Biking the USA on Behalf of... Menstrual Products?

Most women in the Western world don't think twice about the products they use when they have their periods. Maybe you prefer Tampax to Kotex, or plastic applicators to pantyliners, but all in all, it's just another trip to the drugstore, not a way to act on your ideological concerns, right? Well, not according to the women of Sustainable Cycles. The organization is devoted to a personal, grassroots revolution away from single-use menstrual products.

Sustainable Cycles started in 2011, when two women, Toni Kraige and Sarah Konner, biked down the West Coast in order to raise awareness about sustainable menstrual products. This summer, Rachel Horn is taking menstrual activism (yes, it's a thing!) to the next level by biking from San Francisco to New York City, holding discussions about the menstrual cycle and handing out menstrual cups to interested people.

As a committed and proud DivaCup user, I'm pretty sympathetic to Rachel's cause, but I still wanted to learn more, especially since she's almost finished her radical journey. I talked to Rachel about what it's like to ride a bike cross-country, the social stigma around menstruation, and why everyone should question the products they put near their vaginas.

BUSTLE: When you start using sustainable menstrual products and why?

RACHEL HORN: I started using a menstrual cup at 20 years old. I was a junior in college, had heard raving reviews from friends about cups, and didn't want to waste ($, time, trash) anymore. I knew it would pay for itself in about six months, and it was way more convenient for me (change less frequently, don't have to go buy stuff, fits in my purse, can go backpacking, etc). It took much much support from friends to help me switch, though. (My friend actually held a mirror for me while I was trying to get the thing in right...). That's why Sustainable Cycles community is so important — it takes good friends to walk through the process before people consider switching.

How did you get involved with Sustainable Cycles?

I'd been wanting to bike across the country for a while, so after I graduated from college in December 2012, it seemed like the iron was hot. In figuring out the details of the ride (i.e. how the heck was i going to pay for this?) I found Toni and Sarah's project online. Sustainable Cycles perfectly aligned with my values! At that point I'd been a cup user for almost three years, loved it, and was excited to spread the word about it. It's kind of a miracle that I found the project, because Sarah and Toni already had these amazing connections. We [fundraised] together, planned my trip, they got menstrual cups donated to the project again, and I was off!

Why a cross country trip to raise awareness?

Toni and Sarah had already biked the west coast and a cross country bike ride was on my bucket list. Now is the time for a cross country trip for me — before I'm tied down with responsibilities and deadlines. I wanted to the the country, and it just fit perfectly.

What have been the highlights of your trip so far?

THE PEOPLE! Strangers have been so so kind to us. We've been using couchsurfing, and, and just staying with people we meet in bike shops... and they have opened their homes to us as if we were family. Feeding us, showers, laundry, beds. It's been unreal. Once we were taking a siesta at a Wendy's in Nebraska, and a woman inquired about our trip.Then offered us showers, laundry, and a place to stay at her family home!

What's been the most surprising or interesting situation or person you've encountered while biking across the U.S., talking to women about their periods?

While resting in a park in Nebraska, a family invited us to join them at their Father's Day BBQ. We started talking about the project, and the 11-year-old girl asked in earnest "Can I have one? please?" She, her mother, and I talked and I gave her a menstrual cup and a zine about periods. She was so grateful — it seemed like her period was giving her a lot of grief, being on the earlier side compared to her peers. It looked like she needed positive period support!

What do you want people to know about sustainable menstrual products or about their menstrual cycles in general?

I want people ('cause not all women menstruate and some non-gender-specific people do..) to consider the environmental, economic, and health impacts of the products they use. We live in a disposable world, but menstrual products sit in sensitive (and very absorbent) places — the chemicals and the materials have an internal impact — not just like a paper coffee cup. The average menstruator spends $2,000 on products over a lifetime and trashes a truckload. I really want to stick this one to the man. And then maybe people will start to consider the other things they use and shift away from harmful products altogether. Also, my period is not a huge pain in the butt because I've found something that works for my lifestyle. I actually don't mind getting my periods anymore (I used to hate it).

What are your plans once your trip ends?

No solid plans after August for me. However, I would love to see Sustainable Cycles turn into an organization that funds menstrual education bike trips, guest speaks in school health classes, and visits universities, clinics, bookstores, bike shops, etc etc to create a community of people breaking down the taboo around periods! If we can visit the places that disposable companies already influence, like K-12 schools, we can change the idea that periods are gross, dirty, inconvenient things that need to be fragranced, hidden, and shamed.

Is there anything else you'd like Bustle readers to know about your trip or Sustainable Cycles?

Talk about your periods! If you have questions, ask. And I realize that reusable menstrual products are not for everybody — that's OK. The point of this bike ride to to instigate discussion and research. Not to pressure anyone into anything. I have simply discovered something that is really great for me, and I'm spreadin' the gospel. And also, question all products! Including "sustainable" ones! Where does the silicone come from? How are cloth pads made? Consider the ocean pollution where sea sponges are grown. These things may be more sustainable, but "More Sustainable Cycles" just doesn't have the same ring...

To learn more about Sustainable Cycles, visit their website or check out this YouTube video about Rachel's trip: