You know you’re in a different trail race if the organizers say this at the opening program: “This is not a competitive race. Take your time, enjoy the view.”
For the first time in my life, I ran with a camera strapped to my wrist.
Marcky and I started our trip to Ifugao at 10:00 p.m. on Friday, August 22, 2014. We booked seats at Ohayami Trans days before, because the trip to Banaue is just once a day when it’s not peak season. The passengers in the bus were mostly runners. You’ll say it’s easy to see because of the gears they carried and wore. I say it’s because of the energy and the familiar smiles. We arrived at Banaue at about seven in the morning.
The tourist assistance center is right beside the bus station. That morning we found out that the Hillside Inn at Batad was about an hour away from the starting line. We booked a room at Hillside weeks before the trip. It was difficult to reach Hillside through phone, so we wallowed in our worries for a few seconds. It was our first time in Ifugao.
We approached Team Malaya’s booth. It was also our first time to join a race organized by this team, so I wasn’t sure if they’re an accommodating bunch.
Toper from Team Malaya told me there was a room available at Stairway Inn, where the team also stayed that weekend. Stairway is less than five minutes away from the starting line. We got a room beside the organizers’, which means we won’t be late. Which means, for a moment, I wanted to offer a dance to the rice terraces.
After getting the room at Stairway, we went back to the bus station to reserve seats for the trip on Sunday. Monday, August 25, 2014, was a holiday. We planned to spend it as recovery day, so we hoped to get seats for the Sunday bus trip. Unfortunately, the Sunday trip was already fully-booked and we had no choice but to buy tickets for the Monday night trip to Manila. I could already imagine how painful my body would be when I go to the office just an hour after the trip.
But it was our first hour at Ifugao, we had enough good vibes to be able to look at the brighter side. We were lucky the owners and staff of Hillside considered our (desperate) circumstances and allowed us to move the booking to Sunday night. We need not worry about where we would stay next and what we will be doing with the extra day we had. But seriously, up there in the mountains, what kind of runner-wanderer worries about an unplanned day?
I started joining races in 2011. My pace in Ifugao is the slowest so far, but I don’t mind. Mini-falls as hydration stations, Banaue coffee at the carbo-loading booth, breathtaking view of the rice terraces as we went along the route, and ah — the sunrise that greeted us a few minutes after the gongstart — setting a new PR was the last thing on my mind.
During the race, I witnessed a runner throwing trash along the route. I e-mailed Team Malaya about this. They were quick to respond and they said they are considering sanctions for this offense in the next races that they will organize.
Note to runners: If you can’t respect the ground you’re allowed to tread, don’t even set foot on the trail. There should be a rule at all trail events that runners who throw trash along the route would be declared DNF. That, or I’ll just kick their faces at the finish line.
After the race, we were greeted by free recovery meal at Dreamers Bakery. That was one of the best after-race food I had. When it comes to recovery meals, there’s nothing like freshly picked ingredients, just boiled and sauteed a little to bring out the flavors of the dishes.
We wished we could stay longer for a few more rounds at the feast there at Banaue, but we had to move on to Batad. We then went to the Saddle Point on board Kuya Jun’s pink panther tricycle.
At Saddle Point, a guide welcomed us and offered to show the way to Hillside Inn. Kuya Jun (wow, the mountains had an abundance of Juns) is already more than sixty years old. He has been working as a tour guide for most of his stay at Batad, where he moved from Nueva Ecija after marriage in the 1980s. That weekend, he said, the tour guides in the town extended help to the runners who joined the race.
On Monday morning, we trekked for more than two hours to Tappiya Falls. Kuya Jun told us the night before that, with our running skills, we can reach the Falls in about forty-five minutes. He might have overestimated our skills and/or underestimated the stalling power of the rain over me and my running buddy.
We set a schedule with Kuya Jun, the one with the pink panther tricycle, and he agreed to meet us at Lannah Junction on Monday afternoon. Then he would be driving us back to Banaue, so we could hop into our ride back home.
The Junction was an alternative trail, which we decided to traverse instead of the Saddle Point route. It was more difficult, even more dangerous than the trek to Tappiya Falls.
When Marcky and I started on our way, without any guide but a few directions given to us, we believed that we can reach the Junction in about an hour.
It took us more than two hours. We were lucky we met new friends from France along the route. They had a guide. Kuya Jun also patiently waited for us even though we were late for our schedule.
I learned that while walking and running at the sides of the mountains, where you could slip and roll down more than a thousand feet of rocks and mud, you can’t help but talk to yourself.
“Ada, live long enough to witness more wonders like this. Please lang.”
The other thoughts that ran through my head were:
Oh, I can’t wait for that natural high from going through the route without injury. I think I need to have laser eye operation already, just so I can efficiently climb mountains. I’ll be back, but maybe during the dry season. And, this same time tomorrow, I’ll be sitting in the office, may be typing an e-mail and waiting for manong to deliver a hot serving of ginataang bilo-bilo, as I sip my coffee from Krispy Kreme.