It took me about a year of yearning, imagining and wanting to join the Tour of the Fireflies before I get to do so. It almost took me the same amount of time to post a blog about this great first experience. Though how clichéd, “late is much better than none at all!” I must say.
For some prologue, the very reason why I took that long before I joined in this great rally for the environment is that I don’t have a bike! When eventually I did, though, it was a different dilemma that daunted me; I did not have bike buddies. The thought of going into something new to me by my lonesome discouraged me from taking the plunge for a good number of months. A close buddy of mine who has been casually riding his bike around the community and sometimes to nearby provinces has lots of biker friends who had plans of joining the tour, so when I learned about it, I immediately jumped into this opportunity that I have been waiting for the longest of time.
Come tour day I woke up very early. All the things that I will be using for the event has been prepared for the night before. All it took me were but a few minutes to get all geared up. Had my initial plans all materialized, it would have been a totally different scenario. A biking goddess of a friend of mine, Jeans, had suggested we come in some fabulous costumes to the event – she will be the forest fairy and I will be the earth fairy. We agreed that I need to sleep over her apartment the night before to help prep each other of the necessary face and body paints and accessorizing do overs to achieve the look we are going for. However, due to very hectic work appointments I had the previous day stretching up to almost past 9pm, I have to call off our plans and settle for a more conservative route.
My biking group, the group of my friend that is, consists of around 15 bikers who are either family or friends. Before heading for Tiendesitas, Libis which is the Start/Finish point, we converged at Petron C5 where for the very first time I met my bike mates. The trip to Tiende proved to be my crash training in group touring as I have never been to places other than my home’s immediate surrounding like the FTI area and the BGC at the farthest. We arrived at the tour’s activity area a little past 6 am with enough time to spare before the 8:45 pedal off. I made sure to place myself near the stage to be constantly aware of the goings on over there and not be carried away by the expectant and excited buzz of more than 10,000 cyclists going on around me.
Customary opening prayers and speeches with environmental overtures pervaded the program with spearheading personalities taking center stage. Not to forget the string of Elvis Priestly numbers by his local impersonator, a constant figure in the tour I was told. Before my attention gets distracted once more by Miss World contestants posing incessantly for pictures by the sidelines, and cyclists parading their diverse steeds in exciting designs and price tags, the best in costume segment took off. One by one, each creatively and ingeniously crafted bikes and riders echoing the theme on environmental recycling and conservation, paraded before me toward the stage. There was the one looking like a robot and a rocket were rolled into one giving off the industrial age touch. There was also a participant in the most flowery and colorful design like Mother Nature just learned to ride a bike! The one which caught my attention the most, though, was the rider in revealing Igorot costume showcasing a very masculine rider (not the reason of my attention, hehehe) and a bike jazzed up with bamboo paneling and rattan baskets to look very ethnic and unique. I believe he eventually won the top prize.
At exactly 8:45 am, it was tip off time with marshals leading the way followed by the contestants for the best in costume, the young riders with their parents or guides, some Miss World candidates lending glamour to the event, and the rest of the more than 10,000 riders eager to conquer the streets of 5 municipalities and cities of the Metro for one day each year. Then the nerves took over my senses. I should have been at the head of the pack with the beauty queens! Joke! But I cannot keep myself from thinking that while jittery riding my bike with less than a foot of allowance to maneuver from all sides. Talk about a severe case of peloton phobia! Being my first experience of this kind, I did not expect tension fear to permeate my senses making me look more newbie than I already am before the entire cycling community! And what if I cause a major crash! My group mates must have sensed my dilemma, or maybe they have known all the while this kind of feeling by first timers, that they placed themselves in front, beside and at my back. Talk about babying a rider. Gosh, what a shame.
A few K’s into the ride somewhere along the C5 road on our way to Marikina City, the peloton became less congested and more newbie friendly. It was then that I came to take in the route more visually and enjoying the surrounding more which a biker would not normally have the opportunity of given any ordinary day. I saw diverse bike forms coming in many sizes, from very small compact and foldable ones, to very large almost like a motorcycle in size; and diverse height, from very low ones where the rider is almost lying supine on the road to very tall ones with big wheels lording over other bikers. Nowhere to be found is the Igorot hunk and the rest of the contestants in the best in costume giving credence to my earlier theory that those bikes are not really meant for riding. It was disbelief and shock for me when I saw some little ones pedaling it out with their elders amidst hardcore riders. Some are as young as six! It’s hard to imagine how they can manage the entire 32K route when I myself have self-doubts given the flyovers along the way and the searing sun giving some added difficulty. Their parents and guides have to exert extra effort pushing and egging them on when some are very much ready to head for the nearest Jollibee or McDo!
The lead bikers of my group, two very young and aggressive types, snaked and sped their way through most of the way making it hard for those at the back, I included, making chase. Not wanting to be left out, I gave it my all just to keep them at least at sight’s reach. I don’t want to be left out with no one familiar while I maneuvered through the highways. Luckily, timely water and/or food breaks were initiated by Sir Roel, our group’s leader to replenish lost energy and body fluids. After a few minutes, though, we are up and about making our beeline through equally enervated cyclists. We cannot afford to lose more time during breaks for we need to cover the entire route traversing 5 cities and municipalites (Q.C., Marikina, Pasig, Mandaluyong and San Juan) before reaching the finish line. Not only that, we have to cycle some more going home.
For one day each year, the motorists take backstage and leave the streets of certain Metro Manila areas to be lorded over by environmentally friendly cyclists. In certain intersections though, some cannot hide their disgust at having to wait for thousands of us to pass through before they can causing some major traffic jam. But what is a day in 365 to sacrifice and give in to the lowly cyclists? Hopefully, it will not take many more TOFs before national and local governing bodies heed this collective clamor for bike lanes in every city and municipality in the metro and for more Filipinos to take on cycling not only as a means of transportation, but as a tool for health and wellness. Some localities are already paving the way in this regard and hopefully more will follow. It’s a prayer on my part that this annual endeavor will not be seen by pedestrians, by-standers and motorists as a mere distraction or amusement but as an eye opener to one and all that preservation of the environment is our duty and that we should be conscious of it every day of our lives.
Nearing the finish line by high noon and almost an expert in handling my mountain bike, an unfortunate accident befalls one rider using a folding variety. He was lying by the sidewalk with a severe case of road rash. It happened on the part of the route where it was all downhill and all bikes are accelerating by themselves. A road marshal is on hand to shout out reminders and caution for everybody to slow down. Luckily an ambulance is at hand to give the fallen rider the necessary first aid treatment. Fearing the same will happen to me, I steadily applied a brake to abate my freewheeling. With the finish line in sight, I blew a sigh of relief.
What a great experience this Tour of the Fireflies 2012 was for me. I liken the entire starting to finishing it to being born, learning to walk, becoming comfortable and discovering how wonderful this world we are living in is. By setting your sight in a particular goal, in this case the lead pack of our group, and never letting your sight off it, doing your very best to keep up and when you become too weary, a rest is welcome but for a bit. Then off you must go slowly recovering the lost time and summoning enough courage to overcome fears and diversities. At the end of the day, I stand exhausted but proud that after some hesitation, I finally was able to participate and did my share towards saving the environment. I was lost in this line of thought when suddenly I was brought back to reality by my leader’s command to start moving out and heading home. The journey was not yet over for us. We need to get back home. I need to be home.
Till next Tour of the Fireflies! In costume, well, maybe.