Ride report on the most thrilling adventure ride challenge to date

Motorcycle riders are always on the lookout for some riding adventure. For some, a simple trip to Tagaytay is already an adventure ride in their books. For others, a motorcycle endurance challenge is their definition of an adventure ride.

The ultimate adventure ride: FJ Moto Mountaincross image

Then, there are a few who are brave enough that venture deep into the mountains and sleep beside their beloved steeds when darkness fell. They are not afraid to continue riding even when the road ends, and would even cross raging rivers just to get across remote towns.

These riders are the only ones worthy (and brave enough) to join the FJMOTO Mountaicross Adventure 2023.

FJ Moto Mountaincross Adventure

Just a little background, the FJ Moto Mountaincross Adventure 2023 is a team-only event, with an emphasis on 400cc and above adventure bikes. The 3-day event tested the participants’ endurance, riding skills, as well as navigation, problem-solving skills, and most especially, teamwork.

The ultimate adventure ride: FJ Moto Mountaincross image

This adventure riding event, in collaboration with The Long Riders, took the participants to six northern Luzon provinces, riding on both roads (60%) and off-road (40%).

This is not a glamping trip, and participants were expected to be self-sufficient, carrying their own supplies, spare parts and camping gear.

Team Ride Manila-Armscor

I love adventure riding. In fact, if I am not riding enduro bikes during weekend trails, I’m off to somewhere far away riding adventure bikes. For like-minded riders who are thrilled by the concept of FJ Moto Mountaincross Adventure, it was like an “automatic sign-up” for us, especially for last year’s Mountaincross Adventure veterans Vince Tagle of Ride Manila, Franklin Osis, Sr. of OS1 Solutions, and I, who unfortunately, wasn’t able to finish that event last year.

The ultimate adventure ride: FJ Moto Mountaincross image

Ride Manila-Armscor

 

It was redemption time for the three of us and not finishing is definitely NOT an option. With the generous support of Ride Manila, Armscor, Guhring, DPJF Marketing, and the help of our friends, we formed Team Ride Manila-Armscor.

The team is composed of riders who share the same passion for adventure riding and comes from different sectors of the government and private businesses. We have Fel Neri, executive of Armscor; Vincy Buenaventura, Gelo Roa, Miguel Camus (KTM Adventure Owners Society - KAOS) and Mike de Guzman – all executives of their respective businesses; while Arnold Dela Torre and Atty. Paulo Polloso are also executives to their respective departments in the government sector.

No spoon-feeding

The FJ Moto Mountaincross Adventure is a 3-day riding challenge like no other in the Philippine adventure bike scene. With the help of The Long Riders (TLR) – an adventure riding group who loves exploring the mountains – the route took us deep in the Cordilleras and passed by the Ancestral Lands of the Indigenous Peoples.

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Carpe Iter navigation system from Ride Manila

 

There were no event marshals on most of the checkpoints, no police or other riding clubs who would point us to the road that would lead to the next checkpoint. No spoon-feeding whatsoever. We only have the coordinates of the next destination which was only given to us only after completing the last checkpoint.

Participants were given the autonomy to navigate through the Cordilleras using a A) longer but sure all-pavement route or B) shorter but mix of on/off-road barangay mountain roads.

Day 1

We had it relatively easy on Day 1. Starting from Alviera, Porac, Pampanga, the first checkpoint immediately saw us going through the expressways and up to the bridge near the 32nd Division Red Arrow historical marker in San Nicolas, Pangasinan. From there, the coordinates for the second photo-op checkpoint in Puyao River picnic grounds was given to us by the TLR marshals which was just a few kilometers away but here’s the catch: the road going there (or the lack there of) was through a dry riverbed.

The ultimate adventure ride: FJ Moto Mountaincross image

Triumph Tiger 900 GT Pro

 

No problem for Team Ride Manila-Armscor as we just breezed through the loose gravel and rocks the size of a basketball onboard our adventure bikes. Mine’s a Triumph Tiger 900 GT Pro riding on alloy wheels! You could just imagine how worried I am and doing everything that my puny riding skills allow to avoid these PHP 30,000-a-piece alloy wheels from getting a serious dent (bengkong).

