Don’t ever call it a comeback.

Life can be crazy sometimes. One minute, you’re riding a far off location in the world, living your dreams, the next, well, you’re back at work where you started. Inspiration comes from the most unexpected places, and while I never expected to write another blog post, I decided to fire it up again, bigger and better.

Chris will be joining me, and I couldn’t be happier to have his photography and his editing skills along for the ride. Did I mention, he can shred on a bike too? So for my twelve loyal followers, buckle up, the ride isn’t over yet.fall 2014 092

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Racing the storm.

I survived my first typhoon here in the Philippines. In fact, I actually raced in the most violent downpour I’ve ever seen, and it was everything I expected it to be. I have never seen rain like that before and now when I watch racers complain about racing in weather, I know exactly what they are talking about. img_4615-1

The picture above is where the downhill was originally scheduled, but torrential rains washed out the shuttle road completely. We would instead race on a leg of the Enduro known as scout camp. The man made section built by the barba’s. It was a relief since I wasn’t completely confident racing the downhill track.

We assembled the team of OZracing at the factory, loaded up the team van with downhill, Enduro, cross country, and motor bikes alike, and left Cebu city around noon on Friday. img_4607img_4611

We arrived in Dumaguete around 10pm and after driving around closed roads littered with fallen trees, we eventually checked into a room and promptly got some much needed rest. We woke early, geared up, had breakfast, and readied the shuttle rig for some practice. The event was running behind schedule, which was fine with me, since I would be depending on my practice from 2 weeks prior. I hopped on the back of the scooter and got whisked up the hillside. The rain would soon become deafening and the normally fast and flowy single track turned into a constant search for traction.

I put in 2 confusing laps down. Not knowing if I was on the right track, or where the finish line was. Nevertheless, practice was over and it was time to start the Enduro with the first segment. I was a little surprised to know they dissolved my original class and grouped me with Elite. This particular race put me at a massive disadvantage between weather, a surgery a few days prior which left my hip sore, and still fighting pneumonia from 2 weeks prior. Regardless, racing is racing so I sacked up. Stage 1 would drop straight down into a wet ribbon of single track in between 2 small tin roof houses. Small pieces of tape would line select corners of the track, but could hardly keep you on course. I sprinted hard out of the start, chasing 3 of the fastest Filipino racers in front of me. I was finding traction and confidence while sheets of rain blanketed the view in front of me. I was having a heater of a run and had no signs of letting off the gas. I was finding my flow and after executing a few turns I quickly found myself outside the village and in between chickens and water buffalo. I ran far off course. Curse words flew from my mouth as I decided to sprint down the paved road back towards town completely directionless.

After what seemed like an eternity being lost, I rode up on a few other racers riding aimlessly down the road as well. Soon spectators started pointing in directions which I followed, leading me back towards the center of town. I started to notice roads blocked off with course marshals pointing racers towards the center pavilion. After a massive set of stairs, I would cross the finish line in disarray. Knowing my time wouldn’t be worth considering for a top spot. img_4629img_4639

I gathered myself and rinsed off to prepare for stage 2. My confidence building a little knowing where the finish line now was and also knowing stage 2 slightly better than the other stages. I would be more careful to not get lost, and not crash either. And before I could truly rest I was sprinting hard out of the gate again, pinning through the coconut trees and houses. The trail would open up in a small grass clearing and as my momentum was at full race speed I started to come up on another racer in front of me. I was gaining on him fast. 50 yards, 30 yards, 10 yards, 2 bike lengths and as I started looking for a spot to pass, his roost was being flung up into my face. Completely blinding me (goggles were useless, so I wasn’t wearing eye protection). My momentum started to pull me off the trail and I rode full speed into a 100 foot tall coconut tree. I didn’t hit it head on. Instead, my bike rode up the tapered base and looped into a backflip landing behind me almost 30 feet. It was a very heavy crash. But I quickly scraped myself off the muddy ground and straightened out my bars. I had dodged a huge bullet and before I could recognize I was unhurt, I sprinted out again chasing the racers in front of me. I didn’t get lost on that stage, but definitely had some mistakes. img_4635

I crossed the line and rinsed off again for the last stage. Stage 3 would start in an upper portion of trail and leak straight onto a one hundred yard chute littered with greasy roots and fallen leaves. An absolute complete recipe for a yard sale. I would skate through at speed and sprint down onto the connecting road and before long, I was hanging out with the farm animals once again. Lack of a taped course led me back into no mans land. I sprinted back down the paved road and gave up precious time in doing so. I crossed the finish line in dismay, happy that race 1 of the weekend was over. I immediately went to the store for a beer.

