Adventure bikes in their natural habitat

On the eastern side of Luzon, the towns of General Nakar in Quezon and Dingalan in Aurora are isolated from each other by the massive Sierra Madre mountain range. It was only recently that a pass had finally been completed by connecting the barangay roads along the coastline through the old logging routes up in the mountains. Even so, it's not an easy pass by any measure. Only riders astride their light but rugged dirt bikes dared to venture through the pass that connects the two towns.

Back in 2017, 12 riders (myself included) attempted to complete the pass but due to bad weather, mechanical failure, and unfamiliarity with the route (all of us were first-timers) were not all able to succeed. Only 7 riders reached the other end. Nonetheless, it was one hell of an experience for all of us. 

The Nakar-Umiray Pass is approximately 85 kilometers of unadulterated rough road that will take you through loose dirt, steep uphills and downhills paths; river crossings, a rock bed with boulders ranging from the size of an infant's head to oil drums; and a road peppered with mud pools and fallen trees (especially during bad weather). The route is quite challenging even with the most experienced riders, especially when the weather turns bad and it will be kalbaryo (Calgary, extreme hardship) from there. 

Since then, two riders from the 2017 expedition — Vic Ochoa and I — had managed to complete the Nakar-Dingalan Pass 5 times.

Nakar-Umiray on big adventure bikes imageOur July 13, 2019 expedition. Mon Astillero on his Beta 300 XTrainer and me on a Brixx Venturi 500 overlooking Dingalan Bay

On July 13, 4 of us, Vic, Mon Astillero, Ed Caguiat and I, ventured again through the Nakar-Dingalan Pass. This time, while the 3 of them were on small dirtbikes, I had elected to use a heavier new adventure bike from Brixx, the Venturi 500. It was clearly not part of the plan., however, our friend, Randy Robles, who drove his 4x4 through the pass the week before said, due to the nice weather, riding a heavy adventure bike might be possible. After deflating my tires for offroad use, we proceeded with the rather insane ride through the jungles of General Nakar and Dingalan.

Less than 5 hours later and with the weather on our side, we saw ourselves eating late lunch at the Dingalan dampa, where you'll find the freshest catch at the seafood market and can have the nearby restaurant cook them for you. On the 14th of July, after getting a well-deserved rest at Dingalan, we backtracked the route with the same bikes and triumphed again, arriving back at General Nakar Municipal Hall before 4 PM.

Having completed the trail during that weekend, our success spurred on fellow rider Vic Ochoa, to be the first to try it with bigger adventure bikes, like the BMW GS 1200 or the KTM 1090 Adventure R.

So on the weekend of July 20-21, just a few days after typhoon Falcon left the country, Vic gathered 3 more of his rider friends to test their skills, endurance, and determination with 300+ kilogram adventure bikes. 

Emman Salazar, who rode his then 20-day old BMW R1250 GS Adventure through the jungles of General Nakar and Dingalan, shares the story from his point of view. He is joined by Arvin Barredo and Chester Alvisse astride their R1200 GS, while Vic Ochoa on his trusty KTM 1090 Adventure R.

Adventure bikers far from home

This will go down in my timeline as an epic adventure ride. In 2-3 years, this route will be paved and it may no longer be a challenge, particularly without the mishaps, hazards, fun, and excitement that an unpaved trail offers. For this Nakar-Umiray pass attempt, we brought along 3 BMW GS's and a KTM adventure bike.

July 20 - Saturday
0500 - Met up with Vic Ochoa and Chester Alvisse en route to Marilaque. I was aboard my 20-day old GS Adventure HP, Vic on his KTM 1090 and Chester on his GS Rallye 1200. We met up with Arvin Barredo along the way. We had breakfast in Marquez Bulalo. Little did we know that this would be our last decent meal for this adventure.

Nakar-Umiray on big adventure bikes image

0940 - We registered at Nakar, Municipal Hall to let the local government know we were taking on the trail. We did a photo op before heading for the off-road trail. Encouraged by the good weather, we were all set. The plan was to reach Dapi Rocks, turn around and have a nice seafood lunch in Real, Quezon.

