The Frustrations of Bicycle Maintenance

Entrance to the Winterhude Stadtpark

Author’s Note: I desperately wanted the title of this post to make a reference to the famous Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig, one of the many books I have not yet read. But given the actual events I am going to relate, I felt it disingenuous to imply any relationship to the state of Zen. Hey, I may be a small blog, but this blogger has ethical standards!

A tranquil early morning sun, bright and warm as a fond memory, lit the grounds of the spacious Winterhude Stadtpark. Just less than a month ago I had my bike tires changed and it is with the accompanying Enthusiasm for New and Shiny Things that I set about exploring the sparsely-peopled grounds. A ride this early (and, frankly, even earlier) is something I have long since planned; unfortunately, given my predilections to staying up late, you will understand why I needed some extra motivation to even be riding here.

Again, I don’t really see myself as a cyclist—bikes are transport first, exercise second—but these new tires just improved my relationship to cycling. I immediately noticed that uphills are ever so slightly more bearable and I objectively became faster too. Just when I thought I would no longer get the satisfaction of breaking a personal record in Strava, I go ahead and improve my record in a particularly thrilling sector of my usual route by a stunning 10 seconds and that’s without even trying, on my very first ride with the new tires.

Of course, I might’ve also become fitter than last year. But I really want to think it’s the tires. After my elbow is well enough to ride my bike again, I wouldn’t even try to go fast in my stock tires as they were looking all the worse for wear.

Planetarium Hamburg

It did not matter to me that only my tires (and, well, pedals) were new; I rode around the Stadtpark, maneuvering my way around dirt paths with hardly any worry. There were barely any people in the park this early in a Saturday and I could do laps to my heart’s content. My new tires—Schwalbe Marathon Plus—had been nothing but a pleasure and, at the moment, I knew I had quite a budget of rubber to burn through. Not that I had any particular need or desire to do so. I decide to descend towards the pond, a central feature of the park, and ride along the edge because it’s a beautiful morning so why not?

My mind focused on navigating the short but rough downwards incline, I notice flecks of shiny green in the dust: shards of a broken bottle. I panic, knowing they could cut my tires but it’s too late to change lines. I ride over the broken shards, prepared to dismount immediately if my tires deflate. Thankfully, they don’t. I let the downhill momentum exhaust itself before finally dismounting to inspect my tires.

Visually, they look fine. I squeeze on them, time honored test of whether you have a flat or not, and they are as firm as when I picked them up from the bike shop. They even survive the trip home and have no issue at all in my usual Thursday rides to my Kickboxing classes at Zanshin Dojo.

One thing I’ve made a point of in the last two years is to never waste the sun. As a newcomer in these northern latitudes who arrived in the transitory months between spring and summer, I found it nice, cordial, but odd, when coworkers would end meetings with the pleasantry, “Enjoy the sun”. Having lived in a tropical climate until then, it never occurred to me that in other latitudes, fall and winter can be depressingly dark.

I mean, I’ve read books. I’m not an idiot. But it still hits differently when you live what you’ve only read about.

Admittedly, this simple pleasantry has become an imposition lately, underlined by the pandemic lockdowns as well as the fact that Hamburg’s weather does not exactly make for ideal and pleasant summers, the kind that would make bards wax lyrical about beauty. So when the sun is bright and shining outside, you go out, no two ways about it.

And so it was the case the Saturday following my Stadtpark excursion. I did not really have any plans but the sun was ripe for a ride. So I get dressed down and go down to my apartment’s bike cellar to get my bike. I notice that my rear tire is flat. Not worrying as I have an air pump, let me just go get it.

I notice that it is flat big time.

I notice a big gash at the edge of the tire.

And just like that, my pleasant weather Saturday nonplans turned into a couple of hours in my apartment’s basement trying to rescue a damaged tire without the proper tools. This was an eventuality I should’ve prepared for but did not. I regularly watch GCN but, for all the enthusiasm and good will they project about biking, all their daily drivers cost four-figures in Euros, at least. Their video about changing your bike tire, for instance, tells viewers to use the quick-release lever on the wheel. My wheels, do not have quick release, Si. It would also tell you to press a button on your breaks to open them and give your wheel clearance. Yup, another thing my venerable but humble bike, The Adventure Time, does not have.

