Blood and Trails: Periods while Cycle Touring

Blood and Trails: Periods while Cycle Touring
The thrown-down bike.

There in the rugged Scottish Highlands I dropped down by my bike and sat in the rough terrain, tears spilling onto dirty leggings. Steven stood at a respectful distance, giving me the silent space I needed.

The lands seemed empty but they were actually thriving with life. Sun rays glittered radiant light upon each thirsty plant and organism eager for summer’s joy.

But I felt no joy there, living a dream life with my loving partner. I felt wiped out.

It was the first day of my period, or my bleed, as I prefer to say. A dull ache held my womb space and fury coursed through my veins. I embrace this time of my cycle, feeling every emotion in its vivid presence.

Cycle touring with a period, however, is not easy.

Over the years I have worked with healers and a period coach to relearn my approach to menstruation and heal painful period symptoms. Before I may have seen periods as an inconvenient time of suffering, but I now see them as a sacred ritual and gift to appreciate the beauty of life.

One thing I cherish is taking actual time to rest before and during menstruation. Which isn’t always possible while cycling, as my periods aren’t 100% predictable to the day. Many factors affect the timing, from stress levels to diet and environment.

Enter in the fallen bicycle.

We were out on a remote rocky trail, one used by backpackers on their way to and from Cape Wrath, and the terrain was tough for our heavily-laden yet hardy bikes. These bikes were ready for the rocks, but I wasn’t.

I felt fatigued and zapped of energy, wanting to curl up with a book in a warm corner. The sun was shining, but the winds were relentless and threads of winter still gripped the terrain, even in mid-May. Pedaling over and around large rocks with lots of gear seemed to echo the heavy weight I felt inside my body. This trail had me pushing my bike half the time, and the other half I tried not to fall as my pedals clipped jagged stones.

We did come across a sweet bothy that used to be a schoolhouse and considered staying there, but it was only 1 PM and we were eager to make progress toward Ullapool and our planned stay at a campground.

Steven was having a blast. His inner child was out in full force, delighting in the adventure and wild landscape. Some distant part of me could feel that pleasure too, making me feel even worse for my current state of misery.

Feminine rage is a force we respect.

Too long has the stereotype of the crazy, hormonal woman taken hold of perceptions. We’re here the help dismantle this cruel myth and instead honor the bleed. No matter your gender or how you identify, we are all affected by periods.

For me, bleeding marks a healthy time to grieve and feel the anger of the world in a safe way. My body has released that cycle’s preparation to hold a new life and my intuition says the hormonal shifts leading to sorrow is nature’s way of grieving a new life that could but would not happen. Along with this is the ongoing healing process of living in a world where those who bleed have been systemically oppressed for generations. We hold these memories in our bodies and I see the bleeding phase as I time to shed them with compassion.

This isn't a time to lash out at others or project anger, which is often an unhealthy approach to dealing with the complex feelings of periods. Many of us have either acted this way or been on the receiving end and it doesn't feel good for either party. I believe these incidents happen less if the space for rest and nourishment is mindfully created.

Rest more often.

From Claire Baker I learned the concept of applying seasons to a menstrual cycle. There are four distinct hormonal phases of a cycle and they so happen to align perfectly with the symbolic meaning of nature’s seasons. You can learn about these seasons from Claire's website and take her free course here. Her work is amazing and life-changing, I highly recommend everyone to read her material, regardless of whether you bleed or not. Everyone knows someone who does! Understanding menstrual cycles goes a long way in healing relationships.

For now I’ll mention that the bleeding phase is winter. We are encouraged to act according to the seasons, and this spans out as a greater practice of living in harmony with nature. Winter is a time of rest and rejuvenation. In some places of the world, it’s the darkest and coldest time of the year.

It’s important to honor winter by resting, keeping warm and moving slowly to conserve energy. Bulldozing through the very real physical and emotional shifts creates more pain and stress in the long-run. I’m a big advocate for bleeding people to receive time off work to care for themselves. In the pursuit of equality, we must also recognize the unique experiences of people and give space for what they are living.

Respect the period.

The winter phase of a menstrual cycle is also divinely powerful, a time when we may experience more vibrant dreams, hold greater empathy for the world and shower our loved ones with soulful tears of appreciation. We may feel more intuitive and magical, tapping into the mystery of life.

When I’m not on the bike, I collect my blood and give it back to the Earth at the end of winter through a personal gratitude ritual. This is a new practice that has truly transformed my relationship with periods. I no longer see my blood as waste to join the sewage system or landfill, and the act of burying my blood with prayers gives me a sense of empowerment.

Scenes from a bleed releasing ceremony.

One of the toughest aspects of this journey as a bleeding person has been holding space through each period. So far I’ve had mixed results.

One approach to periods while cycle touring:

Every person has their own approach. Those with menstrual cycles experience a range of sensations; for some it’s a light process, for others it’s ultra intense. There’s no one-size-fits-all rule here.

My own approach is to take some time off cycling, if we can. Ideally we’ll stay at a campground, with a host or at a B&B for a few days.

If that’s not an option, then we plan for shorter riding days.

What about products?

I try to avoid disposable period products at all costs and use a moon cup along with washable pads from . Washing these on the go is not easy, so on a few occasions I have purchased the eco-friendliest pads I could find. The moon cup doesn’t always work well for me while touring, as it requires a toilet facility where you can clean the cup and wash your hands to reinsert it. Squatting behind a tree and trying to manage my moon cup has sometimes turned into literally, a bloody ordeal.

Some people enjoy the convenience of tampons, but for various health and environmental reasons, I’ve opted out of this option long ago.

To others who bleed while cycle touring, how do you care for yourself? (Comment below)

A wave of relief washed through me when I surrendered on the trail. It sang out all the tension and emotions that come with moving through an often turbulent world.

We were a day away from reaching the campground, but my period arrived on her own time and didn’t seem to hear my request to wait until we’d reached Ullapool. It was meant to be.

The wild rocky trail reflected everything I felt inside and in the end, it felt so good to just scream.

Written by Karla Sanders @karlasandersart | Photos by Steven Tiller @steventiller