An hour into off-road riding, we were grinning inside our helmets, confidently negotiating puddles, rocks, mud, roots, and plants. Then we reached our first challenge, a river crossing because the makeshift bridge was broken. The left us no choice but to cross. After mustering enough courage, off we went... and then... I had my first low side while crossing the river. It was painful because my bike was brand new, but after the first, I couldn’t care less about what followed. We continued our quest towards the next pit stop, the halo-halo stop at a sitio somewhere out there.

Nakar-Umiray on big adventure bikes image

1100 - After our “sweet treat” break, we rolled out again. We had crossed 3 more hanging bridges and several streams. "How long till we get to Umiray?”, we actually asked the locals. “5 hours,” they said. I thought that since we were on adventure bikes, we could make it in 2-3 hours. We gravely underestimated the time, so the plan had to change. The new plan meant we continue on to Umiray, have a late lunch, then take the Dingalan, Aurora route, and return to Manila before sundown. After all, I needed to get home to fetch my father-in-law from his dialysis session.

1200 - The trails became even more difficult to negotiate. They were still dry but since it’s the first time we were taking this route, we were not able to anticipate the challenges ahead. My rear wheel washed out in the mud, leading to a low side. Since it’s a 300-kg bike, imagine the effort needed to lift that thing and put it back upright. With the help of Chester and Vic, I triumphed over that situation. After a while, Chester and Arvin got pinned down, too. It took us an hour or so to get back on our saddles.

1300 - We reached Dapi Rocks, a natural wonder of a rock formation where the Pacific ocean kisses a river delta. Despite the danger, we rode our heavy bikes over the sand to take photos even if it seemed to be literally swallowing our bikes. Do we turn back? Nope, we were determined to reach Umiray town. We stopped for refreshments via fresh buko juice right out of the shell provided by the locals. They were amused with our heavy bikes.

Nakar-Umiray on big adventure bikes image

1400 - We faced another steep climb: a 3-story (“palapag”) ascent by our estimate. I was following Vic, who breezed through the climb, while I got pinned down while avoiding some obstacles. Chester, who was behind me, went past only to be similarly situated a few meters ahead. Arvin was at the very back and fell down at the foot of the climb.

With Vic bike already up, he went down to help Arvin first. Taking turns, Vic and I tried our best to ride Arvin’s bike to the top of the climb. We failed many times and were helpless. This started to drain our energy for the day, too.

Luckily for us, 2 4x4s passed by, whom we asked for help. Bitoy of Bitoy’s Restoration 4x4 Shop was kind enough to pull us out of that rut. it's unfortunate that his winch broke after pulling us and our heavy ADV bikes. We gave our sincerest apologies before heading back on track after being delayed for 3 hours.

Nakar-Umiray on big adventure bikes image The most challenging part was a seemingly endless steep uphill with ruts and loose rocks the size of watermelons, draining the riders' energy.

1700 - The sun was setting but we still had several kilometers to cover. Heading back is not an option at this point. We also knew that the route ahead was going to be difficult. It had technical terrain, mud build-up, log jumps, a sea of puddles, more rock gardens, and still some more treacherous ascents and descents. Still, we kept our mind on our objective, which was to just get to civilization before sundown. A few kilometers ahead, we reached a barrio where we bought canned goods and filled our water bottles to prepare for a night ride in the middle of the jungle. We only realized then that we missed our lunch. It was dinner time already. So we prepared instead for the next meal with easy-open cans of Century Tuna, the best dinner ever.

Nakar-Umiray on big adventure bikes image Cooling down the stream along the way.

1900 - Two hours into the ride and with no connection to the world, Chester and Arvin went down. By this time, Arvin had totally used up all his energy and couldn’t ride anymore. We regrouped and evaluated our options. (As if there were any). We decided to take it slow for Arvin and move one kilometer at a time. Arvin’s bike was already acting up. It seemed to run fine only with me as its rider. So we decided to ride one kilometer on my own bike, then walk a kilometer back to ride Arvin’s. The cycle went on for a few kilometers until we decided we just had to leave the bike and think about how to salvage it later that night or the following day.

