It was a cold Saturday night in early December. Jason invited the gang to join him for dinner at a steakhouse for his birthday after riding all day in Bootleg Canyon. It was him, Stephanie, Jimmy, Michael V., Michael K. and I at this roundtable. The waiter had just served us a basket of fresh bread while we were sipping on some fine wine waiting for some good ol’ steak.
“So, what got you guys in mountain biking? I wanna know your stories”, asked Jason.
Balong, estoryaem kadagiti gagay-yem mo tuno dumakkel ka a no kasano ka nga dimakkel.
I still remember those same exact words said to me by my Dad’s friend. I can’t remember who it was or where it took place, but those words have stuck with me all these years. My dad introduced me to him and that was the first thing he ever said to me.
I was born and raised in the Philippines. The countryside. The farmlands, where not one paved road in sight. I was never a city boy. My first language was Ilokano, then bicycle and then, later on, I learned Tagalog.
I was about 9 years old. My dad got me a used bicycle from those neighboring Asian smugglers in the South China Sea. Smuggling was the thing back then in my village but I know the bicycle came from the clean hands of my father because he is the most honest, and the hardest working man I know. He sold rice pallets in exchange for two bikes; his and mine.
I learned to ride a bicycle when I was seven. My cousin Neil got this fancy-looking BMX bike that his Aunt from London gave him, and we – all the kids in the hood – would take turns riding it all day. I wanted a BMX, too. Shortly after, my parents promised me that if I took care of the two piglets that we had; feed them, raise them, and when they’d get sold they’d buy me that bike.
Every day after school I’d change my clothes and went to feed the pigs…. sprayed water on them and clean them up, man. Then they got big and they got sold. Then my parents finally bought a bike… but not THE bike. It was chrome, it had a bent top tube and a banana seat with tassels hanging on the handlebar. They first thought of my sister when they bought it. They told me, “well, you can ride it too…”
I was devastated. I wanted a BMX. I’m not gonna lie, at that point I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone. I was crushed. But instead of crying about it, I worked harder than ever. Ever since then, my mindset has always been “You want something, go get it.”
There was one night when I tried selling balut, but I didn’t sell any of them. That was the end of that gig.
Every other weekend and the next two summers, my cousin Balang and I would make charcoals from cut tree trunks. We’d dig a pit, place the woods in there and cover them with rice husks and leave it burning for several hours, sometimes overnight. Then we’d flood the pit with water and collect the charcoals. We’d sell it for 65 pesos per sack. I still didn’t have enough money to buy me that BMX.
When my dad finally got me a used bicycle, I was the happiest kid on the block because for once I now have something I call my own even if it’s not the BMX that I originally wanted. It was one of those cruiser bikes from Japan. It was light brown in color. It had a stand, a rear rack, fenders, a bell, and the coolest thing was it had front lights with dynamo motor. If you flip the switch, this small roller would touch the tire and it rotates as the tire rolls and it would then provide light. It was pretty sweet. The only downside was it had 22” wheels. There weren’t any 22” tires available for sale anywhere! I literally rode that thing until the last tread on the tire.
Fast forward to when I was 10 years old. My auntie had a bakery few blocks down the street. I still wanted to make extra money and my parents didn’t mind. Every other day at 4 a.m. even on school days, I’d wake up, ride my bicycle to my aunt’s bakery. I put a wooden tray on the back of my bike and fill it up with fresh pandesal. I’d ride around the neighborhood before the sunrise selling those hot pandesal. The people in the village, especially the farmers, they wake up very early. Hot pandesal is a staple for breakfast. It’s the best thing with hot coffee. If I sell the whole box, 60 pieces of them, I’d get 15 pesos. Then I’d go home and get ready for school and do it all over again in the afternoon after school, but this time I’d ride my bike further to the next village selling other types of bread. More and more kids started doing the same gig after they saw me doing it. Though, I stopped doing it after hearing rumors that there were kidnappers in the area.
My parents are the best people I know. They are my backbone and I am very grateful for them for teaching me the value of hard work. My dad was a farmer. My mom was an elementary teacher – she was my third-grade teacher.
A few years later, my family and I moved to America.
I attended eighth grade and high school in Southern California. I finished eighth grade with good grades and my mom finally bought me a BMX – a GT Freestyle with pegs in the front and back during the summer before entering my freshman year in high school. I rode it to school every day and wiped the dirt off it every day when I got home. I kept it shiny, man! Then one day after the bell rang I was about to ride back home…it was gone. Some lowlife cut the cable lock and stole it from the bike parking rack. The school police officer ended up dropping me off home – that was my first time (and hopefully the last time *knocks on wood*) riding in the back seat of a police car. It felt weird. The ride back home was quiet. I’m not gonna lie, I cried. And cried some more when I got home. I couldn’t eat for a few days.
Later on, I found out my high school had a program called PAL (Police Activity League) where cops would take kids out mountain biking every other weekend to keep them out of trouble. I remember it was the best times during my first few months in high school even though I still didn’t really speak English much. I had several Filipino friends who I’d hang out with every other time, but they weren’t into bikes. I was different, riding bikes was my sanctuary. They’d hang out and play basketball and I’d go on my own riding with strangers – with kids who only talk in English and some Spanish. I was the oddball in that PAL group because I didn’t really speak much. I was shy. But I wasn’t shy when it came to riding bikes. I may have come from a different background but I still felt that we were all the same because the bicycle connected us together. To me, the bicycle is a universal language.
I picked up mountain biking again after college. In 2005, my friend Gio and I spent a decent amount of money and bought our first “real” mountain bikes from a local bike shop. We’d ride every weekend and soon we got more of our friends in our circle started joining us. They didn’t stick around long enough, though. They were more into basketball.
One person who I became really good friends with, all because of mountain biking, Edwin ditched his motorbike hobby and picked up mountain biking like no other. Then, some of his motorbike buddies started getting into mountain biking and never looked back.
We met Xandei and his group United Adobo about 9 years ago. We started joining their rides regularly, especially every “insert every holiday” ride. From about 10 riders then, to about 60+ now, all friends of friends, or just meeting just about anybody on the trails for the first time who then start riding with the group. The group consists of riders mostly from Los Angeles, Orange County, and Ventura County, but if you ask any one of them, they’d tell you they have friends who ride in NorCal, Arizona, Las Vegas, everywhere! And they’re willing to introduce you to them if you happen to be in their area to ride. We’d all get together for a “picnic & ride” every year. And every year, the group keeps increasing in numbers. The camaraderie is pretty awesome.
Bikes are my passion. I don’t say no to long rides or shuttles and ride the steepest descent and technical trails. Heck, I’m so good at walking my bike, too! I moved to Vegas almost five years ago, and big thanks to Xandei, he introduced me to his mountain biker friend named Resty. And well, the rest is history as I got to meet, became good friends with, and get to ride with many riders here, including the five people I was in the same table with chowing down good ol’ steak and sipping on some fine wine.
I am grateful that I get to ride with a great group of people from all different walks of life. When you surround yourself with like-minded people, everything just clicks so easily. Bring a positive attitude to a group ride and you have yourself the formula to make new friends.
Boy, tell your friends your story when you grow up how you grew up.
I just did.