Note: I like GCN. Their content and explainers are welcoming and not condescending to any skill/interest level but Park Tools’ library of content has been far more useful for me. Park Tools’ channel covers what GCN lacks for as a consequence of their fancy schmancy Pinarello frames and Shimano group sets.

I know that the DIY mindset has a certain association towards sustainable and frugal living but one thing I find often overlooked in this movement is the fact that you still need a certain amount of capital to get started doing repairs on your own. Before you can use whatever is just lying around, you first need to have a few things (or more) lying around. There’s no pulling yourself up by the bootstraps. Tools and spare parts don’t grow on trees.

If I may digress for a bit into the world of computers, this is what I found so puzzling about the design of the Raspberry Pi, especially the earlier editions. It featured solely an on-board HDMI display port which made it incompatible with any of the monitors I had access to in 2013, and I was already working in the industry by then. Sure you could use adaptors but, first, you need to find adaptors!

Maybe, the touted cost-efficiency of DIY repairs depends on the item you want to repair. A spool of thread and some needles to patch up a pair of jeans is very accessible, easy to learn/use, and, yes, leagues cheaper than buying a new pair of jeans but for basically anything beyond that, you’d need tools, spare parts, as well as some training, all of which have a considerable upfront cost. Not to mention, hurdling that barrier does not completely preclude the possibility of failure.

(Ironically, what I really like about Software Engineering is the relatively cheap cost of mistakes. You can’t CTRL+Z a Civil Engineering miscalculation.)

As such I have learned to repair things in the least invasive manner to begin with. The best fix in the world is the one that does not call for disassembly. Alternatively, why fix the hardware if you can compensate for it in software?

So imagine my dread at being faced with a repair task that is pure hardware and has no uninvasive option. That tire and inner tube would need to be replaced. Heck, the wheel itself needs to come off at least.

But first I needed tools.

I already had a small 15mm wrench that I tried to use on my pedals a while back, for unrelated reasons. I bought it because it was cheap but unfortunately, this taught me the hard way what makes good tools. Small and cheap meant little to no leverage. I was unable to remove my pedals with it.

So I needed a wrench with sufficient leverage.

And speaking of levers, apparently there’s a very special type of tool called tire levers that you use to unseat a bike tire from the rim. I also needed that and I managed to order this small item from a local bike shop online that very night. This provided me with some comfort in my distress because I don’t remember seeing this tool in any of the bike shops I occasionally visit.

Naturally, tools are useless without the spare parts. I needed to buy tires and inner tubes. Despite the premature failure of the Schwalbe Marathon Plus, I took the events to show that this particular tire managed almost 20km on borrowed time. That sounded like a nice feature so I decided to stick with it. Not to mention it would bother my meticulous self endlessly to run two different types of tire in my bike, let alone different brands.

The Sunday that followed was uneventful but for this exact reason I was annoyed. I have long since learned that there is no situation that I detest more than those in which I feel helpless. So long as I can struggle against something, I can find a certain peace, a certain satisfaction that my fate is not completely out of my hands.

Waiting is not a struggle.

Monday arrives. I visit this nearby bike shop for the first time because I am certain they have the exact tires I am looking for. I buy a pair of tires and a pair of inner tubes because I was certain I’m going to fuck up at least once. At this point, it also does not hurt to have spare supplies at hand.

Tuesday arrives. The tire levers I ordered online should arrive tomorrow. I visit BOC, perhaps the largest bike shop in Hamburg, and I finally get myself a pretty hefty wrench. If this does not remove the damn nut, I don’t know what will. I also see a set of tire levers and, despite having ordered a set already, I buy it anyway.

That turned out to be a good decision.

I return home and immediately my Feierabend is dedicated to replacing my rear tire.

Engineering

It was frustrating.

I’ve already related how much I value my self-sufficiency in living as a stranger in a strange land. I take a certain pride every time I complete a conversation in German, no matter how short, no matter how imperfect I sounded, because like Python, I learned German more or less completely on my own. But for the first time, as I was in the common garden of my apartment trying to swallow my frustrations at reinserting the damn tire, I dearly wished I had someone to teach me.