Nakar-Umiray on big adventure bikes image The rain made it impossible for these 300+ kilogram bikes to gain traction on this steep uphill.

2100 - It was not a smooth trail at all. If you’re not careful, you’ll dive into the ravines or get yourself pinned down really hard. In fact, Chester got swallowed by a huge hole.

Our objective changed from tackling the trails to simply keep riding and reaching the destination alive. After every difficult obstacle, we rested and tried to regain our energy. At one point, we just decided we deserved to rest and lay down with our backs right on the earth. We couldn't care less about the mosquitoes and other insects trying to get a piece of us. We were down and out!

July 21 - Sunday
0300 - We got up very early. By this time, our family and friends had not heard from us at all. We weren't equipped with a satellite phone to call for help. With the need to get in contact with them, we decided to get going. A few kilometers on was another big challenge. There was another steep climb. The rain started pouring and the uphill climb became a water and mudslide. Vic, being the most capable, was our barometer. He made an attempt up but failed. If he can’t do it, no one can. That’s it. We were officially stranded!

0400 - Dejected by the insurmountable obstacle ahead, we decided to sleep again and wait for sunrise. "Make your own bed with your gear, hold a banana leaf to keep your head dry,” one said.

0700 - We decided to try again, this time with all 3 of us working together. Vic tried to cross but even with our combined strength, we could not push him up. So we decided to split up. Vic and Arvin would walk back down the 7 or so kilometers to ask for help. Chester and I would stay behind. We were hungry, ate our canned tuna, and drank the last of our water. We were counting on rainwater to replenish our supplies with our rainwater capturing contraptions but the idea failed.

Nakar-Umiray on big adventure bikes image Our first decent meal since the day before.

1100 - Help arrived. A couple with a horse, carrying their crops, brought water, soda, salted eggs, and crackers courtesy of Vic. It was the best tasting salted egg ever! A few minutes after, trail riders from Cabanatuan with Marconi De Guzman passed by and told us that help was coming. Vic reached Umiray already and was arranging a rescue team.

Nakar-Umiray on big adventure bikes image

1300 - Umiray Trail Riders Club, an 8-man strong pack, came for us. They helped us push our bikes so we could cross the obstacles ahead. 7 kilometers down and we reached civilization. It was the most refreshing bath crossing the Umiray River.

Nakar-Umiray on big adventure bikes image

1400 - I was able to send some messages to my wife, Darlene, who for sure was annoyed with me just as much as she was worried about our safety.

1500 - We were reunited and had a chance to regroup at the Chairman’s Residence in Umiray, Dingalan, Aurora. There was no signal here, so we could not inform anyone of our plans.

Nakar-Umiray on big adventure bikes image With the Umiray Trail Riders

2130 - We left the chairman’s residence to finally go home. As if the challenges were not enough, I got a flat front tire when we reached Palayan, Nueva Ecija. Arvin’s tire repair kit and portable compressor saved my bike.

Nakar-Umiray on big adventure bikes image

July 22, Monday
0200 - We made a pit stop at Starbucks, Caltex NLEX to wake ourselves up, then we said our goodbyes.

0300 - We finally arrived home, safe and sound.

Will we do it again? With the right preparation, timing and a satellite phone, hell 'yeah!

We would like to offer our thanks to the kind-hearted people who helped us during this ride. Thanks to our family and friends who prayed for our safe return.

The attempt to conquer the Nakar-Dingalan Pass with big bikes was complete. What was supposed to be just a day ride turned into a three-day adventure. With this adventure complete, would you say the trail is now "GS friendly"?

*Disclaimer when embarking on this kind of adventure:

Bringing a satellite phone is highly recommended for emergency situations as this entire area has no cellphone signal

Bring lots of water or bring a portable water filtration kit

Bring at least 2-days worth of food (packed, light)

Bring ropes/ tie-downs

Spark plug wrench/ puller: this is very handy in the event that your bike drowns in a river crossing

Always pack your bags with an emergency/ medicine kit

Though many would say that these riders should have bought their lighter dirtbikes, it takes some serious balls to ride bigger and heavier (and more expensive) adventure bikes in this type of terrain. These gentlemen achieved something that only a very few would even dare to try.