If you’re squeamish, or of a nervous disposition, you might want to skip this post. However, if you like a helping of no-nonsense, reality, with a side-order of no-holds barred truth, of what really shakes down, on a long distance cycling adventure, then read on.
- Girl things during a cycling adventure
When I first started cycling I knew little about chafing and flap mash. As a woman, you need to get comfortable with discussing your nether regions; whatever you call it, fanny, foof, front bottom, muff, snatch, vag (the list goes on). If you’re going to cycle a long way, it’ll be hours in the saddle and on your bits.
The best thing you can do is stop wearing knickers (yes, really) and get a good saddle and a bike fit. Knickers cause chafing and cycling shorts, tights and bibs with padded crotch are designed to be worn commando; I tried it and never looked back. For women who have removed their pubic hair, chamois cream is good for reducing friction between clothing and flesh.
What constitutes a good saddle? Women’s anatomy varies and a saddle that is perfect for one, can be eye watering for another. I’ve heard of women whose quest for the right saddle has taken months, if not years. A cyclist friend, who uses, what she calls a ‘fat-bottom’ saddle (think old fashioned, leather akin to your grandfather’s push-bike) was approached by an older, female cyclist who’d seen her lock up her bike before entering a coffee shop. Before she knew it, she was asking about her saddle and they were discussing ‘downstairs’ over a cappuccino.
A bike fit is enormously helpful with positioning, which can also reduce labial pressure. Huge shout out to Jon from The Endurance Academy, who fitted my bike perfectly and who wasn’t afraid to dive into the female anatomy discussion.
On a more serious note, women can suffer pain, vaginal infections, labial swelling, UTIs, discharge and numbness. Asking for support from fellow cyclists and professional coaches definitely helped make me comfortable. If you want to read more about this topic check out Molly Hurford’s book, Saddle Sore: Ride Comfortable, Ride Happy.
- Disappearing self-consciousness
On the first day of my adventure, I was aware of planning toilet stops and I stuffed plenty of tissues, for my perennial runny nose, into my handlebar bag. The day was full of adrenaline and getting comfortable with riding a long distance. During the morning, we rode through villages and along cycle tracks. But after lunch, we started to ride into more remote countryside; I was still choosing discreet toilet stops, traipsing into wooded glades, so I couldn’t be seen from the road or by my cycling buddy, and stopping to blow my nose.
Day Two was the hardest day, riding 44 miles, much of it off-road, with 3000ft ascent over, in parts, extremely remote landscape on forest tracks and trails. There was no room for politeness and unnecessary subtly; I dropped my shorts at the side of the track, snotted out of each nostril as I rode. As the effort of the day increased, so our use of polite language decreased; swearing at yet another hill to ascend, FFS!
By the end of Day Five, we were singing, snotting and using language that any sailor would be proud of. We even had a dual pee at the side of a quiet road witnessed by a passing car. Relinquishing self-consciousness was a liberation I hadn’t expected.
- You cannot plan for everything
Planning and preparation is important, but there are some things that you cannot know. We came across closed bridges and roads and we got lost. Sometimes, you have to think on your feet and adapt, and to remember that the unexpected is to be expected, because, otherwise, it wouldn’t be an adventure, would it?
- Kindness of strangers
We had just flown down the hill, my hands gripping the brakes, as we sped past a bridge closed sign. Bloody hell! There were no diversion signs, and more importantly we really, really didn’t want to turn around and slog back up that hill. The bridge crossed a river; could we wade through? No, the banks were incredibly steep and the river far below. So we called out to the workmen, asking if they would let us cross. After explaining our predicament, they opened up the metal barriers and we wheeled our bikes to the other side, a big grin on both our faces, before we hopped back aboard, up the next steep gradient and onwards.
You now know what really happens, warts and all. Good luck in pursuing your own adventures, discovering new experiences and learning along the way. Follow on Instagram for more tips in my Reels, and sign up to receive my blogposts. The next two posts will chronicle my trip, followed by ten things you need to know for your first long distance bike ride.
Ta ta for now,