If you are uncomfortable reading about bodily output like snot and poop, this post is not for you!
On a few occasions friends have asked, usually in a round about way, how we handle bathroom needs when we’re on one of our cycling adventures and in the saddle 4-6 hours each day. “Don’t you sometimes, have to you, you know, find a bush?” For those of you who have wondered but been too shy to ask…
I first encountered snot rockets when a 7th grade school assignment had us read John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony. In the very first paragraph, ranch hand Billy Buck is introduced this way:
“When he had seen to the weather, Billy cleared each nostril by holding its mate closed with his forefinger and blowing fiercely.”
Being twelve, I immediately ran to the backyard to try this out. I walked around, one nostril pinched, blowing for all I was worth. It was a wholly unsatisfying experience. I ended up with two sore nostrils and not even one good drop of snot. I’ve never been a big mucus/saliva producer, so I wasn’t destined to be successful. Even forty years later, when Joy bought me a 23andMe DNA test, I had to walk around the kitchen for several minutes, hawking before I was able to generate enough saliva to mail the sample back. As an 12-year-old, having failed to blow my nose like Billy, I decided that this must be a cowboy skill that, along with learning to saddle a horse, was a dying art and something I would never need to learn.
Then, many years later, Joy and I started cycling.
When you’re exercising hard, you always end up with a runny nose. This is really unpleasant when you’re cycling. Trying to use a handkerchief or tissue paper while continuing to cycle is too complicated. And if you do stop to use a handkerchief or tissue, then you’ll have a snot rag you’ll have to tuck away somewhere.
Most riders choose to follow Billy Buck’s technique. Proper technique means leaning over while you continue to cycle so you don’t hit your own shoes (or, in our case, our own panniers). I have seen some cyclists who are so skilled at generating snot rockets that I’m sure they could hunt small birds with this technique. And, of course, there’s specific etiquette when you’re riding with with a group of other cyclists.
I always just stop and lean way over.
If you’d care to learn more on this topic, there are lots of how-to videos out there. Actual how-to videos.
We drink a lot of water/gatorade over the course of a long cycling day. And, of course, then you have to pee. Like all the time. If you’re somewhere fairly populated such as east of the Mississippi or in Europe, there are always little towns with gas stations or cafes. If you’re west of the Mississippi, or out in the rural areas of Spain like Andalusia or Navarra, or along the Atlantic coast of Ireland, you can go many miles before there’s a bathroom.
Before we leave our hotel/B&B each cycling day, Joy and I go through the “One Last Pee” ritual, which just amounts to announcing, “Okay, this is my last pee before we head out.” I typically announce this about three times each morning.
Because I tend to under-drink, I pay strict attention to the color of my pee to gauge how hydrated I am. It’s a good indicator on whether I’m drinking enough. Here’s an interesting site about urine color (blue or black urine, really?).
Initially, we were both fairly shy about peeing by the side of the road. We’d wait until we found a place with lots of dense bushes and then wander fairly far off the road. Being a man, I was much more cavalier about it, but still relatively shy. Over the course of our ride across the US we both got much more sanguine about stepping just a few feet off the road. Sometimes, I’d just turn my back.
On highway 50, where we could see for miles in either direction, and where some days very few cars would pass us, we each took the opportunity to pee on the center line. In contrast, in Ireland, 10 foot tall hedges grow right up to the edge of the road, so it’s really hard to pee with any level of privacy.
One of the challenges of stepping off the road to pee, of course, is that you may not always be “alone.” For example, when we were in the western US, the desert rarely offered bushes big enough for privacy so I sometimes used the culverts that ran under the road. As you can see from the photo, my “peeing buddy” is not the kind you want to piss off. (See what I did there?)
The worst, of course, is having to poop by the side of the road when you just-cannot-hold-it-any-longer.
We drink coffee as soon as we can first thing in the morning and hope that our bodies are inspired to “percolate” before we hit the road. We usually try not to set out for the day until we’ve both percolated. (Not surprisingly, all the coffee contributes to the multiple “last pee” scenario.) But sometimes your body, or what you just had for lunch, changes things. When they do, we are prepared. We carry a ziplock with a small trowel, toilet paper, baby wipes and hand sanitizer.
One challenge with pooping by the side of the road is that the bright yellow or red shirts I wear that scream out, “Hey, mister driver, here I am! Please don’t hit me” take on a whole new meaning when you’re squatting. Now those bright colors scream out, “Hey, everyone! Here I am behind this bush! I’m over here pooping!”
Although we’ve each only had to do this a handful of times, it’s something we both really strive to avoid. I’ve ridden for miles with stomach cramps, hoping to find a bathroom.
In Appreciation of Water Closets
My vocalization to myself in the video below (8 seconds) captures how cycling has given me a weird appreciation for bathrooms. Click on the image blow to start the video.