Hi! Spice here.
(she/her) Glad to have you here. I suppose simply put, Cyclic by Nature is a space created to explore moving through the world in a female body, more specifically as of right now, as a long distance thru-hiker learning to live in tune with internal and external cycles, and sharing that experience with others. 2022 is bringing a host of hiking, walking along the Eastern Continental Trail from the tip of Quebec in Gaspé down to the Florida keys through Summer, Fall, and into Winter. Posts will arrive sporadically as I find my footing on trail starting in June, and then they might just stay sporadic for the whole trail. I’m happy to share this nomadic, stinky, enthralling, painful, and awe-inspiring way of living with you. Much Love xx
Cycle day 22 – Cycle day 29
Miles this season: 130
Amqui to Gaspesie National Park
Total ECT miles: 515 of 4400ish
So many milestones in this week. I find my thru-hiker strength, we make it through the toughest section of the trail, Matane, and we get our first glimpse of the sea. The sea! Or just the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but the ocean as far as we’re concerned. We walked here from Maine! Awesome. Human bodies are so resilient.
Oh Inner Autumn. So simple from a Fertility Awareness Method perspective, so complex from a Menstrual Cycle Awareness perspective. After confirming ovulation, the dominant hormone in Inner Spring and Summer, estrogen, drops. Progesterone rises and will stay the dominant hormone until a bit before the next bleed. While I still am taking my temperature every morning for a complete health picture, the practice of FAM is a lot simpler after ovulation and less focus is needed. I’m infertile for the rest of this cycle. Not making any babies this week. Sweet.
Energetically, Inner Autumn doesn’t feel so simple. Honestly, cultivating a healthy relationship with this season has been a long process for me. The inner critic can be loud here, and feel heavy. I have found my best approach to this is mostly awareness over action. To acknowledge the challenge of downshifting in a world that celebrates constant climbing, and hold space for it. This alone, this lifting the lid off of the boiling pot, relieves so much of the pressure of the season for me. Inner Autumn will not be forced into a box. I don’t capture the power and magic of Autumn nearly well enough, and I put off writing about it for two months because it is such a complex season. This is my current best description of it, with so much room for improvement.
This Autumn begins rather poetically, with a deluge of rain. The kind that comes on fast after a dark afternoon sky, soaks you before you’ve had a chance to think about grasping for your rain jacket, and leaves you laughing in the absurd bluntness of the elements sometimes. The fire of inner summer gone, it’s time for autumn. I had been feeling an inward pull earlier in the day, a quieting energy. The grief and inner work put off in spring and summer has piled up and I feel the weight of it for the first time this cycle. My legs feel heavier, slower. And all of my music feels wrong. A tell-tale sign I’m leaving the care-free energy of summer behind. My energy shifts. We arrive to the picturesque mountains of Quebec this week, and I feel Owen’s mountain ferver increase. I do love being in the mountains, too, of course, and yet I have inner priorities that can’t be ignored. We didn’t have this perspective of having different mental priorities while being so physically close on some of our first backpacking trips together, and we both suffered from it. I am grateful for all that we have both learned about cyclical living since then.
“I know Autumn is coming, and we’re doing hard stuff. If you think of something, please let me know how I can support you, okay?”
5am. We want to get an early start for reasons I can’t remember. Owen prepares coffee, my body doesnt want to wake this early in autumn after a windy and restless night, but we have an itinerary to stick to. I feel resentment towards Quebec for asking us to plan where we will sleep each night and not allowing the space for us to listen to our bodies. I dream of sauntering through the forest today, napping often, watching the trees sway. Australian accents and ensuing laughter help bring me back to the reality of the day. Time to hike.
Three weeks into this trip and in the middle of one random day I notice I begin to feel thru-hiker strong head to toe for the first time. Yes! My legs, my lungs, my feet, we’re all here together finally. I relish in the predictable growth process of a thru-hike. Walk through enough pain and eventually the thru-hiker strength will appear. It’s here, and with it deep breaths of gratitude. As we are in the heart of Matane, I feel my body push hard in a way it hasn’t this whole hike so far. I feel fast, strong, invincible, like my legs were born to hike up these mountains. This surprises me, and my legs don’t feel like my own. I wouldn’t expect this arrival of strength in my current internal season, but this is my first long distance hike with any real knowledge of the hormonal cycles and inner seasons, so I relish in the pleasant surprise and go with it. I’m secretly pleased with myself that Owen can’t seem to catch up with me, and try to stay humble with my new-found strength.
