fitness

Ask Fieldpoppy: Bonus cycle tour question

(Ask Fieldpoppy is a monthly advice column written by Cate; recently, they answered questions from someone who’s about to embark on their first two day cycling trip (here and here). The letter writer sent up an urgent flare a week before her ride so you get a bonus edition. Feel free to send your own questions for Fieldpoppy to ruminate on).

Dear Fieldpoppy—My first two-day cycle trip is now only one week away!

I’ve started a great list, thanks to your previous response, and invested in a camelbak. I’d never even thought about diaper cream…

A white woman in white shorts on a bike in the mountains. I do not recommend white shorts if you have your period. Photo by Mizzi Westphal on Unsplash

I’ve got two more questions. First, an outside question: what is your advice for cycling on an all-day tour if the weather starts to suck?

Second, an inside question: what do you get your mind to do to help you get through pain, stiffness, or wanting to give up? My partner assures me he’ll be ready to pick me up—but I don’t want to disappoint him!

Oh, and any advice for cycling during one’s period might be helpful.

– Inside and Outside

Dear Inside and Outside,

I’m so excited for you! SQUEEEE!

Okay, first I’ll tackle the practical: your period. Whatever you normally do to manage cramps etc, make sure you do that — ibuprofen and aleve cover a multitude of needs, and will help with any soreness from the ride as well. But try to stick with something you are already used to — this isn’t the time to experiment.

If possible, stick with internal blood-catching — diva cup, tampons, whatever you’re used to — rather than pads, because there will be a fair bit of contact between your bits and the seat and pads of any kind are more likely to chafe. If you have period underwear, you might want to include those as backup, but I’m really wary of any additional layers between my flesh and the bike shorts — that way lies wedgies and trapped sweat and chafing. (You might be getting the message that I’m prone to chafing).

If you’re worried about changing tampons out on the road, make yourself a little period kit — hand wipes, TP or kleenex and a wee ziploc. Don’t litter the tampon (dangerous for animals as well as just plain gross) but wrap it up and put it in the ziploc for disposal later. And be glad you aren’t camping on the kind of island where you have to carry out your poo.

(Oh! This reminds me of a story! In 2009 I was climbing kilimanjaro with an intrepid aussie woman who had done some bonkers 6 week trek in the arctic dragging a sled behind her. She was the only woman on the trip, so was packing out her tampons by tucking them into a ziploc in a hidden pocket in her sleeping bag. When she got back to a town, someone stole her very expensive high tech sleeping bag — before she’d had a chance to retrieve the festering tampon stash. She took a lot of joy in imagining the dude (she just assumed it was a dude) reaching his hand in, expecting hidden treasure, and…)

But I digress. So that’s period stuff. It’s kind of annoying but highly manageable. And you got this!

The other questions are more existential. First, I’m glad you have such a supportive partner — and try to gently let go of the idea of not disappointing someone else. It gets complicated out on the road to know what’s going on with yourself if you are trying to navigate other people’s emotions. Take a minute this week and dig deep in yourself — what are you doing this for? What part of you do you want to nourish by doing something big and new and maybe hard? What badass part of you do you want to bring on this ride? Find that part, and that’s the thing you engage with in your head. It’s easier to find your own grit and purpose when it’s not bound up with worrying about other people, even if they are lovely.

Rain and wind and Weather are part of bike touring — they are part of the elemental experience of just Being Out There with you and your bike. When Susan, Sam, Sarah and I were cycling in Newfoundland in July in 2019, we had nothing BUT Weather. Hills, wind for days, and on the Day of Hypothermia, 3 degrees and icy rain for hours. I’m not gonna lie — it’s not easy. The trick is to give over to it — not to fight it, or wish it were different, but just be with what it is. Like, dear god, this is some serious wind, wow, look at me riding into this wind like some kind of fucking superhero. Give a little read to the post I wrote about that trip called Grit, and another reflection on grit when I was planning a trip to Bulgaria last year. You’ve got grit — and this trip is a chance to locate it in a new way. You can’t change the weather — so how can you be with it in a way that is raw and honest and strong? About YOU? That’s what you connect with in those moments.

That doesn’t mean pushing yourself through in a punishing way! I like to set myself permission to stop at regular intervals in hard weather — usually every 4 or 5 km — and just take a moment and reassess my humanity. Have some water. Eat a cheese sandwich. Cry in the ditch. Stop in somewhere for a cup of hot tea. (In Newfoundland, it was a teeeny tiny airport that had a hot drink vending machine). Remind myself of my strength. And — if it really is too much — there is always someone to help.

When I was riding in Bulgaria last summer, my camelbak wasn’t working, most shops weren’t open and it was 42 C. I hit a point on a hill about 65 km into a much too long, overheated, hard and loaded day where I honestly worried I would die right there. So I put “is there any way you can give me a ride please?” into my translation app and flagged down a farmer. (Like an avatar of a farmer, wearing actual overalls). He shook his head and pointed to the back of his vehicle — very full — and pointed down the road — “1 kilometre — drink.” He mimed drinking. I rode on, heartened, and arrived in a completely deserted square. Just as was looking around wondering what the hell, a woman pulled up in a car and opened the door of a shop and gestured me in. I got some potato chips (salt), a cold coca cola, a frozen treat and a huge bottle of water. She asked “toilet?”. When I said no, she gestured to the table under the shade and said “sit.” Then drove away. The farmer had called her to come and open the shop. People want to help. Just ask them.

In Newfoundland, after the day of hypothermia, Susan and I needed a break. So we asked around and found Steve, who had a truck, whose dad Bill was willing to drive us to the next night’s stop. Bill told us all about the people who’d died mysteriously and sadly and showed us historical sites and had a great time. We got a break. People want to help. Just ask them ;-).

You are ready for this trip. You got this. Find your own version of grit and revel in it. You are a badass! And be sure to let us know how it goes!

Fieldpoppy, somewhere in the Baltics

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede (she/they), who wrote this post from the shared unceded traditional territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam Indian Band), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish Nation), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation). Cate is a coach, consultant and general thinker about relationships, meaning making and bodies. They are itching to get on their bike in a foreign land.

3 thoughts on “Ask Fieldpoppy: Bonus cycle tour question

  1. Hear! Hear! Well said! I would add: bring the right clothes for the weather. (The person who didn’t have shoe covers put plastic bread bags inside her shoes.) In 40 degree (4.5 C) rain for 105 miles, we had fun – 4 of us sticking together through thick and thicker, picking up another who was changing a tire after 100 miles, and riding into town 5 together. People who didn’t have the right clothes were riding in a van due to hypothermia. And when a song comes into your head unbidden, feel free to sing it! (especially if it fits the weather. There are a lot of rain songs.)

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