From there, we were given the coordinates to the next checkpoint: TLR Campsite in Malico. Being a member of TLR, I was quite familiar with the road going up to the campsite, which was a mix of compacted soil and tire track pavement – a type of road where only the pathway of the tires are cemented, the middle being a soil, grass or just a void where your motorcycle can be sucked in.

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TLR Campsite in Malico

 

Upon reaching the campsite and being told where the next checkpoint was, we thought it was just an easy stride but we were wrong. We were directed to do the “Malico Loop” which took us to an off-beaten and seldom-used path just below the TLR campsite. It was dry, yes, but the fallen pine tree needles and cones along the path made it slippery, especially on the downhill sections where the weight of a big adventure bike and gravity will do a tag team to get your heart pounding.

Luckily for us, it was mostly uneventful and everyone was back on the highway for a 3 PM lunch. Some of our team members had some mud stains at the tip of their handlebars but that’s ok. After all, FJ Moto says to “earn your scratches” and we’re mighty proud of that.

The ultimate adventure ride: FJ Moto Mountaincross image

Then we’re back on the road again. This time, we found ourselves navigating through traffic on Cagayan Valley Road. The goal was to reach the final checkpoint before the 6 PM FJ Moto-imposed cutoff. The reason for the 6 PM cutoff is that participants will be riding through tribal lands on mostly barangay roads, and as a sign of respect to the locals, all riding should cease by then. As suggested, all participants should’ve already set up camp or have already found a homestay to spend the night before 6 PM.

We missed one of the photo-op checkpoints, and it was easy to miss if you were not careful. Coming from a bend on an uphill dirt road, this checkpoint is a hill with a flat clearing on top. To reach this hill, a little pathway was a bit concealed from the bend and we missed it. It was only upon reaching the Baguio-Aritao Road and catching the team from Cebu that we realized we missed this checkpoint.

So we went up again and spent approximately 40 minutes back and forth.

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This is the checkpoint that we missed

 

We’re back on the highway and to the carinderia checkpoint. After a quick barbeque hotdog snack, we realized that the sun was already setting and we need to reach the day’s final checkpoint as soon as we can. So we went up again, through on/off-road barangay roads.

Before we reached the final checkpoint, which is in Nansiakan, it was already dusk and we need to set camp. Good thing, there’s the Luclocos Integrated School which has a covered multi-purpose hall. We asked Teacher Grace, who was already preparing to leave for the day’s work if we could spend the night at the covered hall. With her and Barangay Captain Peter Binalgan’s help, we were permitted temporary shelter at the school’s multi-purpose hall.

The ultimate adventure ride: FJ Moto Mountaincross image

After setting up our respective sleeping bags and hammocks, Mike de Guzman, who is prepared for a week-long adventure ride, cooked dinner for us and it was a feast! Now on our boxers and t-shirts, we feasted on noodles, Spam and other canned goods that Mike brought. Arnold brought brandy to warm us up and at the same time relax our tired muscles from a full day of adventure riding. Then we went to “bed”.

The ultimate adventure ride: FJ Moto Mountaincross image

It was a cold night nonetheless and without a shower, but we were still in relative comfort versus those who camped in the open.

Day 2

We were supposed to start the 2nd day of our FJ Moto Mountaincross Adventure at 5 AM as we told Teacher Grace the night before. However, upon realizing that the sun won’t be up until 6 AM and that it was a Saturday and there were no classes, we took it easy and were back on the road before 6:30 AM. Still, no shower at this point.

The ultimate adventure ride: FJ Moto Mountaincross image

We were glad that we decided to set camp before sundown the day before, as we realized that the road leading to the river (last checkpoint of day 1) was treacherous, and a slight miscalculation due to darkness might send somebody plummeting a few hundred feet below the ravine.