The season wraps up with a glorious double rainbow sunset after a stormy day, and I come down from my mountain high with a bit of a jolt. I see a mother caring for her two children and feel a wave of sadness in my core. Autumn sure doesn’t water anything down. Mother wounds? My own mothering considerations? I share with Owen that I’m feeling big emotions, shed a few tears, and we fall asleep. Autumn can stir up deep emotions and memories. I’m grateful to observe them without feeling the need to dissect each one.
This Inner Autumn, remember the peace from knowing:
-While my physical strength and desire to push hard are waning for the cycle, opportunities for hold space for a more expansive inner world are abundant.
-Owen knows I’m transitioning from my more giving and extroverted phases into more receiving and introverted phases.
-The harder more wild mountains come first, followed by calmer national park tread, following the hormonal cycle well.
-Aspen and Cedar tree friends are back. Wise, comforting, grounding, no need for verbal communication.
What Inner Autumn looked like on trail for me this week:
-More alone time when walking, more quiet time at camp.
-Less banter. More depth to our trail conversations.
-A practice in being open when I am knee deep in the grief-pit.
-Intentional constant redirection to curiosity instead of judgement.
-Major hunger increase -Increased metabolism in inner autumn meet on top of new-found ravenous hiker hunger.
-Lunch naps. All of the lunch naps.
-Less giving of thai massage, more receiving from Owen this week.
One of my historically most feared and resented phases of my cycle, Autumn, has transitioned into a rich emotionally healing phase. The exhale, the winding down, Autumn, if given the space, can be more than alright. This week was more than alright. I’m so grateful to be here, doing what I love, with my favorite person.
Much Love xx,
Cycle day 15- Cycle day 21
Miles this season: 138
San Quentin, New Brunswick to Amqui, Quebec
Total ECT miles: 385 of 4400ish
With a Canadian take of the iconic Bridge of the Gods from the Pacific Crest Trail, we feel triumphant as we cross over the Restigouche River closing our chapter on New Brunswick and starting a blank page in Quebec. New Brunswick was mostly flat Atv roads, and prepared my feet for this journey in a rip off the band-aid quick kind of way. Turns out, flat elevation is tough on the feet, turning Owen’s feet into stumps more than any other section on the AT, and properly wrecking mine into thru-hiker hooves. We listened to a lot of Kygo to cure our afternoon logey, laughed a ton, and left with more curiosities about Canada than when we arrived. Our last night in this province we stayed the night in Campbellon, and made friends with a few men from the Sundays Bois group who hang out at the local Tim Hortons. They warned us that things would get a bit less friendly to strangers once we crossed the river and then bid us Bon Journée. My feet feel strong as we cross over the river and I’m filled with hope that I’m mostly done with blisters and will now work on finding my trail legs in the mountains of Quebec. Spirits and heart rates are high as we climb into the hills.
Hormonally, things are aligning awesomely. Inner Summer is here. After a restful day in San Quentin, my body trusts that it’s not all pain and tears and begins showing signs of ovulation. Yip! I up my observations during this season, as confirming ovulation allows me to predict when menstruation will come and this is tremendously helpful on a thru-hike, if only for peace of mind, but also for logistical planning of potential rest days or lighter mileage days. My current chosen method of Fertility Awareness utilizes cervical fluid observations (cm), as well as basal body temp (bbt) and luteinizing hormone (lh) testing to confirm ovulation. I have yet to attempt to utilize bbt or lh while on a long trail and I haven’t found any account of others doing this while on a long trail. Is it possible with swinging external temperatures and swiftly changing hydration levels? I am excited to explore. And for the purposes of birth control, I am comfortable based on past experience on previous thru-hikes relying on cm observations, holding space for a much more conservative fertile window, and utilizing barrier methods during that fertile period. Bbt and lh will help solidify the closure of my fertile window, but if for some reason I don’t capture them perfectly, I feel comfortable enough with cm observations alone. Hormonally, Inner Summer is the peak point of a bunch of different hormones in a menstruating person’s cycle. A crescendo of sorts with some hormones changing up to 50% in one single day. Big movement happening here. The rise of estrogen *can bring a rise in energy. I am stoked about this possibility, as I’ve been feeling like I have been riding the struggle train in New Brunswick and I’m excited for my new set of feet and the potential for some bonus energy this week. This excitement and anticipation winds up getting me in trouble, as assumptions often do. Menstrual cycle awareness is a practice of curiosity, asking yourself what you’re feeling each day, and holding space for what you need. Falling into the trap of using it as a weather forecast of sorts is the shadow side of this practice and boy do I fall into that shadow side in a deep way this week.
