A few weeks ago, the hubby and I went on a winter hiking trip with a small group. I was feeling a little bit nervous because a) I had never done a serious winter hike before, b) I hadn’t done a serious hike with anyone but my husband, dad, or brother in a surprisingly long time, and c) it turned out I was going to be the only woman in the group. That wasn’t particularly surprising, but it always makes me feel a bit like I’m representing the entire community of female hikers to these pseudo-strange men (friends-of-friends and acquaintances). Which of course then triggers some imposter syndrome, etc. etc.

We’re leaving dinner the night before the hike, and I realize my period is coming.

That statement might take some explanation, so let me back up a bit. Fair warning, we’re about to talk a little about menstruation. First, my cycle has always been irregular. When I was a pre-teen and teenager, my doctor always said I would even out when I got older. Then when I got a little older, my grown-up doctor informed me that I was probably more regular than I realized. (Never mind that I had actually been keeping track, but since I only really saw her for yearly physicals I never thought ahead enough to bring said information. This was before smartphones. She stopped being my doctor a few years later when I realized she didn’t listen.) My new and way cooler doctor sent me to an endocrinologist when she saw how irregular I was, which led to the possible diagnosis of PCOS. So basically, I never really know when it’s coming. Then, although my whole life my period has pretty much just suddenly started and almost immediately been the heaviest it’s going to get, tapering through the next few days, for the past two ish (three?) years I’ve begun starting by spotting for a good 6-24 hours before the flow really starts. Which freaked me out a bit at first, but has turned out to be somewhat handy for the little bit of planning I can do. This has also been accompanied by massively worse periods than I used to get. I’ll cramp from my shoulders to my calves, and badly enough that I can hardly do anything even with advil.

So the night before the hike, I started spotting. And my somewhat-usual pelvic and abdominal pain started getting worse. But we’ve already gotten to the town we’re hiking in, and paid for some rental equipment and a hotel. So, if at all possible, I’m not turning back. But it means I have to hope the worst of the cramping holds off, or I can hike a tall mountain in spite of it, and means I have to figure out what to do about the flow.

Exercising on my period is something I’ve been a bit in limbo on. When I was younger, I just used tampons. I have since been trying to switch entirely to reusable period products. I’ve tried a couple of menstrual cups, but one of them seemed maybe a little bit big because it got uncomfortable over time, and the other is flimsy enough that I have a hard time inserting it. My go-to has become period panties. They’re especially wonderful for sleeping, and I’m light enough that I am able to use them by themselves. Wearing them while exercising though, they can tend to ride up a bit and can also chafe me some, which I am already more prone to during my period.

For just one day, I would have used a tampon if I had thought to bring some. But since I didn’t, I ended up going with the period panties. They did ride up a little, but not too badly, and they irritated me a little, but again not too badly. If I hadn’t been hiking with all men, I totally would have just adjusted with no shame. And I don’t think I should have felt shame for doing that, or for being on my period. But I chickened out. Maybe next time I’ll be the courageous feminist I want to be.

Anyway, the major cramping and heavier flow ended up actually holding off until that evening when we were down off the mountain. The physical activity probably helped with that. But the story doesn’t end there.

I woke up the morning of the hike feeling nauseous. Which is, ya know, definitely ideal. I decided maybe I ate something funny, or maybe it was just part of my period. I decided to try drinking a little water to see if it would go away. And made us a little late for meeting our party by trying to stay in bed as long as possible to see if that would help. But the water and extra sleep/rest didn’t help, and I had a hard time getting breakfast down. But we had to get on the trail so I decided to deal with it.

And basically, I ended up dealing with on-and-off definite nausea and queasiness the whole hike. Which of course meant I was having a hard time getting enough calories or water into me. So I was getting winded much easier than I usually would and generally feeling not so great. I ended up being the slowest of the group, which made me embarrassed.

But I had moments where I felt okay. And once I warmed up some and got back into the rhythm I did okay. We didn’t end up being able to summit because of the weather and safety concerns (not because of me at all), so we got back earlier than expected. And I was feeling good enough that the hubby and I explored a few side trails (and found a gorgeous frozen waterfall) while some of the others were in the visitor center by the trailhead. And overall, the trip was really fun.

And then, we had dinner all together before heading home. And I figured okay, I’m not feeling so sick now, whatever it was has passed, and I need to get some calories in me. We’ll have some real food rather than trail food and that will help. And… I could barely get halfway through my veggie burger. And then it came back up in the restaurant bathroom (not a place I recommend kneeling down by a toilet… yuck). And by the time we made it home I had a fever.

Turns out it was a stomach bug. And a really nasty one. Whoops.

It’s kind of a funny story now, but it also highlights the kinds of decisions I find myself making more and more. What kind of pain and symptoms can I push through, and when should I stop? What I’ve mostly figured out is that ‘normal-for-me’ I can probably push through, most of the time, but much beyond that it’s wiser to take it easy. Of course, as this story shows, figuring out what falls under ‘normal-for-me’ territory and what is beyond that is a whole other question.

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