2020 Year-End Bike Tour to Rizal, Real Quezon, Lake Caliraya and Laguna Loop

It is Dec. 25, 2020.  Christmas Day. 
Earlier this month, on a whim 2 of us in the Léon Denim crew decided to take our love for biking to another level via a tour.  We had been considering where we could go: the choices were Bicol, Baler in Aurora, and possibly San Juan, La Union.  We narrowed the choices down to Baler and San Juan, but found out that Baler still wasn't open to take in travelers (and might be too hard for first-time bike tourers, anyway), and San Juan is all flat road travel via bike over highly-populated cities and towns and with a lot of traffic.  Not ideal for bike touring.  Just a few days before today we decided to go to Real, Quezon and around Laguna (and aren't exactly sure where there, yet).  We had hoped that some of our friends could join us, but their holiday plans could not be changed.  There was no question about our resolve to push through even if it were only us 2 going.  We are very conscious that risks from the Covid 19 pandemic remain, and so we will act responsibly and take all precautions, and be safe with ourselves and others.

It is also a good opportunity for us to test out our new products in the field prior to releasing them in the market: the LD Rando Shorts in 6 oz. khaki oxford, and in 8 oz. navy military poplin, both fabrics from Collect, Japan.  We decided to develop a version of bike touring shorts that are versatile enough for daily casual wear as well. "Rando" is our nickname for the French term "randonneur", a rider who participates in a randonnée, a non-competitive long distance endurance cycling sport that has its origins in France over 100 years ago, and is typically conducted in the countryside in distances of 200km and over.  

Tomorrow is the day we set off at dawn, and we are very excited.


LD Rando Shorts in 8 oz. navy military poplin


Day 1: Dec 26, 2020

First day of our 2-wheel exploration adventure to say good bye to darn 2020;  planned  destination is Real, Quezon.   Both of us use vintage steel bikes - mine is a road bike from the early 80's whilst Iver's is a mountain bike from the 90's, nowadays what's called a retro MTB.  We had them checked and tuned-up by Blush Cycles a few days prior, and both are outfitted especially for this touring trip.

Our friend Rob  send us off at our starting point in Pasig, at my sister's place where I parked my vehicle.  Along the way, we met a solo biker, Dodgie, who escorted us from Angono to the start of the climb up Pililia, Rizal. The guy was heaven-sent; we are first timers here and he also gave us so many riding tips. I have yet to meet a biker with bad vibes. Lots of (mostly) children along the road greeting us “Merry Christmas” and asking for loose change or candy, and interestingly, not pesky at all but in fact endearing. My reply usually was “Di mo ba makita nag-hihingalo ako at di makatigil, paano kita mabibigyan? (Can't you see I'm gasping for breath here and can't stop pedaling, how will I be able to hand you something?)” Except twice when we were actually not on our bikes but resting. More good vibes there. Other bikers we come across with nod with acknowledgement or greet and seemingly wonder where we're headed with all the stuff hanging from our bikes.

After that ascent up the mountain of Pililia (that seemed like forever -  for me, anyway), we wished for the descent to come, and it finally came. In the pelting rain my heart was pounding as I rode down what wasn’t the smoothest of roads. Rough in many places for a road bike (albeit now changed to wider tires), and the sound and vibration of metal upon metal reverberated up through to my body. My brakes were groaning at the strain, with water in between coming into contact with the wheel rims. Was on high alert, gritting my teeth the whole time, and wondered aloud, "When is this descent actually going to end?!" Almost slipped once on the wet road, and thank God I didn’t. Wished for the descent, huh? "Be careful what you ask for.", I told myself.

Finally I got to this flat expanse of road, flat as far as until it got punctuated by the mountains ahead. Sighted Iver by the side of the road, waiting for me, with this wide grin on his face.

That was a good one.

We decided to cut the trip early before 5 pm as it was raining much more now and nightfall was coming. We were not risking ascending (and descending) to Real, Quezon (the original Day 1 destination) at night while raining. Decided to retire for the day at Famy, Laguna. By 8:08 pm we were already in our own rooms, tired and sleepy.

We’ll see what the next day brings.

 Iver here testing out the Rando Shorts in navy. Photo taken in Mabitac, Laguna  just after the descent from Pililia. Dri-fit shirt and cap are by Further Touring Collective, and helmet by POC.