It started to rain and the tire is still not properly seated. I hurriedly gathered all the separated parts and brought them back inside the basement. I already feel like I failed to take care of my belongings when I saw the tire damage last Saturday but now I have to leave The Adventure Time broken and vulnerable and in the basement’s darkness, no less. Undeterred, I decided to bring the half-finished tire upstairs inside my unit and continue working on it; thankfully, I had the good sense to clean off all the gunk in the gears before I even removed the damaged tires.

So, in my apartment, over a small makeshift work area of newspapers I picked up for unrelated reasons several weeks back, I continued my thankless toil. I have no idea how it eventually came to pass but sections, arcs, of the tire started to seat firmly on the rim. I get the idea to use my tire levers to help me in the process; this will turn out to be a mistake. But at least, in this Tuesday night, I have an accomplishment.

Wheel

Behold, the first tire I ever attached myself. It’s the IKEA effect speaking, I am well aware, but what a beauty!

Inflated to a little over the minimum pressure required, I am satisfied with my handywork. I even still had time to go downstairs and reattach it properly to The Adventure Time. That night I slept with the peace of mind that I did not leave The Adventure Time in a vulnerable condition in a dark basement.

Now, English has this curious expression for disappointment, “to burst someone’s bubble” which sort of compares a person’s happiness to a bubble (or if you are J.K. Rowling, a balloon) the bursting of which is the equivalent of dismay.

The following morning, I go down to check on my bike on a whim. That Wednesday morning, my body still sore from yesterday’s exertions, the bubble was my bike’s rear inner tube and it burst overnight.

With the first stage of grief imposing itself on me in that cramped and dirty bike cellar, I tried to inflate it in vain. There is an audible exhaust of air; the tire would not even take form. I take a deep breath through my nose, the way we were taught to stay composed in Taekwondo. My lungs fill with air in a way my rear tire won’t. I exhale, my head clearing just a little bit. The faster I process my grief over this setback, the better it will be.

Wednesday is typically my grocery day for no particular reason than, well, it’s a pretty day to pay for things at the cashier. I would usually walk to the grocery at around 7PM (that’s 19:00 for you in European) be done in less than an hour and by around 8PM (or 20:00), I will be done sorting out my groceries, taking out my trash and I’ll be settling down to read a book or watch Netflix. But not today, no no no. Having done all my chores for the day, I pick up my orange toolbox and a LED lamp and proceeded to disassemble The Adventure Time once more.

This time I worked faster. I removed the inner tube and inspected the damage. The rupture wasn’t difficult to locate as it was exactly on the longitudinal fold of the tube, around a centimeter long deflated—a tell tale sign that I simply messed up my first attempt and pinched the tube between the tire and the rim. Knowledge from research suggests that this would commonly happen if you use tire levers to reseat the tire into the rim.

So this time, I perform this arduous task with a hard embargo on using my tire levers. It was still frustrating and took some time but, despite the restraint I exercised, I definitely accomplished the task faster this time around. I worked with the assurance that it can be done and I did not mess up the measurements of the spare parts I bought.

The rubber neatly attached, I proceeded to inflate it. I have no excuses for the decision that follows other than (a) I’m a software engineer, not a bike mechanic and (b) I am just tired at this point but I inflate my tire to just below the recommended pressure. I decided to attach it and leave it like so overnight, reasoning that if it does not burst until morning, there are no pinches and I will proceed to inflating it to the recommended pressure.

Thursday arrives, that one day in the week where I actually have a destination to bike to; it’s the usual day I attend Kickboxing lessons. Eager to see the results of my experiment, I go down to the bike cellar to see that the tire has, yet again, deflated.

At this point, replacing my rear tire has transformed from a challenging little DIY excursion into an imposing Sisyphean task. My body is weary and my mind is frustrated. Once more, as yesterday, I give in to the sweeping wave of denial, my mind even venturing as far as exploring the possibility that it is, after all, not my fault. Perhaps dictated more by desperate delusions than sound reason, I tried to inflate my tire, as I did yesterday.

