Dr. Frazier: The Missing Link

May 17, 2012
Dr. Gregory Frazier
Dr. Gregory Frazier
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Having made multiple runs across the globe, round-the-world adventurer Dr. Frazier imparts some of his motorcycle traveling wisdom in his monthly Dr. Frazier Rides column.

Dry  hard and easy to navigate when dry  this was part of the main road.
A run through the jungle. Dr. G. found adventure aplenty in the Philippine countryside.

Failed adventures are not notched on an adventurer’s gun, and make for poor subjects during bragging rights sessions around a campfire. One that kept surfacing on my cranial hard drive during these swill and chill sessions was my Missing Link Adventure on the island of Mindoro in the Philippines.

The failure was not an adventurist breaker. I had made some simple mistakes. The largest was to attempt to circle Mindoro during a time of the year when mudslides and wet jungle tracks made the road nearly impassible. Not impassable on a small motorcycle, one in the 100 cc -175 cc category that I could have used. Impassible on the 750 cc Yamaha Tenere I had chosen. It was too big for me to push, pull, or slide over the first washout I confronted. Even with the help of several car owners who were also stopped at the steep and slippery section, we realized my attempt to circle the island was over unless I, like them, had several days to wait for a bulldozer to arrive and plow a new track.

Home  www.nice-bike.com  of a solid fleet of rental motorcycles  I was welcomed back for another adventure in the Philippines.
Nice Bike is the home of a solid fleet of rental motorcycles, I was welcomed back for another adventure in the Philippines.

It was with great reluctance that I tossed in the towel, turned around and drove the pavement back to my start point and returned to the mainland of the Philippines. There were to be no bragging rights about circling Mindoro when other adventurists and I reached the lower level of accomplished globetrotting minutia. I had only managed to make it halfway around Mindoro, an accomplished half tall-tale.

The remaining half link of Mindoro popped onto my radar screen when I saw an incredibly cheap ad for round trip airfare from Bangkok to Clark International Airport in Angeles City. The ad was the hook, and the bait was a chance to complete the other half of the Mindoro circle. If successful I would have a tall-tale to trade, having connected the missing link in my planned circle route.

Arriving in Angeles City at 4:00 AM knocked out the first day of adventure, unless adventure sleeping in my hotel qualifies as an adventure.

I had been to Angeles City several times and had a favorite motorcycle rental company, Nice Bike (www.nice-bike.com), which had treated me well all previous times. Owners Tess and Rolando had a 600 cc motorcycle waiting for me for $25.00 USD per day. I attached the accessories I had carried with me as luggage, made a few test rides, pasted some stickers on and left for the ugliness of passing through Manila to the ferry boat at Batangas. To cut out hours of smog riding through Manila I could take the expressway and toll roads, closed to motorcycles smaller than 400 cc.

Several hours later I came off the ferryboat at Calapan and stayed in a comfortable hotel for $35.00 on the water front. A reasonable seafood meal washed down with local swill saw me adventure sleeping by 10:00 PM.

Tricycle taxis outnumbered cars  buses and trucks as local means of transportation on Mindoro.
Tricycle taxis outnumbered cars, buses and trucks as local means of transportation on Mindoro.

On my earlier attempt to circle Mindoro the ferry boat dropped me north of Puerto Galera so I rode north to that touch point near Talipanan, then started my second attempt to go south along the west coast to San Jose, then north along the east coast to Abra de Ilog. Some maps lied, showing a road around the top of the island, however locals said it had been planned but never built. To complete my missing link I would have to reach the ferry terminal at Abra de Ilog and then ferry back to my start point of Batangas.

The road south was much better than I remembered, with more buses and cars, but mostly motorbikes and three wheel tricycles. The tricycles were attached to 175 cc or smaller motorcycles and as decorated as the famed Philippine jeepneys. The tricycles were used as family cars, taxis and delivery vehicles, oftentimes outnumbering oncoming cars, trucks and buses 50 to 1.

My previous failure to circle Mindoro had ended near San Jose. This time the road was in much better condition and I had missed the rainy season. The few evening and afternoon rains soon evaporated off the road and dry pavement was making my adventure little more than a nice ride around the island.

Just when I was feeling foolish at having turned back on my earlier attempt the road started to deteriorate from pavement to construction. Sections of the road were only half paved and I saw numerous signs saying the road was being upgraded by the President; political signs obviously meant to sway those reading them.

The 666 painted on the road sign was a serious warning.  When wet this section would have been slip and fall going up or down.
The 666 painted on the road sign was a serious warning.  When wet this section would have been trecherous.

After Stanta Cruz I came to an ugly downhill dirt section that had the numbers 666 graffitied on a road sign. As I used a dead engine to slow my speed down the next quarter mile I realized that had the road been wet I would have been down. At the bottom the road became pavement again, but the 666 warning was reflective of what the section could have been if even moist.

A few more sections of construction, gravel and hard pan brought me into Mambupao. With less than 30 miles to the ferry boat and 2-3 hours before dark it was time to press the Luck button and try to connect with the last ferry boat back to Batangas where I knew I could find a room for the night versus not having seen any hotels that looked inviting.

Luck paid off. A rather dilapidated ferry was soon to depart and promised a reasonable time to Batangas. I paid my port fee and then ferry ticket.