Day 2: Dec 27, 2020

We were holed up into each of our cramped and dingy motel rooms the entire previous evening because of the strong rain. The Pacific coastal town of Real, Quezon is not far from Famy Laguna where we were, only over 50 km away, but with significant elevation and energy required to ride up, before riding down. Over our phones we get repeated alerts of Orange Rainfall (one level away from Red, and means increased risk of continuous rain, flood and landslides). We wonder if we should skip this leg, actually the most significant one for our tour, and with the biggest challenge.

The morning came. It was still raining. We asked around, we weighed the risks, and decide to press on to Real. Our hearts were yearning for the adventure, but we also weren’t foolish. We considered that the worst thing that could happen was that we stop along the way and wait for the weather to improve.

The picturesque view in Famy, just before the the road inclines up on the way to Real.

It is a late start for the climb up to Real, as we waited for the rain to subside even if only a bit, and took our time for breakfast.  We bike out of Famy at 9:55 am.  Again I mention here that the challenge getting to Real is not the distance (“only” 50 km or so) but the elevation gain (~ 400+ m at highest) and the repeated ascents and descents.  The climb up isn't easy, because the first part is a continuous 13 km assault up.  As I pedal, the road markers pass so slowly by;  each 2 km interval feels like 5 to me. Soon enough I get off my bike and do the “Walk of Shame”, or in Filipino, I term more poshly as “Cadillakad”.  Iver pedals on and he disappears from my view.  He is obviously the stronger biker between the two of us.  He is using a heavier bike and gear (I estimate at  least 1.5x as heavy as mine), but he is also much younger, many years my junior.  It is encouraging that I am at least somehow able to keep up with him,  but this fact is actually of little consolation at those times when I sweat buckets, huffing and puffing, alone on a mountain road, and rained upon, at that.  No shame at all pushing my bike up, I conclude to myself.  And as if to spite me, the salt from my sweat travels through to my forehead and stings my eyes.

Route Map from our start point in Pasig, passing through Rizal and Laguna on the way to Real. The first major elevation is Pililia, followed by an interval of flatland, then we go up the mountains again before riding down to the Pacific Coast, where our destination is.

We have handheld radios so we are in regular contact - I am Rando 1 and he is Rando 2.  We bike together for most of the time, but during ascents I lag behind.  During the steep descents I notice my rear brakes significantly declining and an unusual clacking sound comes up when I press on my levers hard. My fingers become numb from repeatedly pumping on the brakes.  The many downhills from yesterday’s Rizal ride, and now here, had worn them down significantly.  This is all new to me; in all of my riding life I had never lost my brakes and I get very anxious.  Iver replaces my brake pads with the only one pair of spares I brought (and yes we are only on Day 2 of this trip!). 


One could almost think this is Tuscany, on a rainy day. It is just one of the many views on the way up the mountains of the Sierra Madre range.

The last 8 km are a continuous and steep descent down to the coastal town of Real, Quezon.  The scare of my worn brakes are behind me now. We look for accommodations at the closest resort, Paninap, and finally we see the sea.  It is still raining and the wind makes the water wild, perfect for the surfers who were already there, specifically for this purpose.  We are relieved and ecstatic.  By coincidence, it is already a year ago from this day that I was last by the sea, along the same Pacific coastline but in Baler, in adjoining Aurora province. 

Touchdown, Real.  The amihan (or easterly winds) and the continuous rains make the water wild, and these surfers jump in and take advantage of this condition.

I always say that my heart is in the mountains, and with the sea.  And in Real today, I get to experience both.

Day 3: Real, Quezon to Pagsanjan, Laguna

Good morning coffee.

I am awake by 5:30 am.  We retired early, but the night was not particularly restful;  in the other cottage, a large group of local tourists were chugging liters upon liters of Red Horse beer and their boisterous babble annoy me no end.  I put on a travel essential – my ear plugs – and it helps somewhat, but by 1 am a rooster starts to crow and triggers the rooster community in the resort into "song”.   It is all quiet below my loft where Iver’s room is, and I wonder if he is already in dreamland.  Out of sheer exhaustion I am finally able to sleep, but it doesn’t feel like a deep one.  The rooster choir’s crowing increase in frequency as the dawn breaks.  In the morning we find out that there are in fact 2 roosters just by our cottage alone, and several others scattered around the resort. One of them was actually positioned just outside where Iver’s room was, by his head’s position in the bed.  We chuckle at the hilarity of it all.

