Argonaut)
photo courtesy of Carlo Serrano

On the way down I asked myself: how could 5kms of torture suddenly seem short and easy. Well, everything seems easy if everyone does things together.

photo courtesy of Rodel (Argonaut)

photo courtesy of Timmy Sebastian

photo courtesy of Carlo Serrano

photo courtesy of Carlo Serrano

photo courtesy of Carlo Serrano

photo courtesy of Carlo Serrano

photo courtesy of Carlo Serrano

Will these pair of legs and shoes run trails like these again?

Alone, maybe not. The owner has enough personal memories of mountains.
With friends and people who matter, certainly yes, for there are more memories to be made and shared.

Special thanks to Mar Marilag and Rene Vallarta for making this run possible.


Anonymous April 28, 2009 at 10:53 PM  

Sheer Will personified indeed! I don't think any of us could have done that climb alone.

I nominate you as the next "Hoff of the Month!"

Hahaha! :P


Rico Villanueva April 29, 2009 at 12:15 PM  

Salamat sa vote of confidence, Doc Eric, but I'm not worthy. Hehe. Kung anu-ano na nga pumapasok sa isip ko noon. It was really a RELIEF to see you guys there on top of the hill. Till our next adventure :-)

Anonymous April 29, 2009 at 1:32 PM  

Nice account of your experience, Rico. Ang layo pa pala pinanggalingan mo!

i second the motion of Doc Eric! but it should be "Hoff Of All Time"!:-)

Anonymous April 29, 2009 at 5:11 PM  

Your photo (you a red small dot) against the red clay wall looks magical, Enrico. And your story on "how you found your people" after a lone uphill running sounds no less magical.

Congrats and I envy you guys on that runadventure!

Rico Villanueva April 30, 2009 at 2:14 AM  

Hi Rene, di naman kalayuan ang Paranaque; hirap lang ako talaga gumising ng maaga hehe...on that Hoff motion, di yan papasa sa Congress haha....saka meron ding kasabihan na "Once a Hoff, Always a Hoff" so every Hoff is a Hoff of All Time...thanks again for the Montalban experience :-)

Cath, galing ng photo ni Edu ano? Magical talaga kaya ayan meron pa akong drama line about "how I found my people". Join us next time. :-)

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