Good Day gentle readers and welcome to the fourth installment of the Tour Bikers Guide for Filthy Casuals series! This post is about my experience as a female person out on the road. While of course I cannot speak for all vagina-having folks, there are some things I wish I had known about before hand (mostly about the toll extended trips took on my body) and some assumptions I would like to dispel. So let us begin!
There is some harm that can be done to the female anatomy through constant long-distance riding. There were things I prepared for and things I never thought I would encounter. But I have suffered so that others may not. Here are the things I have learned:
- Visit your gynecologist before you leave: I personally am prone to saddle sores. Saddle sores are pretty much just painful friction blisters on irritated, sensitive skin on your inner thighs near the crease. I discovered this during my time commuting in Portland and it will become clear if you suffer the same affliction during your training rides. I went to my gynecologist to ask her what can be done. She gave me a steroid cream to use in emergencies and yessir I used it. Everyone is different, but if you know you are prone to skin infections or have sensitive skin, I highly recommend bringing it up with you doctor before the trip.
- Take time to air the hell out: This is pretty self explanatory. You will be wearing spandex all day. Find a campsite with some privacy, or get a 2 person hammock (so the fabric folds over you a bit) and make sure to get dry.
- Rinse your chamois: I had to do this every night. No one knows your body better than you, but as I have said before I am queen of sensitive skin. I rinsed my chamois, used some wilderness wash if the day had been hot or especially strenuous and then bungee cord it to the top of my bundle to dry in the sun during the next day. Make sure you have 2 pairs of shorts so you can alternate while the other dries.
- Plan for your period: I am not the best at remembering when it will happen. But I also know the horror of feeling the blood seep into my chamois when all my tampons are at the bottom of my bundle and we won’t go through another town for the next 50 miles. Make sure you know where your supplies are because if you are like me if you don’t plan they will be in the least convenient place. Also the toilet paper tricks I use when I don’t have supplies within reach are SUPREMELY uncomfortable on a bike seat and I wouldn’t recommend improvising in that way.
- Stockpile your favorite products: I am a fan of the OB tampons. No applicator, minimal packaging, after these sleek and easies all the tampax look intensely wasteful. While I know I should have just bitten the bullet and bought a divacup if I really care about my carbon cooch-print but hey, one new thing at a time for this delicate flower. My favorites are not exactly widely available in the gas stations and general stores of the American West. If you are attached to a product, make a mental note to take inventory every time you get to a full blown grocery or pharmacy. Believe me, they will not be around when you need them.
- TUCK YOUR TAMPON STRING BACK INSTEAD OF FORWARD: I am not sorry for the graphic nature of this advice. The chaffing is unbelievable. I learned the hard way and I do not wish that on any other human on the goddess’s green earth. Please friends, take heed, save yourselves.
- Do not be coy about your needs: If you are riding in a group you may need to steer the conversation on rest days and campsites at points. There were days I really needed a shower, or REALLY needed to do laundry, or was just plain sore and wanted a day to rest before slinging myself back into that saddle. I was lucky enough to be with my partner of 5 years and feel comfortable already asserting my anatomical needs. But even if you are with a group of strangers, your physical needs are as important as anyone else’s and should be taken as seriously. Also you are not doing yourself any favors by not listening to your body. If it was a clicking joint or a pain in your muscle you would stop to fix it, wouldn’t you?
Helplessness and the Fact that You Are Not
Many people I told about the trip were fearful for my safety. They did fear for Joey too, but the way that they talked to me I was made to understand that I was lucky to have a partner (most were careful not to say MAN) to watch out for me on the road. Now, I do not deny that the world is a dangerous place. People are murdered every day. But statistically you will not be one of them. In the wake of the attacks on Camino del Santiago, the world famous pilgrimage trail in Spain, many folks feel it is their duty to warn female outdoors enthusiasts of the dangers of the world around us and the target we wear on our backs. Not only do I find that pedantic and condescending I would invite all women to go into the outdoors with the same mindset with which we walk down the street. For me (and I am sure many others) that mindset includes some sad truths; mistrust of strangers, constant attention to movements around us, and a vigilance for personal safety. There is no reason to stay inside and hide away or forgo empowering outdoor experience because of a threat of violence. The fact is we as women face that threat everyday. The reason I feel comfortable with that assertion is because women are more likely to be attacked or killed by an intimate partner or family member than by a stranger, in this country and around the world.
Knowing that you are just as likely to experience violence on the road as safe in your bed, why not get out there and reclaim your body for another purpose. Biking makes you strong. For me it was not only my herculean quads and calves that pedaling chiseled from the marble of my body throughout the trip. While those physical reminders that I could probably put my foot through a tail light no problem are reassuring, it was the mental strength that I gained through the trip that has stuck with me more. Before we left on the trip I had a job where I was respected and held responsibility, I was the lease holder of a house and sublet a room to people twice my age and I have been master of my own destiny so to speak for years now (this is something new for me as I am a recent college grad). Why then, did it take a 90 day 3,300 mile trip to make me feel like I owned my own body? The feeling of ownership came from seeing my body as a tool. I have seen it as a vessel of my soul, as an object of other people’s gaze and an expression of my identity but to see it as a powerful tool to move over the land one tire rotation at a time was something new to me. Not all women feel as I do, not all women need these extreme experiences to come to grips with the power of their physical self. But as I have aged I have learned not to be so naive as to think myself unique. If I feel this way, there must be thousands or millions of women raised by the same society, in similar environments, receiving the same messages and coming to parallel conclusions. To those women out there I say knowledge of your power is power.
When you know your rig backward and forward, when you have navigated yourself over mountains under your own power, and when you have met as many strong, ridiculous female solo bike tourers as we did on this trip, you know that the only thing that matters is where you are going next. The continuation, the route, the plan, and the miles behind you give you power that I hope no womyn in the world are scared to hold. And there are some great role models out there to look to. For example, the Trans Am bike race was won by a woman named Lael Wilcox this year by a margin of TWO FULL HOURS. This is not a sport where women and men are separated. They compete together and women often win. It doesn’t have to be about winning but for the world to accept a sport in which both women and men compete, and the women win, is a beautiful thing in my eyes.
So the moral of my story here is that going out into the world under your own power is a wondrous thing. When you tell people of your plan, brace yourself for the naysayers. But when they are finished telling you about the capabilities of your body, the risk of your life, and your incapability of keeping yourself safe, politely smile and nod as we all have been taught and then do whatever the fuck you want.