Text and photos by Aries B. Espinosa
IT’S that time of the year to go outdoors and enjoy the summer sun. While many have opted to go to the beach this year (water troubles in the Metro may have had a hand in this choice), our group of cyclists turned our sights northward and upward, and decided to do something no other recreational and weekend warrior bikers have dared done before.
For five days — from March 11 to 15 — our group of 10 cyclists traversed the three historic passes of Central Luzon and the Cordillera region: Dalton Pass (or the Balete Pass on the boundary of Nueva Ecija and Nueva Vizcaya); Bessang Pass (delineating the boundary between Mountain Province and Ilocos Sur), and; Tirad Pass (on the hillsides of Gregorio del Pilar town in Ilocos Sur).
The three passes bear much historical significance, mainly because these were situated on the highest elevation of the area that served as the crucial battlegrounds during World War II in the 1940s and the Philippine-American War in 1899. At the Dalton and Bessang Passes, Japanese forces struggled to gain control over American/Filipino troops in World War II; and at Tirad Pass, it was an outnumbered Filipino force versus American soldiers during the Philippine-American War.
Today, monuments, markers, and shrines serve as the only permanent reminders of the passes’ bloody past, and local and foreign tourists frequent these sites not just for their historical significance, but also for the magnificent vistas and cool, clear mountain air that make them ideal stops for rest and mealtimes.
It was this combination of history and topography that motivated our group of adventure cyclists known as Cycad (Cycling Advocates and Adventures) to take on the three passes on just pedal power. But we would not do this alone. For safety and convenience, we were accompanied by a support crew of motorized vehicles, mechanics, an advance party, and sustenance providers. And then we gave it a name: “Project V360.”
The route we chose to take through the three passes would entail some 450 km of the trickiest, twistiest roads in the country’s most mountainous regions. Thus, we couldn’t just take any brand of support vehicle with us. It had to be a badge that had a track record of proven reliability, power, and fuel efficiency. Hands down, we chose the Isuzu D-Max pick-up and the Mu-X midsize SUV powered by the 1.9-liter RZ4E diesel engine developed under the Japanese nameplate’s Euro-4 compliant BluePower emissions technology.
The two Isuzu light commercial vehicles lived up to its reputation as frugal yet powerful support vehicles. The D-Max, serving as the support and sweeper vehicle, was able to fit our 10 mountain bikes (with the help of our expert bike mechanic who ingeniously maximized the carrying space of the pickup bed) and five passengers (including our medic, bike mechanic, and two other ride assistants), while the Mu-X, as the lead vehicle carrying our advance party personnel, provided the stability and confident handling to take on the winding mountain roads with urgency to arrive at our stops well ahead of time and prepare for our arrival.
The pleasant surprise was that even with a crawling pace of less than 10 kph during the steepest climbs as it trailed us agonized bikers, the RZ4E D-Max was still able to maintain a fuel consumption average of 10.5 km per liter throughout the trip, nearly identical with that of the RZ4E Mu-X that zipped ahead of us every time.
In all, throughout the 1,200 kms that the two RZ4E-powered Isuzu LCVs ran for the entire tour, we only had to use around two full tanks of diesel fuel for each vehicle, despite the punishing climbs and the full load of passengers and cargo.
Leaving nothing to chance, we also used two other Isuzu LCVs for the trip — the 3.0-liter Mu-X to transport our food crew, and the 3.0-liter D-Max 4×4 to transport personnel and be the lead vehicle during the seven Patupec River crossings on the way to Tirad Pass in Ilocos Sur.