By our cottage at Paninap Resort.  We squeezed in the bikes inside and put them out only as we were prepping to go. Because if we lose them, then we'd be goners as well.

A few of my essentials: the LD Enamel Cup for my daily java, cycling cap from Further Touring Collective, and my Sea to Summit compact towel.

I make a point of checking out the sea before doing anything else.  Together with the sunset, this is the best time to be by the sea for me. It was no longer raining and the sea is much calmer now.  More surfers start to arrive and catch the waves.  A friend from the city, Klif, is spotted by Iver and they speak briefly.  We take our specially-prepared breakfast – Iver is vegan and I don’t take any meat from mammals, both of us switched for a little over a year now.   We wash yesterday’s mud and dirt off our bikes and get ready to go.  I buy ice cream for all the resort staff to thank them; Ann and Jopay had been particularly kind and cared for us well.  It was a joy to have spent time with them in this place. Their smiles and good cheer send us off to the next leg of our journey. 

A young girl, a village local, drops by to buy food at the resort's sari-sari store. Her innocent face and gentle demeanor catches my attention.

It is a steep climb back and soon enough it is again a combination of biking and walking for me.  I resolve to get a granny crank for the next tour and put an end to this unnecessary hardship..  While yesterday we were wishing for the sun, today I was wishing for the rain to cool me down.  It is much harder biking in the searing heat of the sun, and it can get intense.  During the ride back I get to see my companion only during our rest stops, otherwise we are pretty much on our own.  We are in contact over the radio though, so we at least know the other is still alive. 

Before we started this trip, I kept telling biker friends that we were doing a bike tour, and not an endurance ride.  But this leg made me feel that it was more of the latter.  A lone biker, Davian, rides up beside me and we chat for a bit before he goes on his way.  As he disappears in the distance, I reflect that biking has a way of bringing people together.  Children along the road greet me from afar, asking for coins;  I warn them and say I don’t have any (I actually don’t);  they extend their hands asking for low-fives instead.   The beautiful smiles on their faces keep me going.  I am tired but I feel great.  

It is in places such as this sari-sari store where we rest and catch up.  The entire route to and from Real, for the most part, is paved with smooth road.

My newly-replaced rear brake shoes from yesterday get worn, and once again I am in a delicate situation.  The descent back to the lowlands is long and steep – the 13 km continuous ride up is today’s continuous ride down.  I decide to walk part of the way down, otherwise I could be hitting the mountain wall and people would have to peel me off it.    I radio Rando 2 to look for a bike shop ahead, and thankfully there is a good one.  We aren’t taking any more chances and buy 6 sets of spares.  Nightfall is again coming upon us, and we decide to press on towards our next destination, Caliraya Lake.   We are exhausted, but the prospect of spending the night in that same sleazy motel in Famy from 2 nights ago provide the needed motivation to go on pedaling further, and way further, from this place.

It is a very pleasant night ride, passing through the towns of Siniloan, Pangil, Paete, Kalayaan and Lumban – the moon is full and bright, and the cool wind a soothing balm.  We decide to retire for the night in Pagsanjan, and are grateful to get into our most decent accommodations as yet.  Soft beds, clean sheets, and there is airconditioning.  And here, there are no cocks crowing.

Day 4: Pagsanjan to Caliraya Lake

We reevaluate our plans for the balance of the trip.  The original plan was 6 days for the tour, aiming to  be back by the morning of the 31st (and no later, as we wished to be back with family for New Year's eve).  I had been thinking of taking a longer route back by passing through Batangas and Cavite, then back to Pasig, but realize that if we just bike past and not stop there wouldn’t be much to see in those places.  We weren’t aiming for personal records or kilometers, but really to tour via two wheels and soak in the atmosphere of these places.  We decide that Caliraya would be our last destination for this trip and from there, bike home and thus finish a day earlier tomorrow on the 30th.

