Maarat of Yester Years


You will not be considered a “veteran Metro-Manila mountain biker” if you haven’t been to the San Mateo and Rodriguez Mountains. Some just simply call it Montalban despite the fact that it bounds within 4 to 6 territories depending on the route you take. It includes San Mateo, Rodriguez, and Antipolo in Rizal; San Jose in Bulacan and Marikina and Quezon City in Metro Manila. This is actually where my first off road- trail experience happened back in 2001. Before that, I just consider a mountain bike as a type of bike that you use in your usual road trips and not really a bike for “the mountains”! The first experience happened when we entered the mountains within the Wawa Gorge area. We don’t have any guides and any references for directions, we just followed our mountaineering instinct. We just rode the trails we saw as ride-able. It was my first exhilarating downhill experience and at the end, my first off road crash. I still don’t know the do’s and don’ts of mountain biking then so when I saw this knee high drop-off, I just pulled the brakes that sent me flying ahead of my bike. But instead of developing a phobia for downhill, it made me more exited to search for more trails that lead to our discovery of the other routes within the Maarat area. Speaking of Phobia, it was in that first ride that we encountered this unsual horse with “bike phobia.” He actually went berserk when he saw us in the trail. Our hunch- he fared in an accident with a motorcycle which, by the way was the pioneer users of the Maarat trails.

Sierra Madre- Dindo and Retzel with Mao

I started mountain biking with Mark Santos, Nolan Debuque, then joined by Buboy Serapio, Jun Medrano, Robert Arevalo and Yoko Ito. By 2002, we were joined by the MMS 2002 riders- Dindo Narciso, Vince Rodriguez, Yell Cambri, Retzel Orquiza, Rudy Causing, Jerome Licup, Cary Regaspi and Deo Cas. There were also old members who joins us once in a while like Edsel Moscoso and Ding Prudencio. Juboy Willkomm, Jojo Romero and Wiwit Acuna joined us later on. There were also non-MMS riders who became part of our group like King Bernas. We were also able to ride with other groups like the Montalbikers, the Onda-Bag, Firelfybrigade, PCN riders, AllTerra cyclist and other adventure racers of that time. We also met individual people like Bud  (who is the pioneer in recording the trails within the area- So those riding days also introduced us to other people whose same interest with mountain bikes bonded us together, some permanently and some even briefly.

The slimmer Buboy and Yell traversing Puray

My first Maarat Wall actually happened unexpected and by force. It was part of the route of the San Miguel Light – Urban Jungle Adventure Race (UJAR) leg of 2002. I was with Vince Rodriguez and Robert Arevalo as part of Team MMS-Studio 23. The worst thing about it is we had to do it twice as the third control point after QC Circle was atop Maarat and we went there skipping the second control point in Ever Gotesco Commonwealth so we have to go back to Ever and ride back to the top of Maarat. It was really disheartening; the worst I had in a competition, but I am glad our team spirit didn’t broke with that big error and we were still able to continue on with the race. During that race, I crashed in the tight section of “the wall” where most crashes happens. It was so far the worst crash I encountered in my life that it literally broke my helmet and my sunglasses but miraculously no scratches except for bruised ego. The crash happened in slo-mo while seeing the big boulder I was to land on. My

Me and Dindo at AFP

bike was falling behind me and it landed right on top of me (ouch!) thus it suffered not even a scratch. It took me a while to stand up, scared that some blood would spurt out when I move. But it has a lasting effect in me that up to now, I had my limits in terms of fast descents. Thus I said- even if I would be given the same power of Lance Armstrong in terms of climbing, I will still never be able win the Tour of France for I can only manage a 50 Km/hr descent at its best. 80 Km/hr is already crazy! Another justification to abandon competetive road cycling (but surprisingly not cross country racing!)

An oldie from the Rodriguez Mountains would know these simple facts:

    1. Mountain Dew was the rest stop after Maarat and not Giant.
    2. Jolibee was the jump-off to Maarat and not Aling Tina’s and not even Chowking as there was no Chowking then. Tropical Hut will also do.
    3. AFP was an off-road destination, now it is already paved. Same as with Timberland.
    4. Maarat was not yet commercialized. No Pestano Farms, No AllTerra EcoTrail.
    5. The term “Basic” was not yet heard of.
    6. There was no “bail-out store” in the middle of “the wall” for an excuse stop over, not even the Divine Mercy Shrine. Only the Divine Mercy Track.
    7. People those days don’t bring bikes by car or SUV; they ride from home to Maarat. Rides then were done whole day!

Juboy and me in one of the Divinve Mercy track races

    The old places have already slipped my aging mind. I can only mention names that comes my mind like Puray, Seven Rivers, Tamagochi Falls (where I watched President Bush’s Airforce One flew by; escorted by fighter jets while celebrating the birthday of Sir Milo), Kaingalan, Yes or No, Boy or Girl, Shotgun, Roxas, Helipad, Grotto, Licao-licao, Macabud, Este Del Sol etc. These are now names. I still vivdly remember the places but I can’t recall their names.

At Toyang. With the group- Mark, Yell, Dindo, Buboy guest- Tolits.

Our after ride hang out place have also evolved from Danny’s Grill, to Countryside in Katipunan (with unforgettable drunk biking from Katipunan to Angono) and lately right there at the Cycling Park in Bosoboso immediately right after the ride (oldies gets impatient waiting for their beers); when coming from the Sierra Madre side or Gerry’s Grill in Riverbanks when coming from Rodriguez. Or sometimes at Bamboo Grande.

Nowadays, despite its ever increasing traffic as Maarat still maintains its premier status as mountain biking destination; we seldom go to that place anymore. The last time we did was during my brief unemployment episode of 2009 and that was every Tuesday, Dindo and me; the same day John Lloyd Cruz rides his bike making us sort of a stalker. But not a wimp! (a funny anecdote: we were eating at Giant’s near the group of John Lloyd when Ann Cortez came in to catch up. We asked her where she started her ride and she told us in a loud voice “Of course at Timberland (not from the base)- coz I am a wimp!”  And the group of John who started out at Timberland heard that bold proclamation.)

At Phil Rock

But it has been a while since then that we have returned. Maybe because it’s already too far off as there are other alternatives. Maybe we got over it. Maybe because it has already been developed. Maybe because it has been commercialized. But once in a while it is still nice to go back down this memory lane… err- memory trail. Either ride the trail physically or if not, were glad we have all these notes of the good old days recorded in our yahoogroups- at least we can read it when we get old and incapable of riding there anymore.

MMS Bikers V2: Robert Arevalo, Jojo Romero, Lea Latayan, Nina Singcol, Deo Cas, Juboy Willkomm and Me


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