It dawns on me at 3am after a sleepless night after two days of mountains that repeatedly kicked my butt that my grip is tight on how I envisioned this Inner Summer going, and I’m going to continue to be disappointed in myself until I let it go. I see a whole new cycle I’m riding that I hadn’t considered, the thru-hike cycle. I’m at the very beginning, in the growth/pain phase. So much stronger than a few weeks ago when starting up Mt Katahdin, and not nearly as strong as I know I’ll be when I’m halfway along the Appalachian Trail in a few months. Just because I’m estrogened up this week doesn’t mean that’s a cure all. My legs still have lots of settling in to do out here, they have been walking on flat dirt roads for hundreds of miles. “I like to tell myself that it can’t get much harder than this,” Owen says when I give him a look at the top of a climb. I respond that I agree, but I’m not currently strong enough to do 400 more miles of this level of steep, so I hope I can grow into someone who is, both physically and mentally. It’s exciting and so frustrating to be so close to the edge of my current limits. My body hurts in a way it hasn’t at the end of the night after our first two days in Quebec and I wonder how a flat dirt road ever could have been considered hard. Quebec isn’t kidding around.
This Inner Summer, remember the peace from knowing:
-Hormones are on your side for increased physical activity, potential for ease while hiking hard.
-Energy reserves will be at their highest of this cycle, and you’ll have more to pour back into caring for Owen.
-Confirming ovulation means you’re not running your body too hard and it still has some reserves to commit to the reproductive cycle.
-You’re in company where you can show up exactly as you are and be seen and heard.
What Inner Summer looked like on trail for me this week:
-A challenge of managing unrealistic self-expectations. Big time.
-Increased body awareness looking for ovulation biomarkers.
-Less sleep, more evening estrogen anxiety.
-Front seat role during hitches. Extra capacity for socializing with strangers.
-Increased mental reserves for holding space for friends and family during town stops.
-Aching pain in my heart, womb, chest, and head over impossible news about reproductive rights no longer being protected in America. Rage over the fact that anyone has the power to take away someones reproductive rights.
-Taking an early evening off one day to be naked in a river and just enjoy the evening glow and bliss of simply not walking for a bit.
-Heavy rain days syncing up with my cycle and figuratively calming the fire of Inner Summer for a relatively gentle transition into Inner Autumn.
I’ve heard that curiosity and anger can’t both exist at the same time. This thought came to mind during this phase this week. Shame for the “shoulds” can’t exist in the same space as curiosity. Keeping a curious heart is the forefront of a healthy mca practice, a lesson I’ll take with me, learned the hard way. A lesson I’ll probably learn again and again.
Much Love xx,
*Big asterisk here as Inner Summer can be a not so awesome time for many people. Rising estrogen doesn’t always mean rising energy for all. Estrogen is often associated with anxiety and this season can also feel extremely vulnerable and leave people feeling burnt out. A lack of energy doesn’t mean one is feeling Inner Summer incorrectly by any means.
Cycle day 7- Cycle day 14
Miles this week: 152
Houlton, Maine to San Quentin, New Brunswick
Total ECT miles: 247 of 4400ish
Oh how interesting it has been to observe the unfolding of Inner Spring while transforming from a soft baby-footed hiker back into a calloused thru hiker. So much of what I’ve become accustomed to noticing about this season over the past few years has been flipped on its head while journeying through the beginning of a long hike. Ooh, so much to dive into.
I guess I’ll start by defining my understanding of what the Inner Spring portion of a cycle is and what’s happening hormonally. I will caveat this by sharing that I practice a non-hormonal birth control method called Fertility Awareness Method (Fam). I could get into the weeds here, but for now I’ll briefly say that I like Fam because it allows my hormones to run through their pretty neat cycles naturally. This allows me to keep an eye on my overall health as the event of ovulation is considered by some to be a woman/menstruating person’s fifth vital sign. No ovulation or delayed ovulation is a direct indicator that my engines are running too hot and are being stressed which offers me the opportunity to address something and I think this instant feedback is pretty incredible, especially when under the physical stress of a thru hike. I share all of this to say that these Inner Seasons and the hormonal changes shared here apply most to those cycling naturally not on hormonal birth control methods. Some folks do still feel energetic changes of the seasons while on hormonal birth control. This is a welcoming space to learn more about cycles no matter your gender, birth control choice, or whether you’re in a menstruating phase of life.