The downhill race was held late on Sunday, after the cross country race ran a little longer than expected. The downhill was a unique format for me, with 2 runs, first run being a seeding run to determine where you would start in your race category. UCI style. Given the weather, and the time, it was likely I would not get a second run, so I decided I would smash my first run as hard as I could. I passed on the big set of jumps and instead leaned into every manicured berm as best I could. Each time, I could hear the beads of my tire folding as roost rained down behind me. A clean run. And with darkness falling fast upon the land, I was up and sprinting again for my second run. Being chased by Gabriel Amigo, a Norco factory racer here in the Philippines, was an uneasy feeling and definitely pushed me to race outside my limits. But I sprinted across the grassy finish line again with what would be a semi conservative run. img_4630

Awards would take place later that night in the park pavilion. I would be relieved to take a 4th in Enduro and a 2nd behind Gabe in downhill. The other team mates would also place well in their respective categories. It would prove to be a great weekend of racing for our team. We cleaned up and hit the road back to Cebu. Arriving in the early morning hours

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The air quality here is not the best. I’m fortunate enough to be able to use an xrm 125 cc mini bike to get around on, but being jammed in traffic definitely flares up my breathing problems. Thankfully the healthcare here is consistent and cordial, and breathing treatments are easy and cheap. But it does make me feel like a pansy. Oh well. At least I can breathe.

I missed out on a lucrative job offer with an American company here, which would ultimately cut down on my time here. I recognized it wasn’t meant to be and continued on with my day to day unfazed.

I expressed an interest in seeing the hillsides here in Cebu, to Tom, our team manager, and he rallied Carlos to go on a mini moto adventure through the local mountainside. We left mid day on a sunday and spent the entire day blazing down single track and village roads on the back side of Cebu. We would stop frequently to joke around and buy snacks from small village stores. After riding for several hours, we would venture down onto a mountain top lake, surrounded by forest. Our climb back up ended at our usual roadside stop, the antique shop, where we would be greeted, once again, by sheeting rain. We would take refuge in a small vulcanizing shop where I had to have my rear inner tube changed after rallying a little too hard.

Tom would create an amazing blog article covering our team adventure for the race, and would land us on the front page of Pinkbike.com. I’ve been following the website ever since I could remember and I was completely elated to make the front page feed, regardless if it was during red bull rampage week or not. img_4638

Life in the Philippines continues to grant me amazing adventures with amazing people. And I’m happy to call it home for now. img_0387img_0384

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After almost 20 stages raced across 3 countries and 2 continents, my bike officially retired. Not a single mechanical. Front axle broken, brake calipers seized, rotors burnt, pads overcooked, bottom bracket toast. RIP. Ride in Peace diamondback 2014-2017. It’s been a ride.

 

Dumaguete. The best place you might never ride.

What if I told you, there was an island city where locals have been spent their lives building the most perfect flowing singletrack? Complete with the berms, jumps, hips and gaps which your dreams are made of? I’m blessed to have ridden whistler multiple times. Coast gravity park, mammoth, Bellingham, and almost everywhere in between. At times, I’m jaded. I’ve been riding for twenty years, and it takes a lot to make me say “whoa”. But this past weekend, I rode a place that shattered my comprehension and expectations.

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dumaguete

An island city rich in history and scenery. Dumaguete is a word I hear often when talking about riding with locals here in Cebu. They always talk about it. I was getting tired of hearing it, “how good can it be?” I used to ask them. “You’ll see” was always their response…

We left around 1am on Monday morning. We overpacked Dave’s brand new 4×4 and drove fast through the night of morning south for 2 hours. I would try my best to sleep between Jokie and Tasha, but Dave’s aggressive driving combined with an overly battered and curvy road would keep me awake and car sick nearly the entire time. The only sleep I could muster would be when we drove onto the car ferry and parked for an hour as we crossed islands.img_4491img_4489-1

Monday morning would greet us with a spectacular sunrise over neighboring islands. Locals would crowd the streets for their morning exercise and we would sip our coffee in anticipation of settling into our hammocks for some much needed rest.img_4493-1

We migrated over to our place of stay. A house situated roughly ten minutes from town, home to the fastest racers in the Philippines. The Barba brothers. Their names at the top of every Enduro, downhill, and motocross result in the Philippines. They’ve even been known to win xc races from time to time. They are supported by many local companies here in Asia, and we arrived to see them piecing together a brand new Taokas downhill bike. Old frames littered the entire compound. Intense frames, turner, ironhorse downhill bikes, all alongside wheels and components from multiple manufacturers all spread across the yard and sheds. All the pieces and parts had one thing in common, they were all completely and devastatingly abused. More so than any parts I’ve ever seen. It made me a little nervous. This was a place where mountain bikes came to die.

Bearings, hubs, headsets and brakes all scoured the tops of work benches and tables. All wore the battle scars of abuse by the hands of some serious speed. This evidence made it clear to me, I might not have brought enough body armor with me on this trip. But the Barba family invited us all in with typical warm, loving Filipino style. We were greeted with delicious lunch and coffee before setting up to get some much needed rest. I couldn’t find a suitable perch for my hammock, so I settled for an upstairs bamboo mattress padded with a beach towel. But I was ecstatic to see a generous sized pillow waiting nonetheless.