And what do you know, this time it actually holds air! Unlike yesterday, the tire actually takes form at least for a few seconds. There was a distinct jet of air emanating from it—it was still not rideworthy—but this was definitely an improvement over yesterday. When you are desperate, you take your wins no matter what form they take.

Thus I found myself with a crucial decision to make: do I attempt another inner tube replacement and risk riding that to Zanshin Dojo that same day or should I go to Kickboxing class by other means, heck maybe even cancel for the week?

There is probably an Economics or a Game Theory textbook somewhere using this exact scenario as an example of risk evaluation. So far I have proven to be a shitty mechanic and it is unwise to take a 9km ride on a bike repaired by someone with my track record. This does not seem to be a hard choice to perform rationally.

Alas, you are reading my blog, not an Economics or a Game Theory textbook. I have so far outlined how a series of suboptimal decisions has lead me to this predicament, this holistic exhaustion, starting with choosing a travel line across a downward slope. What’s another suboptimal decision in this story?

This is how I ended up dedicating a portion of my lunch time that day buying inner tubes from that nearby bike shop I went to last Monday. I buy not one, not two, but four spare inner tubes. I disassemble my bike once more, this time setting it aside in a convenient nook in the basement as I take the wheel to my apartment.

Our tale nears its end and I don’t want to give the false impression that I facilitated the decisive turn of the plot by myself. Again, this blogger has ethical standards. Tutorials from GCN and Park Tools having failed me, I ask YouTube’s search as if it is human, “how to avoid pinching inner tube”, which, for all the clout this blog can give a link, has lead me to this video from a certain Tony Marchand which suggested that (a) I powder the inner tube before I place it in and (b) a check to perform before I inflate the tire to minimize the probability of a pinch flat.

This time, my body has already synthesized a technique for the nail-bleeding task of reseating the tire to the rim; the whole process took me maybe 40 minutes, an indisputable improvement over my first attempt last Tuesday. The tire neatly fitted, I performed the test Tony Marchand’s video suggested. Passing that, I then proceeded to inflate my tire, this time with no half measures.

Satisfied that it is already well within the recommended operating pressure, I proceed to test it even further. Through all the disappointments, I was just thankful my mistakes manifested while the bike was at rest and not while I was riding it; QA Testing could quite literally save me another accident. So I bounce the inflated tire off my floor several times. I squeeze it, hit it lightly with a knife-hand chop. I let it stand in a corner for a few hours before I finally re-attach it to The Adventure Time.

Back in high school, one of our teachers has remarked that our class had a tendency to perform a dry run test simultaneously with the first (and only) performance of a class production. In line with my belief that everything is practice until it isn’t, I pack my bags for my Kickboxing class as The Adventure Time waited in the basement.

With a little over half an hour to go, the lines distinguishing a dry run test and a first outing blur once more as it did all those times in high school. I lightly kick the rear tire for luck before I mounted The Adventure Time. The first few moments were nothing but tense. So far, it has held my weight. That is encouraging.

“I am not Lewis Hamilton,” I repeatedly tell myself as I pedal. It has become a sort of mantra which I believed would save me another inconvenient accident and especially so today. On red lights I try to glance at my rear tire, noting every bit of deformation, especially on the part where it made contact with the road.

Pressing my brakes for a terminal stop in front of Zanshin Dojo’s makeshift outdoor gym, the tire I replaced has just survived its first 4.5km. And it’s still looking great.

After the first 4.5KM

Coda

It is Friday. Yesterday’s Kickboxing went fine except that I could definitely feel my exertions even for the most basic of techniques (writing this in retrospect, this is definitely the exhaustion from the whole week showing itself). I could at least take pride that I pushed through even when I was gassing out; you don’t improve from easy sessions.

I am standing in front of a DHL Packetstation. I scan this small note I just retrieved from my mailbox. For some mysterious reason, DHL could not deliver the tire levers I ordered online to my doorstep. So here I am, trying to sign my name on a cheap unresponsive touchscreen interface.

