Guest Post by Rosie Sheb’a
From March to June, 2015, seven women from Sustainable Cycles rode across America to give workshops on reusable menstrual products, break menstrual taboos and stigmas, and present what they learned on the journey at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, held June 4-6, 2015, in Boston. They carried their own food, camping gear and rode roughly 70 miles per day. One of those young women, Australian Rosie Sheb’a, wrote a book about her experiences on this cycling tour. The following is an excerpt from her ebook—Cups, Bikes and Friendly Strangers: A “Cycling” Journey Across America—now available on Kindle.
10th April 2015, Ride Day 4: 105 km
We wake up to rain. Lots of it. And it’s cold. We cover 25 miles (40km) without a break, and it’s my longest single stint so far. We stop for a snack and to warm up in a very Southern town. I have my first taste of fried chicken. At least it’s hot! We ride another 25 miles through more rain along a highway that’s under construction, and we get covered in mud. Trucks are whizzing past, and I’m feeling pretty rotten. I start getting cramps, and realise I’m about to do my first ‘road test’ of my menstrual cup. I stop to pee by the side of the road and realise yep, Ant Flo has come to visit on the side of the highway. I find my cup, clean up and insert, and once again I’m glad for those baby wipes I packed. I can’t find a bin, so I wrap up my wipe and stick it in the pocket of my raincoat, ready to discard at our next stop.
I always feel a loss of energy in my legs when I first get my period, and they feel like jelly as I pedal through the downpour up the hill. The girls are speeding off ahead, and the next stint is a hard slog. I start feeling a little panicky thinking about what I’d do if I lost them on this highway. I can’t see them anywhere, so I just keep pedalling. I’m starting to feel upset, tired, and just want to be lying in a warm bed with a hot water bottle. Finally I ride into a town and see them stopped at a grocery store. Collapsing on the ground, I take off my soaking shoes and socks and sit there feeling sorry for myself. I give Mum a call and while I’m on the phone Rachel comes over and gives me something to eat. I realise I haven’t eaten since our morning snack, and it’s 3 p.m. Yep, food really matters when you’re riding all day.
We sit on a table near some locals, and a woman asks us “Ain’t you scared?” We ask her what we should be scared of, and she says “Y’know, a little (makes gesture of sliding forefinger across throat) and a little nnhhh nnhhh (puts her hands into fists and brings them back and forth next to her pelvis).” We are mortified. She takes her cigarette and little fluffy white dog and walks off. Despite this disturbing image in my head, a combination of the food in my belly and the sun finally coming out is making me feel a lot better. I put some music on and, for the first time, I take the lead. I’m cruising fast, and getting chased by barking dogs gets my adrenaline pumping, so I ride even faster.
Our American Cycling Association (ACA) map points us towards a place to stay called Shepard Sanctuary. It’s slightly off-route, but we head over there, feeling tired, a little snappy and very exhausted, bringing our distance for the day to 105 km again. We are amazed at what we find. These two women, Connie and Peach, have created a true sanctuary in rural Texas. They often have wedding ceremonies there, and rainbow flags abound. We are the only guests, and we have a fully stocked kitchen to ourselves, a beautiful shower complete with marine-themed mosaics, fluffy white towels and bathroom products. We stay in our sleeping bags on a mattress up in the loft of a giant barn. It feels marvellously cleansing to have a good wash, fill our bellies with soup, and roast veggies, and settle in for the night on a real mattress.
Rosie Sheb’a is the owner and director of Sustainable Menstruation Australia.