“Kailangan n’yo po ba ng tulong?” an old lady asked me kindly as I hurriedly took photos of my gravel bike on a quiet road. “Ah, hindi po, nag-picture-taking lang,” I explained. She was balancing a full basket of suman (rice cakes) on her head, and had chanced upon me in the middle of the road and wondered if there was anything wrong. After I explained that I just liked to take pictures of my bike whenever I rode, she asked me where I was from and expressed mild disbelief that anyone would want to ride out so far from Manila.
With restrictions gradually loosening up and triathlons slowly getting back into gear, it was time to get serious about training. Two years of sporadic indoor training, as well as poor diet and sleeping habits, had taken their toll on me. If I wanted to be competitive in my age-group again, I knew I had to put in the miles. And these miles would mostly be by my lonesome.
When I went on my way, with a couple of delicious suman in my bike’s bento box, I realized that solo riding was one of the things I dearly missed during the pandemic. Plotting different routes to try out with my Garmin, leaving before sunrise to beat the morning rush, ending up in some obscure barangay asking for directions, exploring quiet back roads and farm-to-market dirt roads mostly unknown to motorists.
I would always come home tired and grimy, and I’d enjoy a cold beer while my dogs sniffed me all over to inspect for interesting stuff. Most rides fall into the four- to five-hour and more-than-100km class, but for me, the best kind is a proper English century. One hundred miles, a true century, long enough to be challenging, but not so long that I’ll be flirting with sunset by the time I get home. And I could, in theory, do it every week. Twice, even, if my work schedule was favorable.
Occasionally, some friends will ask to come along so I can guide them on a new route, and I’m more than happy to oblige. It’s always nice to have someone to chat with and learn from. Sometimes we’ll even spar if there’s a significant climb, but schedules don’t always align and I’ve stopped asking people to come with me as a condition for actually going out in the first place. When you ride solo, you always learn new things about yourself, about the route, and sometimes you’ll even come up with a solution to a problem that’s been vexing you for the longest time.
“Riding is the answer.” And it’s true. On most rides, there’s an inner monologue going on (I “wrote” the draft for this in my head while riding), and on other days there’s nothing much but what’s ahead of me. The distance to the halfway point. The gradient of the road. The next switchback. I’m in the zone, and I couldn’t be happier, even if it feels like my lungs are going to burst and the lactic acid in my legs is burning hot. I want to puke, but I’m also having a great time.
“Isn’t it dangerous?” well-meaning friends often ask me. Not really. Cyclists have been doing this sort of thing for decades, and what I do isn’t anything out of the ordinary. All you need is some money, an energy bank for the phone, a multitool and flat-repair kit. And, of course, the spirit of adventure.
While it’s always good to have the company and security of friends for a ride, riding solo lets you go at your own pace, unencumbered by having to wait for the slowest guy in the group, or having to constantly catch up if the slow guy is actually you.
Every good ride makes you a better person: mentally and physically tougher, as well as freer in spirit. Away from the toxic environment of social media, you’re given the opportunity to see part of your world as it really is. And besides, unless you’re out in the absolute middle of nowhere, you’re never really alone.
No matter how difficult it gets, even if the heavens pour, or it seems like the sun is burning a hole in my back, I always thank God I’m alive and doing something that I truly believe helps in making me a better person. Sometimes, He’ll even send over an angel to see how I’m doing, share a few stories, and send me on my way with some delicious rice cakes.