Though tired and without a goal in mind, I decide to ride out. It’s what cyclists would call a recovery ride. I have another purpose in mind though: despite having survived the back-and-forth trip yesterday (and has even broken the record set by its predecessor by 2 seconds, again without me even trying), I am still not quite confident with my work’s reliability. I reason that it had better fail in a controlled environment, rather than be caught by surprise when I least expect it to.

I ride to that nearby park where, last year, I observed the Comet Neowise. It has gravelly paths, comparable to those at Winterhude Stadtpark. I do a couple of laps and notice that the rear brake feels different. I wouldn’t classify it a hazard—I still get to a complete stop—but the bite is weaker than I remember. I make a mental note to learn how rim brakes work.

Still tired but satisfied, I ride back home. It is cloudy, portentous, perhaps, of next week’s weather. But through the clouds, a beautiful sunset just couldn’t hide itself.

Sunset

You Know What’s at Mountain View?

I stepped down from the plane into American soil a bit weary but completely awake. The flight was fully booked and, despite having more leg room than I expected, sitting for a flight of around twelve hours still took its toll. My legs felt odd from all that sitting. The whole flight I tried to minimize my trips to the toilet as I did not want to irritate/inconvenience the couple sitting beside me; I should not have taken a window seat. But given the circumstances of my trip, I don’t think I’d have a choice other than the window seat. After all, this flight was only booked around a week back.

(Author’s travel note: When taking flights, the window seat is cool if the flight isn’t too long and the cruising altitude isn’t too high. Otherwise, there won’t be much sight-seeing and you’re better off taking an aisle seat. For toilet breaks.)

Clouded Underneath
But don’t you think all that seating in an uncomfortable window seat is still so totally worth it just to see something like this? ūüėČ

This story actually starts last October, during a particularly tiring week though not one completely devoid of fun. That was the week our office held its Halloween celebrations. Tired from leading our area’s decorations for the event, I ended that Friday sleeping on a sala sofa. I woke up at around dawn feeling a bit refreshed and took a bath. Afterwards, I checked my email and found an unread item from an “@google.com” email address. I shouted my surprise/amusement and caused my mother to panic.

By now, I’ve told the story countless of times already. Long story short, Google flew me to Mountain View for a job interview during the last week of February. I did not get in but I remember making a new year’s resolution last year and I’m amused to find out that I managed to eke out something akin to what I expected within a year.

I went alone, which is more or less my idea of¬†travel, in contrast to tourism. I’ve experienced the kindness of strangers and talked to some really smart people. This experience is definitely one for gratitude.

During my first night, I happened to ride a taxi driven by a Vietnamese guy. We had a little chat wherein he learned why I’m in America. He was very thrilled for me in the same manner the people back home were very thrilled. He kept wishing me good luck while reminding me what privilege this is. I have not traveled much but I can’t help but think that had I been with a large group, the conversation would not have taken place.

My first order of business upon arriving at the hotel was to procure some dinner. I wanted to eat American food until I realized that America’s common foods are items I can easily buy back home: pizza, hamburger, fries. I loaded up Google Maps1 and decided on a Mexican place seemingly a walking distance away from my hotel.

(Author’s note: America’s foods did not come from America.¬†Pizza is Italian.¬†Hamburger is German.¬†Fries is French. Totally a melting pot, America is.)

At this point I need to backtrack a bit in this woolgathering. I took my undergraduate degree in UP-Diliman, which has a campus larger than The Vatican. During my undergrad, I used to walk the distance from our department to the University’s exit. According to Google Maps, the shortest path from those two points, is 1.8km, roughly 1.12 miles. This should tell you what distances do I consider walking distances.

I started walking towards that Mexican place. I was wearing city shorts and sandals, which is what I’d wear for any hike in the Philippines, which is also mistake number one. California, you see, is biting cold. I’m aware that it is that part of North America closest to the equator but it remains way colder than the Philippines. Thankfully, I had the sense to keep my hoodie jacket on my person.

A few street crossings2 passed and I noticed that the Mexican place I intend to eat in is still nowhere in sight. At this point, every bit of exposed skin I had was numb and I started to marvel at how I took the number of food stops in the Philippines for granted; in the Philippines, you’d be hard pressed to find an urban stretch of several meters where there isn’t even a single stop selling any kind of food. I consulted Google Maps again, to make sure that my bearing is correct (it is) and that’s when I realized that the Mexican place I am trying to get to is 0.9 miles from the hotel.