Still battling a deep chest cold, I woke from my midday slumber groggy, and still congested, but eager to ride nonetheless. I would gear up padless, with the intent on taking it easy. Soon we would load up the truck with bikes and bodies alike and drive fast straight up the mountainside, passing massive hillside mansions and plantations. Children and locals would wave and shout as we passed by like celebrities on a caravan to a red carpet event.img_4503

Riding in a brand new truck with every option available, packed with new downhill bikes and gear, I couldn’t help notice local families washing clothes and dishes in the river below, laughing and splashing about. I felt blessed at that moment, fulfilling my dreams of traveling and riding in a distant land. Soon we were dropped at our drop in point, which would be the start of the man made portion of trail. Donning a half shell helmet, shorts, short sleeve jersey, and no gloves, I was ordered to follow JR Barba. He was sitting confidently on the downhill bike he had just built minutes prior from a bare frame. His excess brake cables tied in loops above his handlebars. He sported a full face helmet, full moto pants and jersey, along with a chest protector, flat pedals, gloves and goggles. My nervousness was at an all time high at that moment and with the remainder of the group lining up behind me, I had no time to reconsider and we were instantly flying down a tight knit singletrack.

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Hitting that inhaler hard all day.

With my confidence and health at a lackluster low point, the trail turned from flat, semi flowy coffee brown ribbons into a jump laden jungle field. JR soon disappeared in front of me, only to reappear fifteen feet in the air, soaring off the face of a massive, perfectly sculpted double, landing perfectly, and exiting the following berm within milliseconds to continue his trail sorcery. The guy was absolutely unreal to watch. He destroyed every handmade berm and jump without hesitation. As I coughed my brains out, I happily pulled over to let the rest of the group catch up. I admired the handiwork of the builders. Words and pictures alone will never do justice to what I was seeing. Lips led straight into the most perfectly sculpted and angled berms I have ever ridden. In between the tight berms were massive double jumps with zero room for error.

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Sulfur steams from the ground and up the mountainside, also heating the hot springs.

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The valley of Dumaguete.

My inhaler provided zero relief as I continued to cough and hack. But the trail was robbing my oxygen even more than my illness. We continued through the jungle before we stopped at the edge of a lush valley edge. Two hundred meters across and almost straight down, the entry was only one way down, and one way up the other side. A thirty foot step down would give you the 60 kilometers per hour speed needed to clear the fifty foot step up on the other side. A mind blowing feature. I’d only seen a feature this big at the Coast Gravity Park in Canada, which had been featured in multiple video segments. Again, I was happy to step off the bike and witness JR demolish the jump with seamless effort. We would all gather on the landing to watch the master launch halfway down the hill and blast a massive whip sideways perfectly onto the landing and into the following twenty five foot double. My jaw was on the floor once again. My only comparison to his riding was witnessed in 2014 at the Redbull Rampage in Utah. He is that good.

 

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The run in and step up.

I continued riding as hesitant as a field mouse, but I was happy to slowly slip back into the end of the group, gladly following behind Tasha, one of Malaysia’s top women xc and downhill racers. With my confidence dwindling, we loaded up once again and shuttled up to another perfect single track. I rode down at a moderate clip, dodging fallen coconuts in the trail that Tasha would kick out in front of me. I started finding my meager groove, and as soon as I did, I would ride straight onto a tractionless strip of moss and splat myself onto my left forearm and side. I slid across the only piece of concrete on the entire trail, and I would get up in some serious pain. My forearm dripping in blood and curse words spewing from my mouth. It was the nail in the coffin for the day for me and I felt defeated on all levels. I sank further back into the pack, and was relieved to hear the trail would take us the entire way back home with zero pedaling, since deep red blood was now flowing onto my left grip and onto my brake lever.

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Pictures can’t show how insane this trail is.

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Top of the big rhythm section after the step up.

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One of the countless, perfect berms.

We arrived back home where high fives commenced and stoke levels were at an all time high. Soon, an amazing spread of white rice, barbequed pork and fish was laid out over a massive banana tree leaf on the table in front of us. We would all share the meal as a community with only our hands being used as utensils. We would celebrate JR’s birthday and share beers over jokes before retiring to bed. I would power on my IPhone and learn of the tragedy taking place in Las Vegas, the worst mass shooting my country would suffer in history. I immediately called my parents and fought back emotions of homesickness. Amidst the greatest mountain bike riding I’d ever been privy to, I suddenly wanted to be home more than ever. I hung up and crawled onto my bamboo bed, and with the knots of the wood digging into my back all night, I slid into a deep sleep.img_4497-1

Tuesday morning would hit me like a truck. The morning sun mercilessly beaming onto my face, I slumped off of my cot and dragged myself to breakfast. After rice, chorizo and coffee, we geared up and headed out once again. Armed with an arsenal of cameras, tripods, radios, and go pros. The day would be spent sessioning berms and jumps, and watching JR destroy every feature effortlessly. I was even lucky enough to get some coaching from him, which I soaked up like a sponge. I’ve always struggled in tight corners, and he unlocked a couple problems he noticed in my posture and technique. Unfortunately, bad habits die hard, and more practice was necessary.