My kit during this bike tour:  shirt by Further Touring Collective, the LD Rando Shorts in 6 oz. Khaki oxford, shoes by Onitsuka Tiger, Mont Bell socks, Bell helmet, and heart rate monitor from Polar.

 Still wearing my favourite fabric: my choice of biking shoes for this trip are Onitsuka Tiger in Japanese Raw Denim.

Our clean clothes were running out (as we could never dry our clothes due to the rain), and last night in Lumban we chanced upon a roadside store selling imitation team bike uniforms, and each get a Pinarello cycling jersey.   In the morning we eat breakfast at a cyclist’s resto by the Pagsanjan Arch, and by coincidence another one of Rando 2’s friends, Mot, pops up with 2 companions, en route to their Laguna Loop ride.  Up till this time they both had only ever met virtually.   It is 10:15 when we are done and set off for the lake, a man-made reservoir up in the low mountains of the Sierra Madre.  But just a kilometer up the ride, Rando 2 radios me to say that his chain broke.  We walk a few kilometers down, ask for directions looking for a bike repair shop, and guess what?  We were brought back to the same store selling uniforms from last night, as beside it hidden from road view, is the shop itself.  We are fortunate that the loop is bike country, and I reflect that if we were to go touring off the grid, we would have to be prepared for these kinds of things.  It’s good learning.  As the chain is installed on Iver’s bike, I take advantage of the lull and bike to LBC in Pagsanjan to send home our laundry and lighten the load for the rest of the journey. 

Before biking up to Caliraya, we do a quick ride around Lumban's town square. This is the church and rectory of San Sebastian. 

It is just before noontime when we finally bike up again.  We were told by someone from Lumban that the ascent is “banayad” (gentle) and the route covered with trees.  Soon enough I discover this is not the case.   It is a continuous climb up about 8 km, and during high noon the trees do much for me.  Many parts didn’t have trees either. The heat from the sun stings my skin and I take the ride slowly.  I recall that lie of a description – “banayad”, remember Dolphy and his Banayad Whiskey, and laugh to myself.  Once again Rando 2 is away from view, but I see him on the way up once, resting by 2 large seats located, interestingly and strangely, by the roadside. 

Caliraya Lake, nestled in the Sierra Madre mountains, is serene and beautiful;  a must-go destination for those who wish to take a breather from the confines of the city.

The ride was grueling, but thankfully short, and we meet up on the top by a lakeside restaurant for lunch.  Everything is now different – it is calm, and peaceful, and breezy.  By the time we are done eating, the sun is now by the side.  We bike around, and this is the most scenic and euphoric ride of this trip.  You know how it is when one is by a lake; one just wants to be quiet and soak it all in.  Caliraya Lake and its environs are captivating, and we are in high spirits.  Even everyone we meet here along the way looks happy.  But my inner peace is disturbed when a mad, barking dog chased me on my bike and actually almost bit off a bit of me.

If you encounter these kinds of rolling hills during a bike trip, you wouldn't wish to do anything else but ride over them. At Lake Caliraya in Cavinti, Laguna.

We look for our target accommodations at Bloc Campsite, not in Caliraya  but in  the the adjacent Lake Lumot (see map) and we bike further and further deep, and wonder if we are pointed us to the right direction.  We no longer have 

Bike route from Pagsanjan to Bloc Campsite in Lake Lumot

enough cash on us, and when we finally get there our important questions were if they had a vacancy, if we could pay via credit card or online transfer, and if they can prepare vegan.  After a bit of wait it is a huge relief that it is a yes on all 3, though the accommodations on a glamping tent were way high above our budget.  Nightfall is upon us and we didn’t have any Plan B either, so this is where we’re staying.  Fortunate to have made it to this sanctuary of sorts.  It is good for us to be here.  It is beautiful and tranquil, this place.

The moon is already up over Lake Lumot as soon as we arrive. In the foreground are three of several T-Houses at Bloc Campsite.

After dinner we  walk outside the resort to buy drinks with the few pesos we have left,  and are sold them despite a liquor ban.   Our turn this time to drink Red Horse beer, but only 500 ml each, as our money wouldn’t take us any further, and with Dingdong and  kiat-kiat as pulutan.  

Good night.

A couple having dinner by the deck of their glamping tent.


