The first time I went to the Philippines was when I was a baby; I think I was two years old. I don't remember much of anything from that trip obviously, but I hear stories of how my mom's side of the family loved my little sister and me. I also heard stories of how we had to take baths in big buckets in a bathroom! Oh, and the mosquitoes, lots of mosquito bites.
A majority of my dad's family is in the US, but most of my mom's family is still in the Philippines, so it's always important that we make visits to see my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and countless cousins I have over there.
Our next family visit was when I was about nine years old. I was just getting into cycling at the time, and it was my dad who was very avid. I remember he brought his bike over and my uncle, who is a policeman in my mom's city, Tagaytay, followed him around for a few bike rides. He said there weren't very many cyclists in the area and it maybe wasn't the safest with the cars, jeepneys, and Filipino tricycles, which is basically a small motorcycle with a sidecar.
I have memories of riding horses with my sister and cousins at Picnic Grove, which is a scenic hilltop park with beautiful views of the Taal Volcano that sat in the middle of the lake. And I have memories of my grandpa, or my Lolo in Tagalog, the native Filipino language, roasting up a whole pig for the entire family. Mind you, my mom is 1 of 10, and her oldest brother has 11 kids, so I have a lot of family in the Philippines!
Fast-forward more than 15 years later; I finally made my first visit to the Philippines as an adult this year in January. I was really excited to visit, see my family after a long time, and experience the island differently than I had before. Plus, I was in training-mode getting ready for the season to start, so I also brought my bike.
I went into 2018 with a rolling start as I travelled on January 1st from Los Angeles to Amsterdam, the next day Amsterdam to Berlin for the Team Sunweb team presentation, the day after that back to Amsterdam to depart to the Philippine Islands.
It was surreal landing in Manila from Amsterdam. I left a cold, dry, almost snowy place where you need a puffy jacket to get anywhere without freezing to death to what felt like 100 per cent humidity in true island form. I landed in the evening, so I didn't have an initial impression of my surroundings until the next morning. But I knew for sure that I definitely did not need my puffy jacket anymore!
In my head, it was so different from my previous experiences. My first training ride was incredible in my mom's home city. A couple of my younger cousins who are getting into cycling took me on their usual Sunday route. It was incredibly scenic along the lake; then we took a left turn to descend, I probably saw at least 300 cyclists out on their Sunday cruise! It was unbelievable! And I had no idea that cycling had grown that much!
I had so much fun experiencing cycling in a new country, new area, and with some of my family as well. So many cyclists out on road bikes and mountain bikes just enjoying the weather and the terrain, it was pretty amazing to experience. We rode on some flats in the valley with a little bit of wind, and there was even a bike lane. When we flipped it, we had to go back up the climb we went down to get back to my mom's city, and man was that brutal! So humid and hot, my hands would slip off my hoods if I didn't have a good grip. And the climb got so steep at times that I had to paperboy up some parts. The mountain bikers were lucky and could spin up in their granny gears. But what really impressed me the most was the number of riders out, it was definitely a sight to see.
I did other training rides that week in the area. If you ever plan a trip, I suggest riding around the Nasugbu and Ternate areas. It was absolutely stunning. Some rolling terrain, flat valleys, some steep and steady climbs, and unreal coastal and mountain views. And on top of that, barely any cars on the road and really good pavement. I also suggest taking a little break to have a fresh coconut! Drink up the coconut juice, then have it cut in half and eat the fresh young coconut meat inside - that is the true island way!
The next week, I was invited to the PruRidePH in Subic Bay which is about 100km northwest of Manila and was the site of an old US Naval Base. It had some similarities to some riding in the States, like a bigger shoulder, but you were definitely still on a Philippine island!
It was humbling to take part in a cycling weekend in the country my parents are from and see the growth of cycling there. The riding was gorgeous again, and the roads around the Subic airport, Morong, Nagbalayong, and Mount Samat were breathtaking and challenging. Mount Samat is about a 7km climb at around 7% average that dead-ends at a memorial at the top that you can see miles away from the valley. I learned that it is a national shrine that honors the bravery of Filipino and American soldiers who fought during World War II.
Both coastal and mountain views here were crazy and even got to see some monkeys just hanging on the side of the road and hundreds of bats just chilling in the trees. Plus, the seafood was to die for on the beach in Subic! And my dad and I even got to ride in the grand fondo at the end of the week with hundreds of other cyclists who came into town to ride and enjoy the beauty of the island.
The trip was a perfect start to 2018. I was able to do a great training block on a beautiful island, and explore so many cool new roads and views, and meet so many other local cyclists.
And more importantly, I got back to my roots and spent time with my family after not seeing some of them for over 15 years, and show them a little bit of why cycling takes up so much of my life.
I am grateful that my schedule worked out for some time in the Philippines and I really do hope to go back soon! It's a hidden gem for cyclists and has huge potential, and on top of that, the weather was awesome in January compared to the rest of the world! Even warmer than at home in sunny California!
Coryn Rivera is a professional cyclist racing for Team Sunweb. She was born and raised in Orange County, California, and entered her first bike race at the Redlands Bicycle Classic kids race. Rivera had a break-out season in her first year with Team Sunweb in 2017, winning Trofeo Alfredo Binda - Comune di Cittiglio,Tour of Flanders, Prudential RideLondon Classique, and the team time trial at the World Championships.