I regretfully passed on hitting the jump line. The jumps themselves weren’t the deciding factor, I’d hit jumps of the same size before. The issue was the technicality of the run ins. Each jump was located near either the exit, or entrance of a perfectly buffed out, 3 foot tall berm, making the speed of takeoff the determining factor in clearing every double. Changes in my setup, including a downhill bike, could prove inspiring enough to clean the entire line, as the difficulty sits directly at my personal limits. I vowed to come back to Dumaguete prepared with a big bike, more pads, and a clean bill of health.

 

The day would document JR and his unbelievable skill. He had been working on his spot for over 5 years and it showed in every turn he would unapologetically destroy. Enough footage would be earned to create an edit for Pinkbike, bringing light to a riding scene which would otherwise remain dark. I would spend the day sidelined, but happily witnessing the best real life video segment I’d ever seen. We would camp next to one of the most popular right hand turns of the trail, watching everyone try to emulate JR.

Once the afternoon hit, we would pack up and head to the downhill trail. A semi paved road would weave through a massive Cliffside canyon and split between a village on one side. I was assured the trail was fast and flowy, and yet, judging by the sheer rock faces and steepness of the surrounding hillsides, I knew better. My inclinations would prove correct as soon we were plummeting down a hillside I seriously considering walking. Sculpted berms would weave in and out, simply designed to mitigate speed while basically falling down the mountainside. After the last turn, the trail opened up into a semi flat yard. Any let off of the brakes would send you into warp speed, and once the trail came down off the mountain, you were greeted by an insanely massive lip, sending you flying over a pond, with zero opportunity for mistakes. I was surprised to see Tasha ride down not far behind me, grinning from ear to ear. The downhill trail to me was more serious than fun, with massive consequence, I wouldn’t normally ride a trail of that magnitude.

And as soon as it began, our ride was over, and we were on our way to the local hot spring. A naturally heated hillside pool carved out of the mountainside. We all stripped down and jumped in. I had delusions of my arm being infected and requiring amputation, but I happily dove in as well. The warm water soothed my sore body and jokes and laughter erupted from the group once again.

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Another amazing dinner without utensils.

We would drive home to clean up and go out to dinner. Speaking with JR about his humble upbringing in BMX to being a factory athlete, he remains eager to pass his knowledge onto the next generation of riders in Dumaguete. He frequently leaves his bikes in trailside villages for the children to borrow and ride. He invests his time in coaching and is dedicated to growing his sport in his town. Dinner would end and I would be dropped off at my overnight ferry back to Cebu. I had to leave early due to an immigration appointment in town which I could not miss. Once again, my bike had brought me to a destination which would change my entire perspective. I left Dumaguete with a new found appreciation and respect for riding and local talent. The Barba’s are world class riders in multiple disciplines, and could be competitive on a world cup circuit, but local government corruption makes it nearly impossible for the opportunity to develop.img_4505

Amidst the hardships and setbacks they face, the Barba’s welcome all riders to stay at their home. They openly invited me back anytime, and encouraged me to stay longer next time. I personally vowed to return. Not only to enjoy the company, but to conquer their jump line as well. My team dropped me off at my overnight ferry, and I sailed solo back to Cebu. img_4509-1img_4506

 

 

Not your everyday surf trip.

img_4456 I didn’t even know there was surf here in the Philippines. For some reason, I always pictured Cloud 9 in Indonesia or Fiji for some reason. But once I started looking into it, I couldn’t believe how lucky I was about to be. In lieu of a riding trip in Dumaguete, we would instead travel to the illustrious island of Siargao, home of the world famous, Cloud 9, and countless other world class breaks. img_4464

After a week of riding and racing, I was eager to unwind on a tropical white sand beach. Getting there, on the other hand, would prove to be only half the journey. Ian, Epos, Dave, Ed, and myself would all take an overnight ferry out of Cebu over to Surigao. Then another shorter ferry over to our final island where we would stay for five nights in hammocks on the beach. We set out, running late from Cebu city proper, in rush hour traffic on scooter taxis. Racing across town to barely make our first ferry.

My first official overnight ferry would be an eye opening experience for me. We boarded a massive metal ship in the dark alongside a sea of other travelers. I was astonished to find rows upon rows of bunks. I wasn’t sure what to expect, I had never boarded an overnight ferry before. To my surprise, every single bed was already inhabited by someone and their luggage. The scene resembled a mini shanty town, after being ravished by a natural disaster of sorts. Boxes and belongings were strewn and packed near every open space. In lamest terms, the boat was absolutely packed.