I’m pretty sure my body language was shouting “TOURIST” during my first night, a body language expression that did not change for the length of my stay. With the cold biting at my skin, I began to wander in open establishments for some warmth and to maybe decide on alternatives to the Mexican place I’ve set as my destination. I happened into an amusing cross between a convenience store and a wine cellar clerked by an Indian man, judging by his turban. I did not stay long inside but, as I left the premises, the clerk followed me outside just to ask if I’m okay, not lost or what. After assuring him that all is fine (without, of course, conceding that I am a wondering wanderer), I finally decided to skip the Mexican place and just dine on pizza for my first night.

(Author’s note: Google Maps lists an establishment’s operating hours. If you are planning to visit any place at unsure hours, this is worth a check.)

The duration of my stay was only around four days. I did not go that far since I do not know how to estimate transportation costs. And yet, I’ve explored quite a lot. Did you know that Mountain View has a cozy public library? It’s been my dream of sorts to visit libraries in different places and Mountain View’s is a nice bonus first.

There’s this place in Mountain View‚ÄĒCastro Street‚ÄĒwhich earned my fondness the first time I went there. That small strip of space felt so me. In the ubiquity of American food even in Philippine soil, I began looking for Asian food and it was there3. It had two book stores, Books Inc. and BookBuyers, which both looked so cozy it’s a shame we’ve had so short a time together. It had a Taekwondo gym, and is near Mountain View’s Center for Performing Arts as well as the public library I’ve been raving about.

When my recruiting coordinator at Google informed me (via phone call) that I did not make it, she was apologizing that I bothered to take so long a trip for nothing. I wanted to tell her that it was fine, I enjoyed, and that the opportunity itself is a rewarding experience in so many ways. And it is. Until next time, I guess.

Thrilled and grateful as ever, as usual. ~Chad

Only in America.... Ramen!
BookBuyers

Castro Street

Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts

Wonderlust
  1. I do not find Google Maps very accurate in the Philippines yet though I expect it to get better as Google now has operations here. But if there is anywhere in the world where Google Maps is supposed to provide good info, it’s at Mountain View, California. []
  2. Where I can count the number of other people I met with just the fingers of one hand. One. Hand. []
  3. Nothing Filipino though; all that’s in Castro Street is a Japanese and a Chinese place. []

Meeting Maria

I spent last weekend in the wild, being dirty and sleeping inside cramped messy tents whose temperature fluctuates between cold and scorching hot, depending on what time of the day it is. I brought some mosquito repellent with me, only to find out that I should’ve feared the ants as well. The only way I could’ve cleaned myself (even partially) entailed going through the cold caress of mountain water. This is adventure indeed, the kind catterpillars sadly forget as they become butterflies.

My muscles are aching as I type like I worked out for a whole month straight without even a few seconds of water break anywhere in between. But the ache reminds me of a good two nights and two days spent in the cradle of Maria Makiling. Clearly, this is the welcome kind of muscle ache, one that is the sign not of deteriorating health but of a life lived in two-days’ worth of adventure. I’m both glad and sad that they’d be gone in a few days. How I’d miss this feeling and the kind of joy the experience brought me. I feel that I’ve lived life, for two nights and two days, as the experience took my breath away.

Before I delve into the fun of reliving the adventure allow me first to wish my left shoe a very solemn “Rest In Peace”. You have been loyal to me for the past two years or so my dear friend, going through mud and shine, opening your mouth that protects the fingertips of my left foot eventually but not making a single sound of complaint. Your twin, right shoe, will have to rest as well, now that you are gone. I regret that he won’t be able to do it in the house though, as we are pretty crowded already.

My left shoe died an honorable death, in the midst of adventure, as I spent the good part of last weekend jumping through rocks and grabbing various plants for dear life, double checking in a hurried fashion beforehand that it is without thorns and that it is not actually some camouflaging fauna. It died last Saturday but I had to abuse it further by using it again for the same purposes the next day after last Saturday which is last Sunday. My vocal chords nearly died as well, as I screamed cheers and whoa’s in flow with my group’s collective effervescence.