Day 5: The Long Pedal Back Home

It is a restful and comfortable sleep the past night, before we set off for home.  It is very cool here by the lake at night and this morning, and sun had risen already by the time we wake up.  I step out of the tent and walk by the side of the lake;  it is so quiet and serene here that I could easily make out conversations of people paddling by the water, and also of the staff already up and shuffling about.   One of them used to live in the city where I live now, and told me that she had moved here from 15 years ago and never looked back.  It is much more pleasant and agreeable here than in the city,

Morning has broken.

she said.   “I can understand why”, I think to myself.   In the distance, in the tranquil lake itself, I see a flock of what look like white migratory egrets, roosting by the bamboo fishpens.  I take a deep breath and soak this all in.  For a moment I revel at  being in tune with God’s creation, where I believe we all really belong.  Our hearts yearn to be with nature;  and when we are away, we are called back.

A young family paddling by early in the morning, their mirth almost prematurely stirring the tranquility of this place. 

The glamping tent, where we stayed overnight at Bloc Campsite.  

It takes a while for our breakfast to get ready, as again it is specially prepared for us. Last night’s dinner was vegan spaghetti (which was excellent), and this morning it is talbos ng camote, vegetable cake, rice  and plant-based bagoong (yes, the manager/cook AJ whipped it up for us), while I also had my tilapia with itlog na pula and tomatoes.  Invariably the house cats come - 2 of them - wishing to partake of our meals.  One of 

Breakfast is ready.

them, a Siamese,  is more aggressive and jumps up the table,  and later on accidentally scratches Iver on the thigh.  It is a small one.  Thankfully, it is the most one of us ever gets hurt on this entire trip.

We pack our things, give our appreciation to the staff, and they ask to take our photos.  We're only too glad. We set off, and the route is to go back the way we came from yesterday, as the other way would take us further towards Lucban, Quezon, but we wish to be home by today.  The previous 

Parting shot. 

day a friend ours in Pila, Laguna - Chaddy - upon learning that we were in Caliraya, kindly messaged me to say that if we ever encountered any emergency to let him know and he would come and help.  We decide to do just that and see him in his hometown, primarily to see him, and second, to also ask for help finding a bank atm because we had very little cash left.  I had just used my last 20 pesos for buko juice on rest stop.

Chaddy meets us at the town plaza and we are glad to see him again after perhaps  2 or so years.  Pila, Laguna is a charming heritage town, with many of its old ilustrado houses preserved in great condition.  He tells us that Pila is called “Bayang Pinagpala”, because during World War II, unlike its neighbouring cities and towns, it was spared from the ravages of war.  It is very nice and genteel here by the town centre.  The atm isn't working and he generously lends us money.  We have lunch nearby, catch up, and he beats us to the bill and says it is wrong for us guests to spend for anything here in his 'hood.   Chaddy is very kind to us and we are grateful.

Pila is home to many remarkably well-preserved heritage houses, stunning in their architectural details.  One such house is the Relova residence, still lived in by its family members. 

We wheel off and pass by Victoria and Bay (pronounced as Ba-e) and the latter is a long stretch of flat highway road with no trees; we contend with biking under direct sunlight.  In Los Banos we go downhill and I almost run over 2 buko pie vendors in the roadside, jostling for sales with the opposite motorist traffic.  It is my screaming that stuns them immobile, and thank God I avoided them!  Crazy.  Evening had come and we pedal on and it is the city now. The traffic and the noise gets me disoriented. I lost my walkie-talkie earlier in Caliraya, and so it is harder and slower to communicate now.  Twice Rando 2 and I get separated, and by this time I am tired and my patience wearing a bit thin.  I just want to get back home.  It must be the same with Iver, I think to myself.  We talk less now and are focused on the ride back. The final stretch - the C5 Road -  is very dark and seems unusually long and far, but I get excited and pedal on.

Arrival honours.

And finally, after 5 days, at 9:05 pm, and using sheer human power to travel 334 km, we get back to where we started.  My sister and her family are waiting at the 2nd storey of their house and give us a welcome cheer.   We made it!  We made it back, safe and sound.  Thank God. 

Now THAT was some ride.  And I can’t wait for the next one.

And as for the Rando Shorts - well, they certainly did not disappoint.



 Post Script:

Route Map of the entire 5-day bike tour.