We had a solution. Epos makes custom hammocks with a four point contact system which allows it to be set up almost anywhere. They also zip shut like a cocoon to seal out any insects or snoopy ferry passengers. We set up our hammocks near the back corners of the ship and zipped up for most of the first leg of the journey. We woke in the morning to step off the ship onto Surigao, greeted by the morning heat and sun. We grabbed some quick breakfast and jumped onto another smaller boat which would snake between more islands and dump us on Siargao.

 

Once on Siargao we regrouped, and with the midday heat and sun bearing down on us, we piled all of our boards and luggage onto a tiny motorcycle taxi and headed off. We would rent 2 separate scooters between the five us, both equipped with board racks. We took our scooters across the island to where we would settle in for a few days. Our final destination was a beautiful, newly built surf house owned by an amazing married couple, Mark and Angel. After a quick surf in the warmest ocean water I’ve ever experienced, we set up our hammocks within the sturdy palm trees surrounding the property.img_4438-1img_4443-1img_4414img_4442-1

 

The surf was small when we arrived, and stayed that way for the first few days. But on Sunday, after a quick rain, Angel told me the conditions were lining up and that the offshore reef pass, directly out front of the house, would start firing. I believed her, and after borrowing Mark’s brand new 5’7″ fish, I started out on the 3/4 mile paddle. After thirty minutes of paddling, I was relieved to find myself in the middle of the lineup with huge, overhead sets trucking through, and only 3 other Australian surfers out. The vibe was cordial and we traded solid waves for twenty minutes. My stoke level was at an all time high as I stroked into another right hand bomb, pumped down the line to hit a massive cut back before tearing off into the channel in disbelief. img_4468

Before long, boats began to show and park in the deep water channel. Soon, the water was alive with Portuguese and Tagalog being screamed across the break between locals and Brazilians alike. Over thirty surfers appeared in an instant, and my original Aussies and I agreed our session was over. I started my daunting paddle back towards the distant shoreline, muscles aching from hours and hours at sea. My stoke was at an all time high, and as I started into shallow water, the bottom became visible. Puffer fish and sea snakes raced across the ocean floor underneath me an I was soon standing on white sand once again. The most unreal session of my life had just come to a close, and I couldn’t have been happier. I made all my waves and got a taste of what surf travel was.

The rest of the guys would trade waves on longboards nearer to shore on the inside break. They could be seen from shore walking on water in the distance. We would all trade off with time on the stand up paddle boards, something I’ve always wanted to try. I had never used any board over a 6’4″ and I found it monstrous having that much foam under me. After a long, amazing day spent surfing, we would all retreat to the comfort of our hammocks underneath the starry night sky. I looked up into the coconuts growing 60 feet directly above my head and thought to myself, it honestly wouldn’t be the worst way to die (Ian told me 300 people a year die from falling coconuts). img_4478

After a week of trading waves and saying hello to friends on different sides of the island, it was time to say goodbye and start our pilgrimage back to Cebu. We would find our main ferry back overbooked and would be forced to stay the night at a friends house in Butuan, a city rich in culture. The following day was spent being “tourists”. Visiting the cities local artifact museums. We scoured the area, hiked across a cable bridge, and ate yet even more amazing pork and rice.

A week had passed since I had a proper shower. I was salty, and grimy. Sore from sleeping on the floor, and absolutely massacred from mosquitos. I was craving a bed and a shave, but I found a toughness I didn’t know I had. I looked at my group in absolute respect. They embodied what toughness truly was. They didn’t stop, nor complain about anything the entire trip. They all welcomed each day with a childish euphemism I found refreshing. Through our travels, we slept when we could, we split costs every time, and we looked after one another. I thought to myself, this is what traveling is. A group of likeminded people, from different sides of the world, enjoying the simple pleasures and hardships of adventure.img_4480

 

Our last ferry would drop us all off in the early daylight hours of the morning. We said our goodbyes and we each were dropped off at our respected homes. I checked back in to my hotel and spent the next 2 days recovering with a deep chest cold. The cold would aggravate my normally dormant asthma, and cause me to stumble down the street at 2 am desperate for breath. $13 later, I had a brand new inhaler, and enough all natural cold medication to conquer my debilitating symptoms. I walked out of the 24 hour pharmacy a new man. Inhalers are no longer available over the counter in the U.S., and a prescription has cost me upwards of $300 back home, so I enjoy it when medication is cheap and readily available, especially when I can’t breathe at 2 am.

I woke up the next morning groggy but relieved. The old part of me relishing the pillow top mattress and down comforter. The new part of me missing the hammock and the stars. People talk about traveling, but I never felt like it applied to me. I picture backpacking across the mountains of Nepal, or trekking through a village in India to describe traveling, but the trip to Siargao was my real taste of gritty, backpacker style travel, and it was good. Completely disconnected. No computers, no phones (well mostly), and relying on pure luck and instinct to span the distance. These guys became my brothers. We ate every meal together, we laughed together, and we managed hundreds of miles together.img_4479img_4475img_4474img_4436

The trip struck a cord in me, letting me know, I can get by with less. There was a night I was so happy to sleep on a hard wood floor with a 2 inch pad, using my back pack as a pillow. It was good to find that quality in myself. Ian, Epos, Ed and Dave are tough, rugged, caring, and overall awesome friends and I will look back on this trip as one of the best things I’ve ever done. img_4476

 

The Chillippines.

