TRAVELING to the Cordilleras since 2002 to do volunteer work ignited my desire to give back not only to its people but also to its mountains. I view its ecology as a revered place that must be respected and kept sacred. Its mountains are home to the people whom I hold dear because of the unparalleled kindness and generosity that they have shown us volunteers.
When I learned about the Globe Cordillera Challenge, an advocacy bike ride which intends to generate funds for the rebuilding of the mountains and to raise awareness about the necessity of protecting our forests, I saw it as a great opportunity to express my passion for the Cordilleras.
The yearly event, now on its fifth year, is spearheaded by environmental organization Cordillera Conservation Trust. CCT’s Roots and Shoots nursery building program aims to create seedling nurseries in public elementary schools in the region. Forest building transpires in the local communities where it is essential, with the schoolchildren, parents and teachers working hand-in-hand.
Being a recreational biker, I was thrilled with the idea of riding the trails along the Cordillera mountains. I first joined the advocacy ride in 2012 and have been supporting it ever since.
Bike for Nature
The Cordillera Challenge is an adventure that allows us bikers to ride with, explore and appreciate nature. Navigating the trails of the picturesque Cordillera forests, with all its challenging ascents and exciting descents, certainly makes for an epic bike ride. When a biker appreciates the beauty of nature, the natural impact on him is to respect and preserve it. Such was true for me. The more I ride in the mountains, the stronger the desire I feel to protect it. Finding something marvelous while pedaling through the mountains may well be one of the greatest experiences that a bike enthusiast can get. Countless times during the course, I would find myself getting off my bike to bask in the wonderful view of Cordilleras’ inner mountains and to take a photograph of it. After all, it is not a race but a personal journey to find one’s place in and connect with nature.
Destination is the journey
“The core of mans' spirit comes from new experiences.” - Christopher McCandless
Besides being an extraordinary outdoor adventure, Cordillera Challenge is a spiritual experience of sorts. Supporting this advocacy made me realize my place in the greater scheme of things. Exploring the mountains gave me an opportunity to learn the life lessons that nature can teach us. The experience brought me back to my roots. It humbled me. I came to realize that the destination is not the finish line but the journey itself.
The rewards of braving the trails are simply priceless: the scenic views, the friendships established with other bikers and the locals, the smile or greeting of the charming kids upon seeing you riding your bike, and the lessons that can only be taught by Nature.
Cordillera folks are the most generous people I have ever encountered. I have proven it many times in Mountain Province, Ifugao, Benguet and Kalinga and experienced it once again in the mountain village of Naguey, which was a part of the course of the challenge. Our group got stranded near the Amburayan River due to heavy rains. Upon taking notice of our ordeal, the locals did not hesitate to reach out to us, making sure that we were safe from the rain that lasted for over an hour. Their innate goodness is humbly overwhelming.
I am an active traveler, an adventurous spirit who is constantly on a ride in search of colorful people to interact with, of stunning places to photograph, of compelling adventures to revel in, and of enriching experiences to treasure. The Cordillera Challenge journey offered me all that.
Awareness is the key
There is a pressing need to create awareness about the significance of reforestation and environmental sustainability. The Cordillera forests are now in a critical state because of massive deforestation. A big part of Luzon’s water supply is sourced from watersheds cradled by the forests of the Cordillera mountains. The degradation of the environment is enormous. Hence, there is no doubt that we should put primordial importance in preserving our forests. A healthy environment also means that the locals inhabiting the area have a better chance of earning a living. Most importantly, we owe it to the future generations that deserve to inherit from us a safe and healthy place to live in.
Environmental stewards on two wheels
More than a bike ride, the Cordillera Challenge produces advocates among the bikers who participate in it. CCT aptly refers to them as "forest builders." It feels great to be a part of this community of more than 800 bikers-forest builders who ride united for nature. Each biker’s pedal has a lasting imprint in pushing for the re-greening of the denuded forests. Each turn of the pedal means we are giving life to the ecosystem. This becomes an avenue for us to concretely do our fair share for the environment. This is the main reason why we bikers look forward to the Cordillera Challenge every year. The preservation of nature then becomes our shared passion with the community – a passion that is fueled by the desire to give back to nature. I am delighted to be a part of the increasing number of advocates which will surely grow bigger in the years to come.
This year’s Cordillera Challenge raised a substantial amount for the establishment of more seedling nurseries in the remote parts of the Cordilleras. On my part, I pledge to help in the actual nursery-building projects of CCT in the coming months.
Without a doubt, it will take a very long time before we can fully reforest the region. The fight for the Cordilleras goes on and we, the forest builders, undertake to be there until the fight is won.
A lawyer by profession, Chris Linag is passionate about travel, biking and photography. He has been participating in the Globe Cordillera Challenge for three years now. Follow him on twitter: @chriscrosspoint
Note: The Globe Cordillera Challenge 5 was held last May 10 in the municipalities of Tublay, Atok and Kapangan in Benguet. The event was able to raise P1.8 million, which was turned over to Cordillera Conservation Trust. The funds will be used for the Roots and Shoots nursery-building of CCT.