The sun was still about to rise in the calm town of San Juan in La Union but we’re already pedaling for a quick Saturday morning loop. Kha Santia, an entrepreneur we met that day for the first time, would sometimes slow down to chat and ask how we’re doing or tell some fun stories about cycling in this province.
“Masaya mag-bike dito, wala gaanong sasakyan at magaganda ‘yung view. Mag-ingat ka lang minsan kasi may mga nanghahabol na aso,” Kha quipped. “Kung may time kayo, dadalhin ko kayo sa Luna tapos kumain tayo sa favorite kong lomihan.”
True enough, La Union did not disappoint. Biking in this province probably helped Kha to easily fall in love with cycling again. Back in June, after settling down in this province for a month, she told her boyfriend Gab that she wanted to get a bicycle that is more suitable for longer rides and can be versatile in different terrains.
When she moved to this surf town, she brought her old BMX with her which she would use to run errands or in going to places that are within short distance. By coincidence, her boyfriend was planning on biking too so he got her a carbon gravel bike.
“Ngayon naglo-long rides na ako, na-enjoy ko na ‘yung biking. There are times na I have a goal na dapat maka-600 kilometers ako for this month,” she said. With or without any companion, she bikes. “I even ride alone kasi I need some endorphins, happy hormones, everyday kasi siyempre stressed sa Covid.”
Kha is not the type of person who enjoys being at home for a long period of time. That’s why she admitted that the first two months of the community quarantine — where she’s literally stuck at her house — was distressing. Back before the lockdown, she would always be busy going back and forth to her businesses in Metro Manila and doing other active lifestyle activities.
Biking is for her well-being and at the same time a form of relaxation. Among her workout activities, cycling is something that she enjoys because it’s never boring and it gives her the results that she wants.
She emphasized that riding a bike is not just for her physical body but for her mental health as well because she’s always happy when she’s on a bicycle.
“I love taking landscape photos so parang combo siya na for fitness and at the same time, kumukuha ako ng pictures kasi nare-relax ako. Kahit na paulit-ulit ‘yung dinadaanan ko, paulit-ulit ko rin kinukuhaan ng photos,” she said.
Even though she considers herself as new to biking longer rides, this entrepreneur is not new to this two-wheel vehicle. She practically grew up with bikes because her grandfather owned a bicycle parts shop in Iloilo.
She recalled that at the age of four, she’s already sitting on a saddle. Since she was exposed to his grandparent’s store, Kha even managed to learn how to build a BMX. In Visayas, from childhood until college, she would generally always cycle for errands.
“Pagdating ko sa Manila, hindi na ako nag-bike,” she recalled. “Tapos noong naging kami ni Gab, may time na trip niya mag-bike so ininvite niya ako na mag-trail kami. Meron ako noon na Canondale na mountain bike. ‘Yun ‘yung first bike ride ko as an adult.”
The couple would also cycle around Quezon City — inside UP Diliman or the memorial circle —but this activity only lasted for a few months. It was only this pandemic, particularly when they’re in La Union, that both of them rekindled this activity.
When she’s not biking in La Union, Kha commits herself to other fitness activities like going to the gym, playing tennis and swimming, among others. She also supervises her businesses like the La Union branch of her tattoo parlor 55 Tinta and her two restaurants — Bah Bah’s Kouzina and Scallywag R&D Club— that she opened with friends in this community quarantine.
In one of our conversations, Kha would tell us how hard it is to run a tattoo parlor during this pandemic. There were times when they’re not allowed to operate since tattooing involves direct contact with the client. That’s why she decided to invest her money on food businesses because these are essentials that are favored by the pandemic rules.
However, since San Juan in La Union is also a tourism destination, there are times when it can be really difficult, most especially when travel restrictions are in place. But she’s very thankful to the community in surf town because everyone’s helping each other.
“Ang problema lang ay ‘yung borders kapag closed. Malalaman mo talaga ‘yung effect kapag may tourism. Kapag wala, ‘yung mga taga-dito lang din ‘yung mga bumibili at kahit pa-paano, nagtutulungan din kami,” she said.
During our short stay in La Union, we saw how business owners help each other during these trying times. There are plenty of times when we hear restaurant crew members recommending other stores to their customers. Kha would tell us that when they’re free and there’s not much going on in town, she’d bike or do various fun activities with other entrepreneurs.
The sense of camaraderie in the community is very much present in surf town. We don’t have to look far: Kha is one of the most generous and helpful persons that we met here. She’d show us the best places and recommend awesome routes that this province can offer. The entrepreneur also gave her time to connect us with people so we can produce great stories for First Bike Ride.
On our last day in La Union, Kha hosted our final bike ride. We had a 50-kilometer morning trip and she showed us to beautiful places: the incredible man-made forest tunnel in Luna, a delectable buko halo-halo ride in Bacnotan and a quick dip at the beach.
The highlight of that bike ride? We had breakfast at Kitcha’s Eatery and Refreshment in Luna, her favorite lomihan that offers a big bowl for 150 pesos. What a delicious treat.