You know the feeling: an aching squeeze, low and deep in your abdomen, blooming like a heavy flower... And if you don’t know the feeling, and you’re one of those lucky women who’ve never felt menstrual cramps, stay with me. Because a bike tour can bring about some surprising changes to your monthly cycle.
Managing your period in the midst of a bike tour can be tricky. You’re away from home, outside your comfort zone, and possibly camping without running water or laundry facilities. Plus you’re exerting yourself more than usual, with a different diet and/or sleep schedule than normal. These changes in your routine may cause changes in your menstrual cycle.
And yes, I’m speaking from experience: I was once stretched out on a picnic table at a campground for three hours, moaning softly to myself while happier campers moved past me towards the bathrooms. I was holding my gut with both hands, fantasizing about a kind passerby offering me painkillers.
I hadn’t packed any pain meds because I’d honestly never experienced menstrual cramps before. My periods had always been light, three-day affairs that passed so quietly I often forgot to write them on my calendar. So in that first week of my first bike tour, I hadn’t expected my period to hit me like a sledgehammer. I was unprepared.
Thankfully, I’ve never experienced anything quite like that again. And I’ve learned a thing or two, after 7,000 miles of bicycle travel. Here are a few pointers for managing your period on a bike tour:
It’s better to have them and not need them than lie groaning in public without them. Even if you’ve never had severe cramping before, bring some just in case.
Bicycle touring is an intense physical activity, and your body needs time to adjust to it. If you plan to cover some serious miles in the first week, make sure to train adequately beforehand. If you haven’t done much training, then take the first week nice and slow: thirty to forty miles a day (on pavement) is a good start.
Some riders (myself included) experience skipped periods while bicycle touring, because our bodies are adjusting to the new schedule and exercise. (If you’re curious about being sexually active on a bike tour, I’ve got that topic covered in another blog post coming soon!)
Learning to use a new menstrual cup, tampon, or pad in the midst of a bike tour may increase the hassle of dealing with your period. Before you begin your adventure, experiment with some different methods to see which is your favorite.
You’ll want a method that will provide you with a convenient, effective way to catch blood flow while still riding your bicycle. (My personal method of choice is a flexible silicone menstrual cup.)
Bike shorts are a breeding ground for bacteria, and you’ll want to make sure you’re keeping your body clean during menstruation. Packable baby wipes are a great solution to maintaining good hygiene while on a bike tour! And wash those shorts every night, with soap and water.
I hope these tips keep us all riding and smiling throughout our bike tours. As always, listen to your body and respect what it’s telling you. We’re all in this together!