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We caught up with Team CMF-Royal Enfield Adventure Team on the single tracks to the river. After some “lambingan” with the Royal Enfield boys, we reached the river where Team TLR Malfunction camped. Other teams were already trying to cross the almost knee-deep river by the time we arrived. Don’t be fooled, though, underneath the water are rocks the size of a basketball and one wrong move could topple a 200-plus kilogram adventure bike, eventually drowning it.

The ultimate adventure ride: FJ Moto Mountaincross image

This is where teamwork prevailed, as almost everyone, regardless of what team you’re with, helped each other cross this tricky river. Those who didn’t, like the Bristol Venturi 500 of Team Alasingko Enduro which drowned the day before, was parked by the river waiting to be pulled out and rescued. On my way up to the single tracks leading to Ambaguio from the river, a foreigner (I don’t know from what team) was blocking the way. As it turned out, he too, slipped during the river crossing and eventually drowned his Yamaha T7 the day before. His bike was eventually pulled by the locals.

The ultimate adventure ride: FJ Moto Mountaincross image

We got out and were soon up in the zig-zagging backroads of Ambaguio where farm-to-market vegetable-carrying trucks pass. The smell of guano fills the air. These backroads led us to Kayapa, then to the side of Mt. Pulag – the highest peak in Luzon – and then to the town of Tinoc. We then went to the New Highest Point of Philippine Highway System, then to Lake Tabeo. Unfortunately, we missed the “easter egg” of this point in the challenge. Instead of taking the shortcut to the Tawangan checkpoint from Tinoc before proceeding to Lake Tabeo, we took the long road to the lake, went to Tawangan, then back-tracked to the lake and to the highway.

The ultimate adventure ride: FJ Moto Mountaincross image

Before reaching Mt. Timbac, it was already getting dark. The team decided that it was best to just call it a day, take a hot shower at Pinecone Lodge in Kabayan, and debrief. Since we estimated that we no longer need our camping food for the 3rd and final day of the challenge, we let Pinecone Lodge cook our supplies (with a side order of inihaw na liempo, fried chicken, mixed veggies, and the best sweet sour spicy dip in this side of the world) which basically lightened our bags. A hot shower, hearty dinner, brandy, and a nice comfortable bed capped off day 2.

Redemption day

As previously mentioned, Vince, Frank and I – veterans of last year’s Mountaincross but DNF (did not finish)  – vowed that not finishing this year’s FJ Moto Mountaincross Adventure is NOT an option. Additionally, our team was 5 checkpoints short of the requirements of the previous day. The team was a bit anxious but was confident that we can finish before the day ends.

Everyone got up at 3:30 AM, had coffee, breakfast (still from Mike’s stash) and had a nice bathroom for pooping. By 5 AM, sidestands were all up and we were zig-zagging along Mt. Timbac’s tire track-only roads and hairpins. This is also where we saw one of the most beautiful sunrises in our entire lives.

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Sunrise view from Mt. Timbac

 

After completing Mt. Timbac, the next checkpoint is barely 100 kilometers away, but with the winding roads of the Cordilleras, it took us almost 3 hours just to reach the Quirino Skyline View Deck.

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The next stop was Tapawan View Deck, which, according to Google Maps, can be viewed from the Quirino Skyline View Deck to the west. This was the easiest part as it only took us a few minutes to reach Tapawan. Completing the previous day’s checkpoint requirements was the town hall of Sigay – a sleepy town just after Gregorio Del Pilar in Ilocos Sur.

The road from Sigay took us back on the Tagudin-Cervantes-Sabangan Road, then to the next checkpoint which was the Suyo Police Station. This is where the budol part started: we were directed to go to Eco Mountain Resort (Suyo) and then to Buridek’s Riverside Restaurant (Alilem). However, the coordinates that were given for both locations were the same.

