One of the nicest and most spectacular places to visit in Northern Luzon is Sagada, in Mt. Province. It is a mountainous paradise located 400 km north of the capital city of Manila taking at least 12 hours travel by land, through 25 towns starting from the North Luzon Express Way (NLEX).
It is nestled between the Cordillera, and Ilocos mountain ranges, and is situated over one-and-a-half kilometers above sea level. To get there, travelers must pass through the highest point in the Philippine highway system—The Philippine Pali, along the scenic Halsema Highway.
Sagada’s serene landscape, majestic views and cold weather are often visited by nature loving tourists, who enjoy different nature activities like: trekking, exploring both caves and waterfalls, spelunking, bonfires, picnics, rappelling, visiting historical sites, nature hikes, and participating in tribal celebrations.
As adventure sports—including mountain biking, gained popularity, more and more biking enthusiasts have ventured to Sagada to experience its mystifying beauty, and explore its great biking trails.
Touring to Sagada on a Bike
Dan is one of many bikers who love going Sagada and while most bikers and travellers alike prefer to go to there by land, taking a bus or their own cars and bring along their bikes, Dan prefers to get there by "land"—on a bike. Yes, you read it right! He bikes all the way from Manila to Sagada and back for a total 800 km, not counting the side trips along the way.
Since 2009, Dan now known in biking circles as “Sagada Loopers” has done it an incredible 34 times! He’s gone there using mountain bikes: 29ers, and 26ers, (hard tail and full-suspension); and a folding bike with 20” wheels.
It is both half amazing, and half crazy, but the story of the Sagada Loop—its vision, and purpose is more that what you would expect it to be. In a 2 part RideNa.com exclusive interview Dan (Sagada Loopers), tells the story of why he keeps coming back for more, and why more and more of his friends, and even strangers join him in his extraordinary bike adventures.
Taking Bike Touring to a New Level
RN: We took up biking together with some of our other friends almost 12 years ago, I knew you were the most adventurous of the bunch, but when did this idea of biking to Sagada, and later on the Sagada Loop start?
SL: “My other friends always talked about Sagada and how beautiful it is. I used to only bike from Manila to Baguio, but they told me (gesturing with his hands to show comparison level) that Baguio is only here, Sagada is way up there. That sparked the idea, at the same time it was a challenging one for me. So I thought to myself one day I will go to Sagada and conquer it on my bike.
I also wanted see the Banaue Rice Terreces which was along the way. It was something I only saw in texts books and postcards."
Once, while driving with friends to Cagayan, I saw the road that leads to Sagada, and thought to myself that I will go there soon”
RN: If you wanted to see Sagada why not just take the bus or a car? Why did you decide to ride your bike going there?
SL: “If you take a bus or ride a car, you miss the real experience. Besides, back then I didn’t have a lot of budget for travel accommodations. And since I love to bike, I thought biking was best way to go there”
RN: Can you tell us the story of your “maiden voyage” to Sagada on a bike?
SL: “My first ride was in 2009 I think, I did not prepare for it, I just woke-up one morning and decided to go. So I packed what I thought I needed: a thick jacket, some bike tools and tire patches then left.
On my way I passed through McArthur, and Maharlika Highways, Nueva Ecjia and Vizcaya. I’d sleep for 2 hours at night using an earth pad in waiting sheds. I would rest when I got tired. I did that until I got to the junction of Isabela and Banaue, which is 280 km from Manila.
It took me about 2-3 days to get there, I was going slow. From that point on the world looked different. The long climbs started, it was getting colder and colder as you get higher. I would bike in pitch darkness. When I rest, I would eat crackers and drink coke bought from stores on the side of the road, those were my energy boosters."
When I got to Banaue I just sat there, in awe of the amazing view.”
RN: But, you were still in Banaue and had a pretty long way to go.
SL: “Yes! From Banaue, climbing to Mt. Polis was very difficult. It’s in the boundary of the provinces of Ifugao and Mt. Province. It rained, the climbs were long and steep, but I just kept going.
On the other side of Mt. Polis, is Bontoc. On the way down you will see amazing scenery and heritage sites. I was expecting to see tribesmen, but instead I saw modern people, I was surprised.
Bontoc to Sagada was also a long climb, I just took photos of the beautiful scenery. I was just so happy to get there, all the hard work was worth it.”
RN: Needless to say, you fell in love with the place, and the experience which made you keep going back over and over again on your bike.
SL: “Yes I did! And it has been my mission in a way, to take as many bikers as I can to the Sagada Loop to share with them the experiences and blessing that I’ve had.
I’ve also learned a lot doing this, mostly about appreciation for what we normally take for granted in our daily lives.”
RN: What were the challenges on your way back home to Manila? How long did the whole trip take?
SL: “Going down is a different challenge all together. Just imagine riding on a long, steep, and winding downhill road in the dark! Sometimes, I do it with no lamps because I would run out of batteries.
As you descend, the temperature gets warmer, and coming from a very cool place, that is difficult too.
The whole trip takes about 7 days minimum."
RN: What’s the motivation that kept you doing this 34 times?
SL: “It’s like someone who loves to drink beer, or eat good food. I love to bike and I love biking to Sagada ”
Watch out for part 2 of this article entitled The Sagada Loopers and find out how Dan and those whom he has shared this experience with are able to accomplish this bike tour with the help of whom he calls the “Good Samaritans”.
What does it really take to complete this challenge. Are you capable of doing it too? Dan shares tips and tricks for all bikers—strong or just starting out, so that they too can conquer the Sagada Loop.
(Photos courtesy of Sagada Loopers)