I tend to keep a loose itinerary when traveling. It’s always worked best for me. One contact will lead to this contact and so on. So when I met my friend Epos while racing in Thailand, I knew I’d be spending some time with him in the Philippines. It would prove to be the most fun destination yet for me.

After a quick stint in Australia, I booked a flight to Cebu. Upon arrival I was greeted with warm smiles and stifling humidity. Dave and Epos whisked me off for an immediate beer and checked me into my meager new digs on Mactan island, where I would spend my first week getting acquainted. img_4199

I happily settled in and slowly began to pedal around my new home. The first thing you notice is the street traffic. It’s insurmountable. Every artery is either completely stopped or nearly plugged with scooters, motorcycles, and new cars alike. However, the actual driving culture here is surprisingly calm and relaxed, and road rage is nonexistent. In fact, I had felt no aggression or even angst from anyone, anywhere here. A very pleasant vibe full of smiles, waves, and cheeky humility surrounds. I can’t help but compare to Mexico as far as the pace, and lifestyle.

Riding here is very unique. We spent some time shuttling some short trails about thirty minutes south of Cebu, in Naga. One of the most fun aspects of shuttling here is, it is done on a scooter. You hire a driver, and put your bike upside down, on the seat in between you and him. All you can do is hold your bike and hope you don’t swipe something on your way up the hill. You can watch Epos assist me on my first experience doing it on the video below: Hopefully it plays, I was having trouble with it.

 

The trails are a mix between short, choppy sprints which cut through small hut neighborhoods, and wipe open, fast descents. The trails have many blind corners, making it difficult to keep flow at times. The soil is a mix of clay and petrified coral heads. A small spit of rain can turn any section into an all out slide fest, eliminating all hopes of traction. So when race day was upon us on Sunday morning, I was nervous to discover I would be starting first, the only foreigner, on a trail with no lines, after rain all night.

 

I had a specific strategy learned in Thailand where I would survive the sliding on stage one, and pressure my remaining stages hard, where traction and my confidence would be. Stage one would start as I expected, an off camber, greasy mess, before blitzing down into a hillside neighborhood of thatch roof houses. The good thing about starting first was I wouldn’t be held up by any other race traffic. The bad thing about starting first was no one would tell the chickens and livestock in the trail. A chicken flew into my lap on stage one and remained there for around fifty feet of trail. I finished stage one conservatively knowing it wouldn’t be my best time on the day.

 

Stage 2 was a pedal fest. The stage would start with a ripping full speed fire road into a short climb up into a fast and flowy grass field. Later in the stage, a sketchy stair section would link into another fast single track down into the finish area. Stage 2 was the longest stage of the day and my most enjoyable. After scorching down the fire road start, I was shocked to see a group of children playing in the middle of the trail (another qualm about starting first on every stage) but they quickly disbanded and I didn’t lose momentum thankfully. After warp speed slowed I sunk into the pain cave and blasted out a handful of short, rocky climbs before sweeping down across the finish. One last stage to go, but not after an amazing Filipino lunch provided by the race venue. Simply awesome.

The last stage of the day had the highest consequence as well. Perched on the top of the hillside over looking the Naga coastline, a small ribbon of pristine singletrack snaked it’s way down a grassy ridgeline and would flow all the way to the town below. Rain alongside thunder and lightning would show while waiting for the start of the last stage. After the weather passed, we were greeted with scorching mid day heat, and inescapable sun. An hour and a half would pass before my start and the sun bore down on my pale skin with no remorse. Finally, my start time would commence, and spectators would line the sides of stage 3. I knew I had to lay it on the line to solidify a top spot, something I don’t always enjoy doing. I sat at the top, waiting. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and I sprinted out onto course nailing my lines with precision. I found massive traction amidst the rain, and even threw a massive two wheeled drift across a sweeping left hander close to the finish line. Pedaled hard, and crossed the finish. Race over. img_4219

I breathed a huge sigh of relief having raced hard all day with zero mistakes. Without times posted, I could only speculate. I had some very fast local talent alongside me in Elite, and they would be hard to top. But a few hours later at the race venue finish, I was elated to find myself on the top of the podium.

 

Easily the most fun race was in the books, in a place I had never really planned to be. With resources running low, I am now looking for work here, and my race winnings are the exact amount I need to extend my Visa here for another month. As I write from my room this morning, I’m slowly packing up for a surf trip tomorrow to another island. Still enjoying my time here more and more each day. Four months in now, and I do experience some homesickness from time to time but the overwhelming hospitality here in the Philippines definitely makes me feel at ease.