And as I know that general allusions to the experience will do the adventure no justice, allow me to compress about two days’ worth of story in a single web page, as I try to set the record for the longest blog post ever. Right. Let the stories start.

Table of Contents
Laying Down Ground | The Trek | Running Again, Some Swimming, and Goodbye Finally

Laying Down Ground
Friday, February 5, 2010, Deep Evening

Tired and exhausted from last night’s academic cramming as well as from the day that passed, I stepped off the bus and was readily greeted by Orion. Arr hunter, I say. Thanks for the greeting as I am here not to choose the events that will happen but to let the adventure choose me. Be my guide.

For the good part of the night we tried to make the provided tents as cozy as possible. Evidently, a man’s idea of “cozy” is way different from a woman’s. A tent is capable of holding six people but seven of us had to share, plus a few battalion of ants. I brought some mosquito repellent but I’m totally unprepared for these warriors, biting us violently for entering the critical zone of their territory. And we had our luggage with us too, taking up a generous part of our already-cramped tent. I remember being told once that pretty men travel light. If that is true, then Maria Makiling won’t be dating any of us by default.

We were briefed of what awaits us. I didn’t hear anything save for the word “exciting”. After about an hour of planning we embark for slumber land and I felt the rough contours of the earth against my back. Adventure here we go!

The Trek
Saturday, February 6, 2010, Morning to Mid-Afternoon, and then whole day

We rose before the sun to prepare for what lies in store for the day. This is the first time we’ll be actually cooking and, incidentally, my stomach’s been lucky enough to have a choice between two culinary sets so that if something goes wrong here, I always have the other group for back-up. It’s a long and complicated story of how come there were two groups but in any case, the two groups merged into one later on, forming what can be considered as our main class, plus a few additions.

And yes, pictures…

Rappel Instructors

As you see, it was still pretty dark when we started cooking that I cannot rely on natural lighting and I had to resort to flash. This is one of the two groups I’ve been talking about. Though not really a part of the group in the strict sense of the word, pictured here are our two rappel instructors.

 

Chemical Engineers

Left to Right: Stephanie Peralta, Ariel Jan Sadural, Cherielyn Cariso, Dyan Canlas. All of them major in Chemical Engineering. All of them are in the group with me even in the strictest sense. And all of them are fun to be with.

 

I’m pretty fond of these people. For one, AJ has been my highschool classmate from year two to year four. Then again, they’re just plain fun to be with. And also, they are the second cooking group I’ve been talking about.

And oh, yes, just to give you an idea, this is where we’ve been sleeping:

Tents

Being the celestial body lover that I am, I made sure that I know what time will the sun rise and set for the whole time we’ve been there, as part of my preparations. Unfortunately, sunrise and sunset isn’t as pronounced as I expected here. But that is not to say that I did not shoot some scenery.

Saturday morning sunrise at camp…

Saturday was scheduled for trek, an activity which I thought will have me clicking through shots and feeling the cool mountain breeze. I was wrong. The trek found me with my shirt glued wet by perspiration on my back. I found myself finally appreciating Gatorade and thanking AJ for lending me a cap. The trail was beautiful, green and overflowing with flora, ripe for some shots. Unfortunately, my hands had been busy looking for firm features to hold on to and breaking the momentum I gain as my feet followed the dictates of the natural laws of inclined planes, too tired to resist. This is where my left shoe died, in service, ever loyal.

That all said, I still managed to take some pictures while trekking.

Dyan and Che, with a flower they find pretty

Dyan and Che, with a flower they find pretty

 

Don't faeries bathe in here?

Don’t faeries bathe in here?

 

Taken just before we stopped to eat packed lunch live at the trail.

 

Ging and Baki. Not taken by me, most probably taken by Dyan.

 

Dyan and me. If you stop for a moment and think, it will become clear to you that I obviously did not take this picture. Taken by either Ging or Baki.

 

Chilling out live at the trail

Chilling out live at the trail. Taken by Dyan.

