Monday, November 25, 2013

An Adventure Race in Puerto Galera

Puerto Carrera 2003

one of the many bike stages, enjoying the
beach route
  (warning: a bit long)

My team’s participation in this race started more like a joke knowing that: (1) we’ll most likely not cross the finish line (2) there was no ‘all men’ race category (3) we predicted that we’d kill each other somewhere in the race.

It evolved into a dare and a registration attempt which made Thumbie-the-organizer scratched his head while half-shouting at my team mate (Neville) reminding him that there was no all-men category. Nev countered “We’ll join with DQ (disqualified) status from start!”

Eventually, Thumbie gave in and perhaps concluded that we’d die or quit somewhere before we become a big problem.

A day prior to the race, Henry (the other dude) and Neville went ahead to the race site (while I finished off work in the office planning to take the last bus to the pier). I requested them to book me a cheap hotel near the port so I could easily ride the first morning boat and arrive in Galera right in time for the race.

One hotel (I’ll skip the name) that they’ve visited looked more like a haunted mansion, with very little interior lighting, iron grills on all windows, doors and gates, furniture all covered with dirty white cloth as if left untouched for ages, and the reception table was manned by a really old man that resembled a very scary character sans the long canine teeth. It helped that my team mates arrived at 2pm. Scared, they concluded it was a perfect place for my pre-race night stay.

I arrived that night, past 8pm and I could not initially locate the hotel. Exterior was not well-lit, no one seems to be around – but I braved the darkness and inquired inside. It was in fact ‘my hotel’. I knocked and called out with no answer. I didn’t feel threatened, physical or otherwise – but I did feel some ‘strangeness’ in the surrounding (who wouldn’t!) Soon, I heard small, slow, deliberate steps walking towards the reception table. I saw an approaching shadow, then a man showed up. It was the old man. Only scarier given that it was night and dark - amplifying his already-scary appearance. His voice was low, and his occasional long-and-deep coughs have started to penetrate through my fearless-shell. I was glancing in the antique wall mirror behind him almost expecting not to see the man’s reflection. He confirmed my booking and was asking how many nights I was planning to stay (my 2 comrades didn’t even last 1hour). I looked around, almost planning an emergency escape. Furniture was covered by white cloths, peripheral doors were all seemed shut by iron grills and my only exit point was the main door. If the main door move by an inch by itself – I swear I felt I could run like Flash (or Dash depending on your genre) and be gone in an instant.

I thought – I could stay here but may not obviously sleep, not even properly relax. In the end – I concluded something was ‘wrong’ and I bailed out.

I stayed in one of the ugly rooms somewhere in the port’s red light district which looked more alive. Maybe unsafe but I’d rather encounter someone with a knife than someone floating with no legs.

My 2 jackass-team mates called me up at around 3am, laughing out loud and asking if I still have my kidneys safe and intact. I didn’t know that they have deliberately trapped me for a Halloween gimmick. They got some scolding and a few choice words.

The next morning, I finally made it to the race base – the Halloween treat/talk/ cursing / etc. were quickly set aside to prepare for the multi-day race ahead.

happy to have survived the boat paddling stage

And the gun was off! More like Thumbie shouting on the top of his lungs – GO! We started the long swim 1km away from the shore. We all had to tow our bags in plastic bags to keep our gears dry. Difficult as we didn’t have swimming fins, and would have to rely on our back stroke to haul our sorry souls to the beach. I immediately felt the strain and fatigue as I had to fight the surf and current to keep me in the right direction. Well at least it was almost down current towards my direction so lesser evil than upstream. There was a moment of relief and confidence when I saw few swimmers struggling behind me. At least I was not the last swimmer, it was unpleasant to have this thought of being a lone shark target, with nobody around to shout help for you… ..or die and be eaten with you.

It took us around 30 minutes before we hit land, then we drowsily walked up the first CP (control point). Next section was a good 6km run towards Sabang area. We were on a race mode, so we tried to put self-created pressure just to pump our adrenalin and go faster. After all, the cameramen were trailing us and we didn’t want to be seen as weaklings. The CP that followed was a simple trek-run, a shorter one towards another beach area, then on to another swim leg. 500m, not so bad I thought, except that my left leg has started showing some signs of cramping. I have to change strokes several times to minimize localizing muscle burn, good thing my quad muscle eventually forgot that it was about to cramp. Then – another swim? Upon reaching the shore, we were all surprised that walking along the coast plus the shorter swim between the 2 islands was not a viable route due to strong current. We were forced to swim the longer, straining distance of around 2km. Wow! I have to fight fear with borrowed confidence, the confidence on my PFD (personal floatation device).

We survived the swim, some skin parts chafed, but ok. The next CP was a short run, then followed by boat paddling. We didn’t do very well in this section. Boat paddling requires good coordination between rowers. We didn’t have the luxury to practice and so we struggled for hours, zigzagging the waves, fighting wind, and cursing each other. Funny that our water-bail fell off twice, and on the 2nd time, Henry – in his attempt to scoop up the thing with his very-heavy paddle, accidentally swatted the damn scooper, like hitting a fly in a pile of shit and there it went, sinking to eternity. While this was happening, we all watched wide-eye, but unable to react. We concluded we were all screwed, we’d sink, and would have to swim the remaining 3km distance. We panickly improvised, cut one plastic bottle in half and use that as our water scooper. Whew! Then - oops! Another blooper?! Damn yes, my other teammate, Nev experimented on the boat drain cork which he thought was some useless rubber misplaced in the hull interior. We immediately got a fountain of seawater whooshing inside and flooding the boat. “Oh sh*t, oh f*ck! We’re gonna sink!” The 2 worthless dudes scrambled and panicked to look for the lost cork, the other tried to stick his sore finger inside the hole to reduce the inflow. Thanks to the friendly goddess of the mermaids, they found the damn cork, patched the hole and we resumed rowing, laughing all the way. After a million ‘arghs’ and @#$&, we finally hit our target spot, White Beach. WOW! We were torturing ourselves with the race, so we asked ourselves - - do we simply pass by and ignore this tempting place and be on our way?! HELL NO! Time to party! So we wasted precious race time, and instead had a good peaceful dinner by the beach. We ordered tinola, grilled pork and sizzling squid. Damn the race – we thought. We were a fun-only team anyway! We’d just be happy now, and die later.