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At Tinoc town hall with Team TLR 1

 

Since the data signal was weak, we said what the heck and just went to that point in the map. It was mostly downhill, and somewhere in the town of Alilem (I think) was a road construction. It was just short, maybe less than a kilometer long, but the tricky part is that the road was a very steep downhill with hairpins, not to mention that the dirt, or should I say powder-like dust, was so loose that our heavy adventure bikes kept on going downhill as if we were not holding the brakes.

The ultimate adventure ride: FJ Moto Mountaincross image

This was, for me, the most budol part. I can cross rivers all day long with an adventure bike but not a slippery downhill where gravity and the bike’s weight will make it a very very hard descent. After a few minutes of careful descent and hernia-inducing lifting of a T7, our team was finally out of the frying pan. We have dust all over our faces but we were all happy. This was the kind of ride that we were looking for and everyone has that evil grin on their faces.

The ultimate adventure ride: FJ Moto Mountaincross image

At this point, we still don’t know how many checkpoints are in store for us, but everyone is determined to finish this event, not even stopping for lunch. Just water and some snacks. It was like when we were riding trails in Magallanes, Cavite. No one gets to eat lunch until we were out of the jungle at 4 PM, or maybe later.

It was also this time that we learned to disregard the Eco Mountain and Buridek checkpoints and should’ve taken the highway instead. No one complained and everyone was happy with the budol.

The ultimate adventure ride: FJ Moto Mountaincross image

Off we went to Santol View Deck and boy it was beautiful! We then went to Bagulin town hall and then to Kudal Park. Somewhere from Santol and Bagulin, our group was split into 2 and we in the 2nd group got lost. That’s ok, getting lost is part of adventure riding and the FJ Moto Mountaincross Adventure is no exception. Thanks to the Cardo Packtalk System communicator that we have, everyone was back on track again and we were able to regroup in no time.

The ultimate adventure ride: FJ Moto Mountaincross image

After a detour in Burgos, La Union, we saw ourselves at the finish line at one of the resorts in Caba, La Union. I couldn’t remember if it was 4:30 or 5 PM when our group arrived at the finish, but I remember that I was already drinking the warm beer that the resort offered and was looking at the setting “Elyu” sun, thanking our Creator for the wonderful adventure that we just had. It was a blast and we definitely redeemed ourselves.

Pro Tips

There are some things that I learned during the FJ Moto Mountaincross Adventure that I like to share with you:

  • Adventure riding is a happy sport – enjoy the views, have fun with fellow ADV riders, enjoy the ride!
  • Pack light – it’s ok to prepare for the ride. What’s not ok is packing too much on your bike (essentials an non-essentials) which will make the bike top-heavy and very difficult to lift in tight situations on off-road.
  • Camp where there is roof – camping in the open is ok on certain occasions like leisure riding, but for during Mountaincross, try to find a camping ground where there is an extra layer of protection against the elements like a basketball court, barangay hall or even a school’s multi-purpose hall. Additionally, these aforementioned places will sure have a clean toilet.
  • Cardo Packtalk is indispensable – adventure riding could be tricky at times, and a communication system like the Cardo Packtalk (or similar) is absolutely necessary. I can’t imagine riding the complicated route of this year’s FJ Moto Mountaincross using just hand signals.
  • Right tires – this kind of riding challenge requires skill, but your skill is only as good as the tire’s grip. About 40% of the route was off-road. A lot of riders lost their control even with dual sport tires, what more if you have the wrong set of tires?
  • Only for the brave (and skilled) – the FJ Moto Mountaincross Adventure is not your typical endurance ride. Most, if not all of the participants have had background in off-road/enduro riding or had training in off-road riding. If you want to participate in next year’s Mountaincross, better start your off-road training today!

The ultimate adventure ride: FJ Moto Mountaincross image

A toast to all who participated in this year's FJ Moto Mountaincross Adventure

 

Special thanks to FJ Moto Enduro, The Long Riders, Ride Manila, Armscor, DPJF Marketing, Guhring, Dan’s and Triumph Motorcycles Philippines. Are we going to join next year's FJ Moto Mountaincross Adventure? Hell yeah!!