The support here has been amazing and just an example would be what happened with my bike. My bike is over 3 years old now and has seen an unreal beating these past few months. I let my friend Heydar borrow it to fix a creaky bottom bracket. He returned it only 2 days later after rebuilding the rear shock, bleeding both brakes, swapping out a wheelset and tires, degreasing my entire drivetrain, servicing my headset and installing new derailleur pulley wheels. All for under $100. My bike had not felt that amazing since it was new, and I can only attribute my result on my equipment. A similar job at home would’ve been hundreds and taken weeks.

Overall, my entire idea of life in the Philippines has changed. I think this is what travel does to you. Any preconceived notions or stereotypes are laid to waste. I never thought I could have so much fun somewhere I never planned to go, and between the people, the food, and the riding, I would say the rowdiest destination yet. I went from relaxing in a high rise, beach front condo on the Gold Coast of Australia, to sleeping in a hammock over looking the Philippine jungle mountainside in the same week. All the while, enjoying every moment. Until next time.

 

The Land Down Under, and the race that almost didn’t happen.

 

A lot comes to mind when people think of Australia. I think of Steve Irwin, Kangaroos, etc. But I also think of huge eucalyptus trees, stunning beaches, and awesome people. When I saw the opportunity to venture down from Asia, I jumped on the chance. While on a tourist visa in Thailand, I had to leave the country every 30 days, and I would never have had the chance for a cheaper flight than I found while there. So I pulled the trigger and packed up. I checked my baggage fees online when I purchased my ticket (so I thought) but was astonished to find my bags were so heavy, it would set me back $1300.00 to bring my bike and gear down. Lesson learned. Also, my flight down from Singapore would prove to be the worst flight I’ve ever taken. Double lesson learned. Regardless, I was just amped to go.

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I messaged a mountain bike follower of mine on Instagram who has a huge following in Australia. (I’ve never messaged a stranger on social media) He informed me there was a local Enduro race not far from where I would be staying on the weekend of my arrival. It was a huge stretch to make it happen, and I was already starting to run ragged from travel, and the race I had the weekend prior. But, I wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass to race in Australia, however hard it was going to be.

So I decided to just charge and try to make it happen. Sometimes things happen when you travel, and you just have to laugh at the randomness. While in Thailand, I left some of my riding gear out to dry outside my villa. Well, a wild dog that was cruising around decided to help himself to one of my kneepads, leaving me without a set to wear. Epic. I was really attached to those particular pads, but I had to laugh at my misfortune. Given my race schedule, I wouldn’t be able to practice either. Meaning it was show up on race day and give it hell never having ridden the trails. A huge first for me, and a pretty massive risk as well.

Race day also coincided with the Mayweather Mcgregor fight, so I wasn’t quite sure what I would expect as far as a turnout goes from the local crowd. I woke up early sunday morning. Had some coffee, and booked my Uber. My driver showed up and we were off with time to cruise. I knew it was a local track, and the top guys probably wouldn’t be touchable given my circumstances.

After driving to an area we thought was the area, we realized we were no where near the event. Of course I didn’t have any cell service, or wifi, or event information saved on my phone since I was already flying by the seat of my pants. We continued to drive around, ask anyone nearby, flag people down, and get zero answers or directions. Things were looking very bleak and I told the driver if we don’t find it to just drop me off at a bar and I’ll watch the fight and pound beers instead. When a small redirect down a neighborhood side street poured onto the corner of the Nerang forest where the event was. We literally found the event by pure accident and I threw my wheels on and bolted to registration.

 

The heat of the day was already creeping up, and the course had a mandatory full face helmet rule. The turn out was decent, and I wasn’t surprised to notice some expected fast local talent. I talked to a few guys to get the lowdown on the trail system. I was pleasantly surprised to find the conditions dry and similar to what I was accustomed to riding back home. My confidence grew as we started the first climb to the first stage. The format let the riders pick any segment they wanted to ride in any order. I chose to ride the segments which had the least amount of climbing in between.

A crash I had in Thailand actually broke the bladder on my camelback, meaning I would go without water, knee pads, or practice for this race. But it was a once in a life time chance, so I did what I knew how to do, race it hard. Checkers or wreckers. I cranked hard out of each start, pumped out of every turn and hit every jump blind. I filmed my race runs on my go pro, but since I can’t find a wifi connection strong enough to upload them, it will have to wait until my next post. Nevertheless, I snapped every turn and charged my way to a ninth place finish in elite. My goal was a top ten finish, so I was happy. Obviously not where I wanted to be, and some timing issues would have guaranteed me a better result, but that’s racing. I would have came in second place in expert, but I don’t want to step down in competition.

