Night ride

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By Gary Covington

Looking In

Monday, December 16, 2013


FRIDAY last I took part in the Padyak Para sa Leyte bicycle ride in aid of Yolanda victims - exercise and entertainment rolled into one.

The off was at 7 p. m. from downtown's Rizal Park - I hung back, ashamed of my Chinese Cheapo of a bike with its seriously uncool panniers, tagging onto the rear of a trundling bunch as it pedaled past the LTO and up the Bolton Bridge incline. Trundle it was too - over the river I found myself in the middle of the pack and coasting down to a green light at the Sandawa junction. Sod's Law, the lights changed. I eased up to the white line only to hear 'Go, go, go' from the rear as, legs pumping, hi-viz lights flashing, near enough 100 riders crashed the red light, brushing aside the on-duty green shirt who wore the sort of expression I imagine the Romans wore spying Atilla's horde coming over the hill.

Halted at the red I pursed my lips and tut-tutted. Is there any reason why bicyclists, even on an organized ride, should feel free to ignore the rules of the road? We habitually castigate jeepneys and taxis for driving like loons, government officials insisting on their right of way, and yet... Friday's ride was a 'fun' ride, not a race, no excuse; it should have respected the highway code.

Approaching Ecoland SM Mall I caught up with the still trundling bunch and on that long uphill section to the McArthur junction - six lanes wide - made my way to the front, a couple of marshals and a motorcycle greenshirt setting the pace. For years now meandering around Davao and Samal, keeping myself company, I've been a solitary cyclist and felt keenly uncomfortable in Friday's pack - regimented if you like - gone was the freedom of bicycling, the freedom to cycle off where you like, when you like and at what speed suits you. I broke away.

The coast down past Venee's Hotel is glorious - all the traffic on the other side southbound - and the long stretch of McArthur as far as Sandawa junction a bicyclist's paradise. Everyday bikers will have worked out the traffic light sequencing and it's possible to bicycle the entire stretch, measuring your pace, without touching the brakes. You'll see motorcycles and cars scream off at the green, maximum revs, maximum pollution, only to halt at the next red. Idiots. Magallanes is fun too - smooth, not much traffic at that time of night, vehicular or pedestrian - until you hit the barbecue smog of Bolton. Ignore the ukay-ukay piled up on folding beds, sweep around Osmena Park corner and Claveria is wide and empty.

It's now 7:30-ish and the northbound human tide is sardining into jeepneys - literally a tide outside of Bajada Gaisano Mall as folks lap further and further out into the highway until PUJs have no option but to stop any-old-how completely blocking the road. Greenshirts whistle ineffectively, bicyclists weave through the traffic, the light's on green. At the Torres Street crossing two streams of traffic merge into one, the volume picks up, concentration's required when - a startling blast of white light from the side. You flinch, glancing. It's a high-density LED billboard mounted one floor up on the side of the Sychar Hotel at the corner of Inigo Street. An ad is playing, colors and patterns, then a strobe of white light like a gigantic camera flash. There's another LED billboard further on in the grounds of the Bajada Redemptorist Church, the good fathers making a buck out of the material world.

Victoria Plaza, Abreeza, duck up the side of the flyover, tree-lined Dakudao, Trading Boulevard, all smooth until the lower reaches of Magsaysay - more ukay-ukay heaped on more fold-up beds; lesson learned, quick to pack up and flee if the sidewalk-clearing truck appears. Rippled Magsaysay could do with ironing, the nuggety asphalt of Reyes relaying entirely, a bumpy ride for bicyclists, RHS the best. Rizal Park again and the finish line. At a steady pedal I'd covered the 20 kilometers in 75 minutes. There's life in the old dog yet!

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on December 17, 2013.

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