After a decent meal, and a decent dump in a decent restroom, in a decent-looking restaurant, we arrived in the next CP in the early evening hours and were able to catch up with the Butchogs. Team Butchogs were also from UP Mountaineers (just like us in Team Badinger3 – don’t ask me why /who came up with that name). We saw them drinking beer and rum. Now that was some real fun race.

1km swim to the beach, the first leg of
the multi-day adventure race

We all decided to hike together (2 teams of 3 members each) to the next CP as trekking an unknown mountain at night is more dangerous and difficult if done by smaller teams. Being mountaineers, we figured it would only take us few hours to reach the summit (of Mt Malasimbo). WRONG! We got lost several times and ended up taking a bivouac and played ‘who-dies-first’ during the wee hours of the morning, while wind and rain poured out their angry curse at us. We were surprise that not one of us suffered from hypothermia, we were only wearing thin race shirts and thin layer of windbreaker each. We planned to rest for only about 2 hours, but tiredness and cold and the whipping wind have drained all our fighting morale, that we have to wait for first light before we could stretch our legs and be on the move again. We pushed, and hiked to the summit through virgin trails, sometimes climbing rocks and scrambling over fallen trees. We finally reached the summit on the 12th hour. The marshals were just too happy to see us- they’ve started to run out of food. The race organizers didn’t anticipate delay in the race and the difficulty of the trek, that they were not able to re-supply food for the marshals. One of the Butchogs gave them surplus Cloud9s. They were undoubtedly grateful for the much needed survival food.

The road to the next point was not as expected. The rumor that we’ve gathered gave us a hint that it would only take 45 minutes to reach it. But we lost 20 hours looking for this damn CP. We decided to go down the mountain to resupply, and to recharge – 2 of our colleagues were already showing signs of serious fatigue. We headed back to the beach, ate plenty of restaurant food - - which was a big morale boost, then slept for an hour. I wasn’t able to sleep properly. Night time again, déjà vu. We were hiking the same place were we last started our trek. But we changed our plan of attack, we’d try to hit CP13 first, backtrack to CP11 (which was ~700m close, according to our map), then backtrack all the way to CP10, then reverse our route which then would be very easy. We reached CP13 before midnight, recharged some more. We ate a lot, we have our supply and transition gears in this CP so it was like finding a grocery store in the middle of Sahara. Alas we have to part with the Butchog team as one of their members badly needed a full baby rest. My team attempted to take on CP11 but we got lost a long the way and proceeded with our fall back plan - - hit the road, walk to town, and then take the easy ridge from there. And it was easy finding the trail, but since it was the 3rd day with no rest, we all quickly got bored and exhausted hiking endless trail to the Mangyan village. We got there at around around3am, happy to have seen a place where we could take the much needed nap. We were supposed to wake up at 5am, but exhaustion and the cold wind put us to sleep until 7am. Yep, we had 2 alarms, but to no use, we were just too tired to wake up. And the UPM marshal stationed there didn’t bother waking us up – and his rationale – “Malungkot kase mag-isa dito eh..” (It is lonely to be here alone.) Anak ng!

On to the next point, it took us only 2.45 hrs to reach CP11. Amazing, we just realized how easy it was to navigate in broad daylight. Well obviously!

lost in the jungles of Mt Malasimbo, 2 teams
joined up - and got lost together

Next - Ascending and Rappelling! Not so bad, the vertical length was probably just 40+ feet, but the SRT (ascend) proved to be a bit tiring as we were already exhausted from days of walking. We were so excited that we’d soon ride our bikes. Our team has a self-imposed cut-off time and we wanted to do all the sport disciplines before we run out of time. We figured we could finish the race by Sunday night (umasa talaga!)– assuming we don’t lose time navigating. We did! And a lot!

Bike to the town proper (to CP14) was a neck-breaking downhill descent. My teammates were good bikers so this was a welcome gift for them. I was only a bit fine, my trauma from falling so many times in downhill runs gave me a hard time maximizing my speed. I could smell burnt break pads and rubber while whooshing down the dirt road. Too much stop-breaking I guess. Later that day, I saw someone with blooded knees and palms, I concluded that my fear was not baseless. Hehe.

ascending and rapelling section

Early that day, we already decided to call it off, after assessing our not-too-ideal situation. There was a ‘dark zone’ rule for the tubing section – and for sure we will not be able to reach that point by 5pm (we were at 2.30pm mark by then and we still have to complete around 5 bike CPs). We could extend up to Monday morning, but that would mean going to office late and dead-tired. But since we didn’t see the value of extending, we just stick w/ the night cut-off plan.

We completed 2 other CPs before heading back to base-camp. And that was where we officially DNF’ed ourselves (did not finish). Non-finishers. Sore damn losers. Quitters! Call us anything you want, coz we were fine. That was expected. We knew the race would last ‘til Monday or Tuesday. We took the risk and hope for the best – to finish it by Sunday.

But so what? We joined in for fun, and although we may have wanted to strangle each other to death – we all did have great fun and adventure!

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