Get Lost: Sitio Tala

Get Lost: Sitio Tala

We’re pretty lucky to have a set of crazy and adventurous friends. We get invites all the time to ride and explore — and while its seems that it’s easy for us to drop everything on a dime’s notice, the reality is that there’s a lot of planning involved to get our schedules all sync’d up on a weekly basis. Every once in a while though, the stars align, and an invitation that is just too good to pass up comes along at just the right time. 

Enter Alfred Callanta. Doc Fred is a good friend of ours from the Audax PH community, and one of those guys who really embodies the randonneuring spirit. We always get excited whenever he comes knocking cause we know that there will be two of, if not all three things present when we go out for a ride: 1) there will be some mileage and a pretty awesome destination, 2) there will be lots of exploring along the way, and 3) expect the unexpected. 

We love these kinds of rides cause we really get to soak in the whole experience. No one is riding at breakneck speeds, but we’re not exactly lounging around either.

The rhythm of things is something you’d come to expect when riding with randonneurs — the pace of riding is very deliberate, the breaks are managed, but there’s always enough time to scout around and interact with the surroundings. Oh, and the atmosphere on these rides is nothing short of fun and pleasant.

Anyway, Doc Fred sent a picture of Sitio Tala along with the invite to ride it from Clark. We were already familiar with the Clark/Sacobia side of things due to those numerous outreach programs we did with the Fat Bike Philippines gang in the past, but was always interested to see what was beyond that area.

Sitio Tala, with its “Little Baguio” tag, is this new twisty roadway system in Pampanga that cuts thru a mountain range and will connect (we heard) to Zambales sometime in the future.

Its hilly terrain and scenic views have been a great selling point for cyclists willing to venture out, but in all honesty, the road leading there from Sacobia was just as appealing to us as the destination. This invite was a no-brainer, and the date was set.

From the onset, we knew that Sitio Tala was just around 68km away from Clark, but since none of us had been there before, we knew this was gonna be an all-day affair. We love rides where we go into it a bit blind (low intel = nothing is preempted and you get the full experience) — although to be honest, we were also kinda drawn to the area because of a reported 21% climb over who knows how long, so there was already a bit of “dread” coming into the ride.

The roads beyond Sacobia were well-paved and are very much suited for roadies. Sporadic traffic and long stretches of rolling terrain made the ride to Sitio Tala a very smooth and straightforward experience, much to the chagrin of the guy (who could that be?) who rode it on semi-knobby 43c tires expecting there would be some form of off-road action. 

Anyone passing the Cojuangco Ave bypass to San Jose will immediately get a taste of what to expect from Sitio Tala. Small rural houses and establishments slowly make way to more open streets and picturesque vistas — giving everyone tons of photo opportunities along the way. There was just so much open space the further we went up north. 

So now we get to the question on everyone’s mind: so how tough was the Sitio Tala climb? Well to be candid, it was quite manageable. We were talking about it after and we think that the 21% tag that was being spread around may be a bit overinflated. Don’t get me wrong, the climb to the top was tough! In fact, there were three 17% inclines in that 2-3km climb — with your recovery areas still at 6-8%, so it was not a walk in the park! Maybe a 11-34 or 36 at the back instead of a 32 would’ve made it easier, but still not bad given the choice of wheels that day (the Rock N Roads are somewhere in the 500+g range per tire, so it was an egg-laying session up that hill). To be honest, the heat was the one that really made things harder. You’re fully exposed when you climb up that sucka, and if you get to the base of the climb proper just before noon, well, you’d be laying eggs up that climb too!
route to sitio tala 

So is a trip out to those parts worth it? Yeah, we think so. The roads were great, and there were barely any cars around the area — making it perfect for cyclists. There’s a waterfall area somewhere up the climb which will definitely draw more people out there as well. Too bad we didn’t get to go and see it, but then again this was a recon ride of the general area, and we had to get back before sundown. We heard though that the road after the climb loops back to the Monasterio area so we may get another crack at it soon enough.

If you get the chance to ride it, we’d say go for it. It’s a fun and challenging ride with a lot of points of interest along the way — and it's definitely a nice contrast to riding in Metro Manila and the surrounding cities.

We’d actually love to try the route again when its overcast or raining, cause if there was anything to dread about this ride, then that would be the heat more than anything else (the maximum temperature that day was a whopping 45C or 113F, and it also didn’t help that there weren’t many trees or shaded areas along the route).

group photo at peak

All in all, it was a fun first pass of the area. We actually are excited to see where the road connects to (wouldn’t it be nice if this cuts through all the way to Iba in Zambales). Let's see if we can gather a few other crazy people to ride with us back to the area and beyond… but for now we'll leave things at that. Til the next OK adventure!

— Cyril

PS: Oh, and on your trip back to Clark (or wherever) don’t forget to pass by Cafe Bakir before heading back into the main road. You’d definitely want to charge up there as they have a pretty decent selection of food, coffee, and other drinks you wouldn’t expect from the area (Boba Milk Tea anyone?). From here, you now have the choice of doubling back and going thru some rolling terrain again, or you can go the longer flatter route of Tarlac and MacArthur Highway.