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The riders with missing times were given averages based on the runs they completed and results were placed accordingly. Small races usually have some sort of hiccup and it’s to be expected. But I was happy with my riding. Smooth, calculated, and fast with no crashes. The trails in the Nerang forest were really fun too. Like giant pump tracks with big flowy, man made berms in between massive eucalyptus trees. I came around a turn in my race run to see a five foot monitor lizard who took off up a tree, leaving me laughing hysterically. Yelling in my mind “CRIKEY!!!! SHE’S A BEAUT!!!!!” in my best Steve Irwin voice. I rode home to surfers paradise after the race through some amazing neighborhoods in Australia. I couldn’t help but appreciate the birds. The most exotic parrots, cockatoos, hookbills, and love birds I’ve ever seen. It was like a pet store exhibit in people’s front lawns.

I traveled to the gold coast because I was living at a resort in Thailand built and owned by Dan Hartmann, who was born and raised on the gold coast. Many hours were spent talking about life in Oz, and I messaged his family down there and told them I’d be coming down. They promised to show me a good time away from the pressures of racing I put on myself, and they definitely did. Aussies are a fun, rowdy, and amazing people. And a few nights out with the Hartmann’s proved to deliver the fun.

Oz is expensive though, and wifi isn’t nearly as strong as other places I’ve been to, so you constantly either have to buy it as you go, or post up at a starbucks, which there aren’t many of. So I decided to bounce out after a few weeks of fun and head up to the Philippines to visit a friend I met while racing in Chiang Mai.

Overall, Australia delivered. There is so much to do there, and on a tourist visa, you get 90 days on entry to go wild. It’s such a fun place. And literally, the absolute best looking girls I’ve ever seen were on the Gold Coast. Should be called the Blonde Coast for obvious reasons. And the American accent goes a long way with the locals. Cheers. IMG_4176

Only a racer knows.

IMG_3926It’s been over ten years since I’ve raced. I was sure my racing days were over. Yet there I was, blitzing through the Thai jungle at full race speed. Slipping, sliding, and pinging through rocks and roots on the quest for the perfect line. Crashing was inevitable, and no one was safe. I was passing one, two, three, racers per stage, all victims to the elements of racing.

I had never ridden in the mud, let alone race in it. Some stages left me just hanging on and begging to finish, all the while, a top ten finish was my goal, and there were times I wasn’t sure a finish was even feasible.

Small mistakes left me scratching my head and frustrated. But after 4 stages of brutal racing on day 1, I was over the moon to be sitting in seventh place against the fastest racers in Asia.

I used a few different tactics to help me throughout the International Chiang Mai Enduro. One, I practiced every stage two times on both practice days, and I filmed and narrated every stage on my go pro. I would go back to my hotel each night and review each stage, each turn, and each mistake in hopes of mitigating the risk of race speed. Being away from the race scene for so long, and never having raced an enduro before, I wanted any advantage I could get. I even turned down an amazing offer from two gorgeous Spanish girls in lieu of a full nights sleep alone.

 

 

Sunday was the final stage of racing, with the most demanding stages left. Stage 5 would prove to be the muddiest, rockiest, and root filled five minutes of riding in my life. I knew it wouldn’t be a strong stage for me, and I decided to start the stage with a nice long wheelie all to the delight of the racers and spectators sitting trackside. As the hoots and hollers faded away into the silence of the forest, I was greeted by the snaps and clicks of cameras, and I rewarded the photographers with some of the loosest, wildest racing I’ve ever done. I knew I would finish strong. My last tactic was conserving energy on the stages I wasn’t strong on, and hammering on the flat sections and climbs later in the day. This was a tactic that would prove successful.

Stage 8 was the last stage on sunday, and as soon as it had began, my race was over. I sprinted across the finish line, bike and body in one piece. My first Enduro was in the books. The event crew snipped my timing band off my top tube and it was officially in their hands now.

A full adrenaline dump had overtaken my body, and all the fellow riders I had started with had disappeared. Left to battle the mountain, and their demons on their own. I left to check out of my hotel and search for food. After, of course, stopping by seven eleven for a pineapple soda and some deep fried thai bananas.

One of the most fun parts of racing is the pure camaraderie between riders. The suffering between stages combined with the heat, humidity, and bike mechanical problems all create a bond that is second to none. After the race was over, and we were all left to lick our wounds, we took count of how we fared against the mountain. Forearms, and the backs of legs all bore the marks of pedals and rocks. All nursed back to reality with ample amounts of cold beer.

My first race as a professional was over, and walking away with a 6th place finish confirmed I was racing to my potential. I stuck it to 20 elite racers on a three year old bike that my buddy Alex called “clapped out” 1.5 years ago, and that no mechanic, other than myself, had ever touched. I was, and still am, ecstatic. And a quick email to a friend on Instagram affirmed another Enduro race would happen in Australia on the following Sunday on the Gold Coast. Another week, another continent, another race. All over again.

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“Traveling is the only thing you can buy which will make you rich” a quote I was finding more and more true each day I’m away. Tonight I sit on the ninth floor of an apartment over looking the beach on Surfer’s Paradise. Blessed to be living on my own accord, and on a continent I’ve always wanted to be on. I lazily watch another meager film on television and smile, knowing, another race is coming this weekend. A chance to do it all over again. IMG_3976