In 2011, my dear friend Toni and I rode our bikes down the West Coast, living on $4 a day, camping in backyards, and giving away free menstrual cups. This was our second bicycle trip together. Our first trip was just a joy ride two years earlier. We tested how cheaply we could live, and in doing so, we discovered that bicycle travel is a very special way to have engaging conversations with people we would never meet otherwise. So, we planned another trip and organized it around our shared passion for menstrual cups! Menstrual cups reduce waste, save money, are safe for women's bodies, and offer users an opportunity for a more intimate relationship with their cycle.
For those reasons and more, spreading the word about menstrual cups is now our feminist, social, and environmental-justice project. Sustainable Cycles is a nonprofit grassroots organization of bicycling menstrual-cycle activists. We started Sustainable Cycles with this trip in 2011. We wanted to take advantage of bicycle travel as a way to talk to people outside of our regular worlds about women's relationships to their bodies. Since then, Sustainable Cycles continues to organize similar bicycle trips for new rider-educators.
When you travel by bicycle there is a lot of uncertainty. We never knew who we'd meet during the day or where we'd sleep the next night. Some days we'd be tired, wet, cold, hungry, or scared. Our little differences, which didn't seem to matter so much when we were at home, could be a really big deal on the road. I ride up hills a little bit faster than Toni does. She can go a little longer without a snack but likes to have time to really rest at some point in the middle of the day. Toni cries, writes, and meets strangers a little more easily than I do. I swim in every lake or river I can find.
Riding alone, you can follow your own lulls and highs of energy and emotion, but together we had to sometimes wait or hurry, to push ourselves when we didn't want to or rest during vital energy peaks. Toni and I are friends for life now, and I definitely could not have done it alone: I'd probably still be crying alone on the side of the road somewhere in Oregon. We sometimes joke: "All we ever needed to know about relationships we learned on our bicycle tour."
Along our route we hosted workshops about periods in community centers, shelters, clinics, colleges, and really anywhere that would have us. We aimed to break taboos and promote sustainability by having conversations about and advocating for reusable menstrual products.
BASIC INFORMATION ABOUT MENSTRUAL PRODUCTS
Tampons and pads cost the average woman $2,000 over her lifetime. Most disposable products are made of pesticide-rich cotton, rayon, bleach, and glue. However, since they are classified as medical devices, companies are not required to list ingredients.
I found out about menstrual cups in college and immediately started buying them as gifts for all my friends and family. They catch rather than absorb the blood, so you can reuse them, rather than buying single-use disposable tampons and pads again and again.
DIARY OF OUR 2011 SUSTAINABLE CYCLES RIDE: SEATTLE TO LOS ANGELES
The beginning of the trip was a humbling whirlwind of information.
We spent one of the first nights at a transitional home for women just out of prison, part of theCatholic Worker House in Tacoma. The "house mom" told us that in many prisons women aren't allowed to use tampons, only pads, and prisons sometimes withhold pads for humiliation. We left her with cups for her residents.