This summer, my friend Owen and I rode our bicycles from San Francisco to New York City. We rode 4,624 miles through 12 states over 3 months. We carried our essentials (about 70 lbs, bikes included), met hundreds of people, received incredible amounts of kindness, and talked a lot about periods.
I am a spokeswoman for a project called Sustainable Cycles. As I traveled, I facilitated discussions about menstrual products. Women, men, people, bookworms, students, graduates, clinicians, mothers, teenagers, environmentalists, bicycle enthusiasts, even those who passed by – we all gathered to talk about the cost (~$2,000 over a lifetime), waste (~260 lbs of trash), and content (synthetics, pesticides and dioxins) of conventional pads and tampons.
I carried some props—a disposable pad, a tampon, a cloth pad, sea sponges, and menstrual cups—to show, and we created a space where any question could be asked and any story be shared. The goal was to have open, honest, and unashamed conversation about anything menstruation related. As party favors, people who wanted to make the “switch” from disposables left with a new DivaCup.
Owen and I had never done a long-distance bike trip before, but by now we’re pretty good at it. Our farthest day was 123 miles from Cleveland, OH to Erie, PA. The longest stretch without services was 84 miles in Utah. Our tallest summit was 11,400 feet in Colorado, and we only ran out of water once (which was enough) in Nevada. At night we stayed in parks, campsites, at friends of friends’ places, with online hosts, and with random strangers we met in bike shops. I am humbled by the generosity and openness we were shown by people all across this country. We were treated to countless meals, showers, beds, laundry, great conversations, and all kinds of support—from extra water to homemade strawberry milkshakes.
Sustainable Cycles is small, it is young, and it is one of the most amazing projects of our time. I happened upon it earlier this year as I was brainstorming about how to fund my cross-country bicycle adventure. I found a blog about two young women who bicycled from Seattle to Los Angeles in 2011, hootin’ and hollerin’ about menstruation and giving away free menstrual cups as they went. Toni and Sarah were “sparking a grassroots movement toward more sustainable menstruation” and, armed with almost 300 cups donated to them, started Sustainable Cycles. A satisfied cup user myself, I contacted them, began to raise funds, received a number of cups generously donated by DivaCup, and pedaled eastward.
The purpose of this bike ride is to call attention to the environmental, economic, and health impacts of conventional products and to create a space where people can question exactly what they support with their dollar. It is a call for more research about the health impacts of the products we use. It is about sharing what knowledge we do have, and it is here to help us empower each other. Everyone is invited to the discussion, no matter what product they choose to use to care for their cycle. I see menstruation as a phenomenon that connects us “menstruators” despite race, color, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual preference, language, ethnicity, culture, ability, education level, shape, size, etc.
During my three months on the road, I held discussions in all of the states I pedaled through, gifted cups to interested persons, and met a lot of people I otherwise may never have—like a professional taxidermist in Nevada, a man in Nebraska whose first and last name are exactly the same, and a woman in New York State who gifts menstrual cups to her friends just for kicks. Most of the people we encountered were supportive and/or surprised by the project. I got anywhere from a pensive “Um…that’s interesting…I’ll tell my wife” to a passionate “Thank you so, so much for doing this.”
I believe in this project. It promotes bicycle travel, it organizes a space for unfiltered discussion about menstruation, and it creates a community that can chat about exactly how to get a menstrual cup in (and more importantly—out!). I look forward to more bicycle rides, more menstruation discussions, more Sustainable Cyclists, and more adventure. Thank you, DivaCup! For all of your encouragement, for donating menstrual cups to the ride, and for your continued support.
The ride is over, but the movement lives on! I look forward to parties, group discussions, one-on-one conversations, and bicycle rides celebrating menstruation. To get involved, check out www.sustainablecycles.org.
Rachel Horn studied Earth Sciences and Forestry at UC Berkeley. She now lives in Los Angeles. You can find her cooking with her friends and family, playing at the beach, or riding her bicycle to the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research’s Boston conference in June 2015!