 

Returning to camp, I found myself slumped dead near the entrance of our tent, not minding the heat, nor the flies buzzing around, nor the ants who seem addicted to my shirtless torso. I know not how many miles we walked nor how high a height we reached. I did not take a bath immediately which was lucky because our group had someone to sprawl on the ground when we were taught how to rescue someone down in a cliff with a possible spine injury.

Darkness bit the skies again and soon we were cooking and eating by flashlight. It’s such a shame we were not able to light a bonfire because all the firewood around can only be found along the trail, and our own legs might just kick ourselves in protest if ever we plan to return there just to gather some firewood.

Running Again, Some Swimming, and Goodbye Finally
Sunday, February 7, 2010, Morning to Mid-Afternoon

AJ and me woke up at around 4AM. Being one of the two group leaders, AJ spent sometime going around the tents of our group, retrieving their consciousness from slumber. A few minutes into the activity and we were entertained by someone’s semi-consciousness and made-up terms courtesy of the spirit that is alcohol:¬†“Lutuin na yang mga AJ na yan!”¬†(Cook those AJ’s now!), and,¬†“Lagyan ng isang metrong wetness yung shroup”¬†(Add a meter of wetness to the shroup), she’s been saying (yes she’s a she). We laughed our heads off from that episode for about a couple of hours, until the person concerned regained full control of her consciousness and…you should’ve seen her face.

I spent two hours doing nothing but walking around and eating breakfast, breathing fresh mountain air. It feels and sounds so bummer to relate that I ate instant noodles on a moment as fresh as that. Instant noodles is the only junk food that remains in my system after all. I’ve kicked my addiction to soft drinks and cheesy potato chips but not to instant noodles. Note, however, that I suggested, before Saturday’s adventure, that we hunt for snakes along the trail so that we’ll have something to cook in camp–a suggestion that was met with yeah-right faces from my groupmates.

Breakfast at Camp

Sunday morning breakfast at camp.

 

Sunday’s most anticipated activity is map navigation, an activity very similar to trekking sans the almost-vertical slopes, packed lunch, and instructor guides but with a lot of competition, a lot of tasks and a single compass. I cannot decide what is more memorable between the trek and map nav. They’ll most probably tie. The trek is memorable because of the ooh’s and wow’s generated by nature’s beauty; map nav, on the other hand, is memorable due to all the adrenaline and willpower involved. We were so competitive in map nav that I really wasn’t able to take any pictures.

We were misguided and so we were lost for about a good half an hour. Nonetheless, we returned first in camp and you can only imagine with what euphoria did we tread around the still-empty tents, willpower being replaced by effervescence and cheers. Unfortunately, we didn’t win Best in Navigation because start times are not the same for all groups and so there are some chronological translation involved.

After lunch, some refreshments, and a few hours’ rest, we proceeded to the pool to cross about 100 meters, with an optional break after meter 50. Not the most anticipated activity because swimming isn’t really something you’d learn in a few meetings. At this point, I would like to thank one instructor who gave me some last-moment pointers on how to conquer water. It’s thanks to him I crossed 50 at my first try and almost made it to 100 at the second one. I am most grateful.

And what did our group get after this whole adventure? Aside from bonding moments, we got also got this,

Best Group

Best in Navigation went to the group who made their way past all the tasks and points fastest; it does not necessarily mean that they did the tasks best. Best Group, on the other hand, went to the group who did everything best; since they are best in everything, it also means that they have the best time in navigation (it need not be stated since it is already implied). Quod Erat Demonstrandum. That I want to show.

 

It’s been fun and I am thankful for this adventure, this opportunity to bond with nature and other people. I didn’t travel light but I guess Maria Makiling still dated me. I saw her beauty and I hope I’ve been the gentleman Nature deserves. In about two days I’ve seen cliffs, walked a forest and drank mountain water–lived all my boyhood dreams, in short. After such an experience, it feels so bummer to say “Damn! I have a Calculus exam this Saturday and a Data Structures exam this Monday”.

I shall not forget, the day I met Maria.

 


Colophon: I keep on saying that the adventure lasted for about two days when my story is divided into three chapters. The explanation is this: we only spent one whole day (Saturday), as Friday and Sunday was arrival day and departure day respectively. Hence, about two days.