Okay, Inner Spring. Roughly the time from the end of menstruation to the beginning signs of ovulation. Hormonally, for someone ovulating regularly, estrogen begins to rise here. For me personally, I feel an increase in energy, which can pull me up up away into the clouds ungrounded and fluttery if this energy is left unchanneled. Without direction and physical movement, anxiety is quick to step in and fill the space. I find myself feeling in deep community with brand new unfurling deciduous leaves and budding flowers, ripe with fresh renewal, and yet pretty thin skinned and tender. While in the previous season I felt like flowing through the world at a slow pace, I find myself dancing and twirling circles around Owen in Spring, and then sometimes falling into a deep case of afternoon logey. I notice my urge to do all.of.the.things. is strong in Spring and not following the slow steady hormonal rise this season can leave me feeling drained quickly. Despite needing to accomplish fairly consistent mileage goals with the strict itinerary rules of Quebec’s mountain authority folks, I try my best to mimic Earth’s Spring and build up without rushing.
This Inner Spring, remember the peace from knowing:
-The hormonal boost of energy and optimism in Spring is an asset at the start of a thru hike.
-Pain tolerance is higher in Inner Spring and Summer. Repeat this mantra with every inevitable painful step of the starting first few weeks.
-I prepared well for a strong energetic Spring by taking time to rest both at the beginning and end of menstruation.
-Maybe I with an increase in energy, I can outpace the scourges of mosquitos, biting flies, and noseeums.
What Inner Spring looked like on trail for me this week:
-Needing more sleep, support, and food than I’m used to needing in Inner Spring. So much more.
-Complete peace wading through a waist high beaver pond.
-Physical pain, just so much break-in foot stump and blister pain, but perhaps less pain than would have presented itself had this been another season.
-More side-by-side hiking time, and more playfulness and laughter with Owen in the moments my body peeked out of the pain cave.
-More lightheartedness that dug me a bit out of the body stresses and growth pains ditches of starting a long hike.
-More reserves to support Owen in his own rare mini struggles at times.
-A bathtub at the end of the week because baths are medicine in any season.
-No outpacing the mosquitos, biting flies, and noseeums. Not even a little bit.
The trail itself this section was, well, neutral in intentions I suppose, but felt harsh. Finishing up the miles in Maine, we crossed the Us/Canada border and entered New Brunswick. Paved roads were abundant, atv tracks a treat, and occasional forest trail a gift to be treasured. Roads are great for moving fast, but don’t bode well for breaking in feet. Our bodies and spirits ranged from cool, strong, and cruisy to questioning and crumpled. We pondered why the route would take roads for dozens on dozens of miles when we could see mountains or at least hills all around. We listened to books about Hygge Danes and albums by familiar and comforting artists as well as new gen z artists. I took comfort in knowing Owen also felt stumpy at the end of some days. I pondered all of the new chemicals added to my regimen on trail: deet, permethrin, motel mystery soaps, laundry soaps, various styles of Nsaids, epsom salts with added fragrance, and wondered if these combined with the increased physical stress of trail would stress out ovulation this month. So far, no signs of it yet. Slightly concerning, slightly expected. Can the tall aspens, endless conifers, and a zero mile rest day today be enough medicine to counteract all of the rest? Happy to be walking. Grateful for all the things that kept me grounded and embodied this week.
Much Love xx
Cycle day 1- Cycle day 6
Miles this week: 95
Total ECT miles: 95 of 4400ish
This has been a memorable first start to a thru-hike. A week of so much newness as goes with the territory of a long distance thru hike, yet so many resurfacing old friends, like last mile of the day hot spots that develop way faster than feels fair or right, or heavenly bird songs that I haven’t heard since Washington on the Pct 6 years ago, to oh my god is this pain growth pain or trail ending pain. On the third round of a long hike, I often found myself this week with a content smile on my face while watching my brain inevitably freak out about the things it’s just going to freak out about beginning a hike. I know enough to know not to completely buy into these freak outs. One thing I know for certain is that having a menstrual cycle awareness practice, something I knew nothing about on the last two big hikes, has been a mega help with the start of this hike. I don’t quite understand how some have the capacity to write long poetic entries from each individual day of hiking (I’m looking at you hikefordays.com), I can barely finish my dinner and scribble in my personal journal before dozing off, but I do know that my focus has shifted slightly on this hike in an awesome way. And I know that I’m passionate enough about this shift to share my coveted town bath-time with my phone to write about it.
