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Leave no trace
by Melanie Marquez

In this age of computer and high tech devices, of virtual games and social networking plus tablets and ipads, any parent or adult will not argue that the popularity of tumbang preso and patintero is one left unheard of by the younger generation. The appeal of physical exertion as a means of recreation is slowly plummeting down the pipe, that’s a fact. "Computer addiction," as it has been acknowledged recently, will only get common and more difficult to avoid as time goes by and society continues into an age of technology. So to ban our children, even our spouse and ourselves, from getting hooked into cyberspace is somehow close to impossible. On the other hand, to increase and improve the appeal of outdoor activities such as travel and sports just to keep our fingers off the keyboard is one that’s doable.

Travel per se is one that does not require an external pull to keep you going. Who wouldn’t want to explore places and meet people? Unlike it however, engaging into outdoor physical sports demands an intrinsic motivation and determination whether one does it as a recreation or a profession.

I have long considered myself lucky to have been born and raised in a city where the line that separates urbanism and ruralism and sophistication and simplicity are indistinct. A city where one can enjoy the hustle and bustle of metropolitan living yet still be one with Mother Nature.

Our beautiful Baguio is sprawled above the mountain peaks of Benguet province at an altitude of approximately 5,000 feet above sea level. This is enough reason for recreational runners like me, to world class athletes like our pound-for-pound champ Manny Pacquiao, to consider it a "training ground."

It is not surprising then why aside from the usual fun runs around the city, Cordillera already hosted two major sports and adventure events this year namely the first International Pilipinas Akyathlon-Skyrunning hosted by the municipality of Itogon, Benguet and a mountain trail bike race dubbed as "Mayhem in Sagada" last February that have drawn both local and international participants. Last April 21 and 22, Baguio and Benguet hosted The North Face 100 Challenge, a much anticipated ultra trail running series in seven Asia Pacific countries with the Philippines at the forefront.

With the popularity of adventure sports like trail running, mountain climbing, and mountain trail bike races getting bigger and better every year here in the Cordilleras, it is not unlikely for nature lovers and environmentalists to raise some concerns on how the beauty of nature at its most natural state is preserved and left unharmed. Good thing, there are "Rules on the run" and "Rules of the trail." Both are principles that foster environmentally sound and socially responsible trail running and trail mountain biking that encompass everyone involved.

In the recently held first Trail Marathon in our country, its race director, Jonel Mendoza of team frontRUNNER, made sure that all competitors and spectators were educated about responsible trail running. They have empowered the community of Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya by hiring locals to man aid stations and serve as marshals along the route and have limited the number of participants that can be safely and comfortably accommodated by the surrounding environment, trails, and facilities.

I, for one, was fortunate to have experienced almost nine hours of intimate solitude with Mother Nature. I knew from the moment I signed up that the only thing that will matter on race day would be the ground and myself. I was wrong. I was captivated with everything that surrounded me all the way up to the summit of Mount Ugo, the second highest peak in Luzon next to Mount Pulag with an elevation of 2,150 meters above sea level.

From the steady drizzling of rain at the onset of the race and gusty winds every now and then that seemed to blow me off my feet, to the enchanting three-kilometer mossy forest of overhead foliage and moss-covered roads that resembled a never-ending passage leading you to a breathtaking open space of bountiful pine trees and other forest plants, it was certainly amazing. Not one but three wild boars greeted me on a single trail track as I descended on one of the trails’ knee-breaking downhill… but fear was momentary as locals with their utmost hospitality and kindness on a nearby aid station made me feel safe and secured.

This experience alone is enough reason for me to uphold the basic and well established principles of "Leave no trace," designed to assist outdoor enthusiasts with their decisions about how to reduce their impacts as a result of their recreational activities to Mother Nature.

In relation to the emerging sports adventure in the Cordilleras, the "Leave no trace" message gives emphasis on disposing of waste properly - pack it in, pack it out; leave what you find - leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them; respect wildlife - observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them; and be considerate of other visitors - respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience, to name a few.

With the topography, rugged terrain, high altitude, and cool climate of our mountainous region and the Department of Tourism carving out an alcove on sports and adventure tourism, it is guaranteed that more racing events will be held here in the Cordilleras.

The inevitable consequences and impact of such events may possibly pose a threat to the preservation of our natural environment. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the probability of causing irreversible harm may be avoided and prevented if everyone involved from the local government unit, the community, organizers, and participants act in accordance with the rules and principles that govern responsible trail running and trail mountain biking.
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