Of the hundreds of ferry boats I had used over the past 40-50 years this was the most memorable. The loading was from the rear, a wide metal ramp lowered onto the dock. The ramp was at an odd angle to the cement dock, leaving a space of nearly half a foot. This space was filled by rope the boat crew put down making a slight incline up to the ramp.

I walked over to the ramp and was surprised to see it rise and fall nearly three feet as waves raised and lowered the ferry boat. The waves would hit the dock wall, splash upwards onto the metal ramp, which was covered with oil and diesel fuel. A test of the ramp by walking on it found me slipping and sliding.

A wave would lift the ramp nearly three feet off the dock at times  and two feet above the rope.
A wave would lift the ramp nearly three feet off the dock at times, and two feet above the rope.

I felt I could keep the motorcycle upright on the slippery metal ramp with both feet down but was unsure about the timing of the waves that lifted the ramp high into the air. While I was studying the ups and downs of the ramp a worker came over to me and started asking about the motorcycle, where I was from and how much the motorcycle cost. While we traded small talk I was debating in my mind whether I should him if he would spot me as I drove onto the moving ramp.

I swallowed my ego and said, “How about some help when I drive on?”

He said “Yes, happy to,” and took out his cell phone.

I thought he was going to call some friends to assist.

Before I could ask when they would arrive, the boss in charge of loading the vehicles yelled at me and waved that it was my turn to drive on. I cringed, then got on the motorcycle, kicked the side stand up, started the engine and crept in first gear to the ropes on the dock.

Looking for my helper I saw he was 20-30 feet behind me, holding his cell phone in my direction. I tried to wave him forward for help but he just smiled and waved back. My guess was he thought when I was asking him for help he thought I meant help in taking a photograph.

The loading boss was yelling at me again, to hurry up. Trucks were lining up behind me.

I tried to time the ups and downs of the ramp, counting the seconds that the ramp was flush with the ropes and making the ride onto the ramp possible. Either my brain was not accurately computing the seconds or luck had tossed a spare wave into the equation.

Only 400cc displacement motorcycles are allowed on the time saving super highways and toll roads.  The savings in time and hassle were well worth the extra money for the larger motorcycle.
Only 400cc displacement motorcycles are allowed on the time saving super highways and toll roads. The savings in time and hassle were well worth the extra money for the larger motorcycle.

I managed to get the front wheel on to the metal ramp, the engine just above the lip. Then the errant or miscalculated wave lifted the front wheel up off the ramp and my feet were airborne. The front immediately washed out on the slippery metal ramp when it came down a second or two later.

Down I went, on the left side. Pinned under the motorcycle I felt it lift up again as the next wave came in and then dropped it back down on my leg.

I remember yelling colorful four-letter words while this was happening. I may have started yelling them when the first wave lifted the front wheel up, and possibly was still yelling some as truckers and dock workers rushed to help me.

We righted the motorcycle and I found no broken bones in my left leg as I stood up. While the ramp was still going up and down the helpers were holding the motorcycle for me to remount and continue my ride down the ramp into the equally slippery metal belly of the boat.

At this point, this purportedly hard core motorcycle adventurist had a chance to be a man or mouse. A manly adventure rider would throw a leg over the seat, twist the throttle to the stop and burn rubber down the ramp, possibly doing a circle with plumes of smoke once on the flat.

Call me Adventure Mouse. I waved more workers over and we walked the motorcycle down the ramp, slipping and sliding as we did. I even asked for two of my helpers to hold the motorcycle upright while I toed the side stand down.

The ferry boat to Batangas was to be the last section of the Mindoro Missing Link  and the beginning of a memorable adventure for me.
The ferry boat to Batangas was to be the last section of the Mindoro Missing Link, and the beginning of a memorable adventure for me.

As the ferry boat plowed through the Verde Island Passage to the port at Batangas, I had nearly three hours to replay in my mind the adventure around the island of Mindoro over the previous days. On my cranial screen were some spectacular roads and scenery, numerous friendly people, an array of colorful motorcycles and tricycles, memorable meals, some bad sections of roads, a few accidents and the empty beaches and jungle roads. A flat tire was made memorable by the fixer being more excited by the sticker I gave him than the $1.00 he charged me. And then there was the knowledge that I had finally completed the missing link, connecting the lines on my map that had doubled back on the previous trip.

The off loading of the ferry boat at the dock in Batangas was uneventful, the ramp making a smooth connection with the dock. This time I left no memorable event for truckers and dock workers to laugh about in the coming days, weeks or months, the one about the motorcyclist falling down.

It was late when I found a room with secure parking for the night. Street vendors were still selling food but I chose The Golden Arches because it had air conditioning and a security guard who happily stood guard with his shotgun next to my motorcycle while I dined on the world famous fare offered in the form of a Big Mac, fries and a cola.

While ordering, the memory of my ferry boat crash kept flashing on my gray matter screen. It was not the severity of the get-off that kept flashing On and Off while my order was being taken, it was the embarrassment. I felt I had let my hardened fraternity of adventurists down, not by crashing, but by gently mousing my motorcycle down the ramp and asking for help to park it.

The cashier asked me if there was anything else I would like with my order. I wanted to laugh and say, “A set of adventure testicles,” but instead presented a mousy smile and said, “Yes, could you make that Big Mac with triple cheese.”

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