Starting a thru hike can be tough. It likely will be, at varying degrees, from physical to mental to emotional. It’s just a different world out on a big hike and the transition from house life to dirt life is understandably wobbly. Starting a thru hike while menstruating can be laughably tough. Add some rain, a few days worth, add a summit day, the most mosquitoes I’ve seen in my life, and some overzealous itinerary mileage goals because flat miles are easy miles at the beginning of a thru hike so lets do lot of them right, and that laugh can turn menacing real quick. And yet, I just feel… held? Is that the word? I dunno. I feel mentally more resilient to the start of this hike despite being at my physically weakest of my cycle. I’m armed with so damn much knowledge of my menstrual cycle from spending time with some incredible women the past few years and dare I say it, I feel cautiously invincible. Did I just use invincible on day 5 of a thru hike? Haha call me out on that in a few months when I’m in The Whites of New Hampshire crawling through the miles. But truly, the practice of menstrual cycle awareness (mca) has me excited to go about this hike with a curiosity about my inner world that I haven’t carried with me before on other long hikes. An anchoring practice that will keep me tuned in vs disassociated with my body. Tuned in to each sting or step or thought filled with pain. Woahkay. Let’s do this.
I’ll likely write more in depth on this later, but some quick bearings, the menstrual cycle can be broken down into four phases or *Inner Seasons:
Pre Ovulation/Inner Spring
Pre Menstruation/Inner Autumn
My goal this first section of the hike, the 724 miles through Canada, is to share how I experience each of these seasons on trail.
This Inner Winter, remember the peace from knowing:
-That your partner, Owen, knows exactly where you are hormonally right now and has a general idea of what to expect as far as your strengths and weaknesses in this inner season.
-That you know you are as low as you go hormonally each month, and all that that entails physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.
-That your top two priorities of thru hiking are to walk super far each day and take the most excellent care of your body with the rest of that time, and one of those goals works out wonderfully for your inner winter week needs.
-That your physical state this week does not make you an inept hiker compared to your male partner, you’re simply a cyclical person.
-The practice of mca significantly increases your body awareness which is a huge help when starting a thru hike.
-Often in house life, life stuff keeps you from dosing on enough nature during your period. Not on a thru hike. More nature than you might even want. Are mosquitos technically nature?
What Inner Winter looked like on trail for me this week:
-Solo mornings. 5 miles of alone time each morning to move at your body’s natural pace, to allow your mind to wander quietly, to listen to the earth.
-To take tea, coffee, reading morning breaks because stillness is medicine in Inner Winter.
-Accepting an increase in mindful acts of service from Owen, because he knows the chores I despise and knows that this is not my most giving phase.
-So much self kindness. Just buckets upon buckets filled with kindness. Towards pace, daily mileage, accepting help when it was offered, or any shoulds that arose.
-Pace setting. This was a given considering I’m hopping onto a path with a partner who has 2200 strong miles on his legs this season already, but especially in Inner Winter so I accept authority over setting our pace when we’re hiking together throughout the day.
-Trail dreams up the wazoo. Communing with more worlds than just this earthly one.
-Allowing my bleed a voice at the table when deciding whether to take a nero day (nearly zero) day in town today. Town stop considerations: slight ankle twist, blister healing, weather, menstrual cycle.
-Finding a motel room with a bathtub at the end of this first week because you have a rest debt and a bath is one of your favorite ways to pay that debt. Yes!
These things all seem so simple, yet they feel profound to me when embodied. Its the difference of my period arriving, sighing in frustration, and trying to fit it into a tiny box of shoulds, as oppose to allowing it the space it needs. Menstruation is going to take up the space of a quarter of my thru hike. It is part of life for half of the population, and to be rushing, pushing, should-ing through a quarter of our menstruating years sounds as frustrating as wearing a pair of shoes three sizes too small far too often. I’m done with that. I’m SO glad my shoes fit properly this week, literally and figuratively. Hobbling into town today finishing up the first week of trail and the last day of my period with a grimy dirt filled face, bushwhacking cut up shins, and stubs for feet, I can truly say I enjoyed this week. Not because my period didn’t get in the way of my hike, but because I let it lead my hike. Starting a thru hike on a period isn’t too bad after all. It’s pretty freaking sweet.
Much Love xx
*To give credit where credit is rightfully due: I learned about the Inner Seasons framework from my lovely teacher of menstrual cycle awareness, Claire Baker, and she learned about these seasons from Sjanie and Alexandra, founders of a neat thing called Red School.
Cycle day 25. Inner Autumn.
Remember hugging AtHome goodbye at the southern border of the “100 Mile Wilderness” Melancholy moods, happy root beer float memories.
Remember Wendy at the visitor’s center. Her pandemic published trail book about her experiences in nature as a woman. Her complete lack of rush and her passion for being a guide.
Remember Tango roaming about at Shaw’s Hiker Hostel with a doggo partner.
Remember meeting Poet and his passion for his barn gear shop.
Remember that pickup truck drive to drop off and pick up The Professor, and how right it felt to be driving a pick up truck.
Cycle day 25 check-in: Intuitive, tender, cautiously optimistic.