Preparing for the Pilgrimage

I was asked to write something about preparing for the Pilgrimage, particularly for first timers. Commonly, people want to know how difficult the ride is, how much to train, what kind of bike to ride, what and how much to bring on the ride.

First, I think it’s important to look at the Pilgrimage as not just a two-day event at the end of September, but a culmination of year-round Right Effort. Even as you read this, there are people working to make it happen. Without volunteering for any specific task or responsibility, the best thing a participant can do is simply to bring good energy to the Pilgrimage. How, besides just showing up with a smile on ride day…by coming to our events and practice rides!

The rides are designed to gradually bring you up to speed over the next few months. Along the way, you will find exactly the answers to some of the above questions. These rides provide you the opportunity to test your limits, to get to know yourself as a cyclist, and to meet other folks trying to do the same thing. The latter is very important, as you’ll soon find that we become each other’s best resource. There’s a lot of knowledge and experience among participants that’s readily available for all to share. By the time you do the actual Pilgrimage, you will have become more self-reliant and more capable of helping others. More than training for physical performance, the rides provide opportunities for enhancing our practice and becoming a community (of good energy!)

As to the more practical matters of what to bring, traveling light is a concept that I like a lot. I don’t like to carry a lot of baggage with me – neither the kind that fills panniers nor that “other kind.” Both make the going slow and heavy. There’s beauty in economy of consumption and expenditure. I’m not trying to promote some kind of Spartan machismo. Obviously, there are basic needs and no one wants to be so under-equipped as to become a burden on the Pilgrimage. It’s just that, when trying to figure out what to bring, I prefer to be driven by real need rather than anxiety. And I want to maintain a feeling of gratitude for all resources – food, water, air, muscles, bones, fortitude, perseverance, faith, community.

With that in mind, here then is a basic run-down.

Bicycle preparation

Now is the time to get your bike tuned up and road worthy. Advice and help is always available from fellow pilgrims – on the practice rides and on our website, where we will be posting clinics for road-side tire changing, minor bike tune-ups and maintenance. If questions come up outside of those times, just “contact us.” Other than that, bike shops are the places to go for service and to support small, independent, local business. If you need to get a new bike, do it ASAP, as you need time for your body and mind to get accustomed to it and to make adjustments to the bike. Some issues won’t show up till you’ve put in the miles. Find a bike shop that offers quality bike-fitting – very important! Help is also available from fellow pilgrims in choosing a bike. Train on the same bike that you plan to ride on for the Pilgrimage. A road bike is ideal, but people have done the ride on mountain bikes with a few adjustments made for road riding.

What to bring on a ride

a) For the bike

  1. Spare tube(s) – make sure it’s the right size for your tire. It’s always a good idea, when you get a new tube, to carefully unroll it (in a way that you can re-roll it so it’s compact) and lightly dust it with talcum powder. This allows it to seat better inside the tire and lessen the likelihood of pinching, which could cause leakage or blow-outs.
  2. Tire levers (2, minimum) and inflators – either CO2 cartridges with dispenser or a pump. I like the CO2 dispensers because they are compact. Mini-pumps are inefficient, while full length pumps are hard to carry.
  3. Tire patch kit. Road-side tire fixing requires some skill and experience but you can always get someone to help you if need be! A kit is a good back-up supply, as they are very small, light and easy to carry.
  4. Water. For a supported ride like the Pilgrimage, two bottles should be sufficient. Check to make sure your bottle cages are secure. The bolts have a tendency to come loose if they weren’t properly tightened in the first place. Use the new, eco-safe bottles. The old plastic ones are not healthy. Aluminum bottles are good health-wise but they rattle on the bike and you can’t squeeze them for a fast drink.
  5. Racks, bags. Unless you are totally accustomed to riding with these, I would advise against them, as they not only add unnecessary weight and wind resistance but upset the balance and handling of the bike. This is particularly true of anything added to the handlebars. Again, on a supported ride, a “Camelbak” kind of hydration pack provides ample space for carrying tire-related tools, a few extra energy bars… or even a light, packable windbreaker.

b) For the body

  1. HELMET! An absolute must.
  2. The Pilgrimage goes through pre-dawn temperatures (low 40s) of the valley to high noon temperatures (have been known to reach triple digits) on unshaded roads. Wear layers, arm and leg warmers – things you can take off as the ride progresses. Bring an easily compactable plastic bag labeled with your name so that you can put your discarded clothing items in it and hand over to the SAG truck at rest stops.
    Clothing should be comfortable, warm or cool as appropriate, but not too bulky, be efficient in moisture dispersal, and afford high visibility to motorists – in other words, cycling specific clothes. Gloves are good not only for comfort and support but for protection in case of a fall. If you don’t use cleated shoes, any non-cycling shoes should minimally have fairly stiff soles to transfer your energy into the pedals. Padded shorts/tights offer comfort and support, make a big difference on a long ride.
  3. sun screen, insect repellent(?), chamois cream (recommended, but not essential) and any required prescription medication.
  4. Nutrition – The Pilgrimage provides food and liquids but it’s always a good idea to carry a little back-up of your own. Energy bars are good – I prefer “real, normal” food, water or sports drinks, electrolyte replacement pills if you drink only water. For more comprehensive information, consult a health and nutrition expert.

c)  Sitting and being comfortable…

  1.  If you don’t want to sit on the ground or be uncomfortable, you can bring a small camping stool or light weight chair to sit on.  You can put it on our truck at the starting point.  It will be transported along the route along with your luggage. This could be used for Dharma talks, meditations or a place to sit that’s more comfortable for you.

d)  Other things to have with you

  1. money for emergencies, include cash for places that don’t accept credit cards.
  2. emergency contact, medical and health care information.
  3. cell phone, though service is not always available on the route.
  4. Right Attitude

See you on the next ride! — Leon