Last weekend, I played hooky for a couple of extra days to participate in The Pilgrimage ride on Vancouver Island. Between 55 and 60 riders participated in this event for women riders and we all had a grand time. The event began with a kick-off party at Wheelies in Victoria the night before. The following morning, we all departed from Island Motorcycle Co in Langford (just north of Victoria, BC) to follow the route planned for us. While it was a large group, it was not a “group” ride where everyone stuck together. We simply all left from one location and ended at another for the night.
The Pilgrimage was the brainchild of Chris, who wanted to invite a group of female riders to experience nature, look within themselves for empowerment, and discover peace, hopefully taking that feeling back with them into their daily lives. Mission accomplished. The ride set the tone and the group of women that came together for it were the most amazing, grounded, and drama-free women I have ever met.
Chris went above and beyond to give us a unique experience and make sure the riders knew what was up. The pragmatic part was taken care of by providing us with a detailed map containing instructions on how to get where we were going, emergency contact information and the times we could reasonably be expected to arrive at each stop. Proceeds from the ride were donated to Victoria’s Women In Need organization – a community cooperative that supports women on their journey to self-sufficiency and wellness.
The spiritual part was begun by Chris offering one of her family traditions – a mugwort smudging for spiritual protection, and to open us to healing, intuition and the experiences awaiting us on our journey.
Along our route were 4 refugios – places of beauty for us to take a break and contemplate. Our contemplation was encouraged with personalized notes to look inward, take in the positive and release what no longer serves us.
The first of these stops was the Sheringham Lighthouse, located in Shirley, BC. This area of the Juan de Fuca Strait was known as “The Graveyard of the Pacific”, and so the lighthouse was constructed to guide ships safely through the strait and help shipwrecked mariners to shore. A short trail runs from the parking lot down to the lighthouse to reward you with the picturesque lighthouse set against a breathtaking view. The lighthouse was completely decommissioned in 2010 and the site is currently maintained by the Sheringham Point Lighthouse Preservation Society. All riders were presented with a small collection of blossoms. Our task at this refugio was to stroll down to the lighthouse and consider what we ought to let go of from our life and scatter the blossoms to the wind and ocean.
Making our way back up the path, it was a short trip to the 2nd refugio at French Beach. French Beach is a beautiful location with a wide expanse of round, tumbled stones, driftwood, and the peace of trees and ocean. Here we were given a small, biodegradable bottle with a piece of paper in it and invited to send a message to the world with that which we want to call into our life. Taking a moment to think about what should go out to the world on this tiny piece of paper gives one pause to consider what is really important in life and those things that are simply superfluous. For me, much of this was reinforced with the loss of my sister, Tracey, last year. I thought of her here and felt my heart beat a little harder as I called her memory and energy to mind.
An hour more along the road and it was time for lunch at the 3rd refugio – Bridgemans West Coast Eatery in Port Renfrew. Set on the edge of the ocean, it was a beautiful place to refuel both body and mind. The parking lot was reserved for us and it was quite the collection of motorbikes assembled as their owners had a break and lunch! I don’t know what the regular daily patrons thought about 55+ women bikers descending on their local haunt, but I also noticed that it didn't concern any of us very much! 😊
With every one re-fuelled, including bikes, riders set off again in ones and twos and threes, for the 4th refugio. Our next visit was to the Harris Creek Sitka Spruce along the Pacific Marine Road to Lake Cowichan. At this stop, we were presented with a small bottle of water, with instructions NOT to drink it, but to carry it with us to the last stop. Another personal message also awaited us, with an invitation to take some time to connect with nature and open ourselves to its wisdom. A feeling of peace descends on you the moment you set foot on the short trail to the Sitka spruce. The 200-year old tree itself is awe-inspiring, at 80+ meters wide and so tall you can’t see the top. Gazing up its massive trunk, with the light filtering through its moss-covered branches, a sense of sagacity and peace overcomes you. One can’t help but gain perspective over the insignificant things we allow to upset our daily lives.
Being the last rider out of the lot at each stop, (that was my teeny, tiny little contribution – to sweep the group and try to ensure no one was left behind), I often felt like I had the beautiful, curvy Pacific Marine Hwy to myself. Being the last to arrive at the Sanctuary, I was soon infected with the feeling of comraderie and accomplishment from the group. Here, we were handed a final package and asked to water the huge maple sheltering our site with our little bottle of water, and give thought to our journey.
Our campsite was set out in the trees with a river nearby to cool off in, a campfire circle to bond in and a large open facility for tents and bikes. Not being overburdened with a love of tent camping, I was grateful to have booked a bunk in the bunkhouse. After dinner, we were all called to the campfire and welcomed by Kathryn – an elder from the local band – and her daughter, wishing us good fortune and companionship.
Chris had assembled guitars and a karaoke machine, along with enough cider and beer to get us goofed but not stupid, and the festivities began! Chris had assembled a dizzying array of door prizes, which she handed out under varying criteria – name drawn, citizenship, and trivia questions. I think my favourite was the t-shirts and Canada headbands she gave to the Americans in the group, then making them go around the circle and shake hands and say “Sorry” to everyone. 😊
We played campfire games, sang a couple of campfire songs, did a whole lot of karaoke, and generally laughed, bonded and got silly. Some of the bleary eyes next morning gave testament to the shenanigans of the night before, but everyone was up, looking for coffee and packing up camp. Chris had arranged for the Red Arrow Brewery in Duncan to open early for us to descend on them for breakfast.
The Red Arrow Brewery is full of character. The food truck outside made great breakfast sandwiches and while the details escape me, I think I’m correct in saying the building houses a replica of an old Harley Davidson motorcycle shop that was eventually sold to the brewery. They have kept the nostalgia of the old shop in their décor, making it a unique and tasty way to end our pilgrimage! No one was in a hurry to “eat and run”, but eventually we all parted and went our various ways.
There were many entreaties by the participants for Chris to make this an annual event, but I may make myself unpopular by saying I’m not sure it should be. Sometimes, when something is “annual”, the special quality of it is lost. People become immune to the intent and charm. Instead, perhaps someone else should pick up the baton and organize a visit to a place that is meaningful to them. Or perhaps I’m just in awe of Chris’s accomplishment and cower from the time and energy it takes to hold a candle to this event. From the organization of creating and signing the route, the personal messages for every single participant, the camp activities, the t-shirts designed and produced by Aileen Penner, door prizes, sponsors, the photography and videography (perhaps we should be worried…?) to the final wrap up – every detail was addressed and then some. Many, many of Chris’ friends volunteered their help at the refugios and the camp, from time to donations and though I may not know or remember your names, thank you for making this such a memorable event.
Ultimately, I am restored to see the fellowship among women riders that has blossomed and will continue to grow under the influence of The Pilgrimage. The photos and stories posted by various participants demonstrate the success of this time spent together. Well done, all. You rock!!
P.S. Thanks so very much to Christina Jan Zen and Renae Green Richardson for letting me poach some of their photos from the weekend! Big XO!