How to Manage Menstruation on the Appalachian Trail
Back in April, Allison wrote “Menstruation on The Appalachian Trail: The Bloody Truth“. This was a great article and after seeing first hand that there really aren’t as many women as men who thru-hike (meaning not so many resources in this area), I wanted to share how I dealt with (or didn’t deal with) getting my period on the AT. And so my story begins:
‘I’m sorry, we can’t take you as a patient. You could try the Virginia Department of Health?’ I hung up, unsure of what to do. ‘Welllll, I’m confused,’ I said to my roommates. We were driving to the beach for Spring Break, one week before I was set to leave to hike the AT. During the car ride I’d decided to be productive and try to find an OBGYN practice near where I might be in May when I needed my next Depo-Provera shot.
Back in the fall I had been contemplating how absolutely TERRIBLE it would be to get your period in the woods – a world without real toilets, sinks, trash cans, or (in my case) underwear. Spending multiple days dealing with cramps and bleeding and misery on top of miles of hiking and bears? Yeah, no thank you. Words like Diva Cup and Hiker Box tampons were thrown around the women’s AT forums, and as fun as those sounded, I wanted a different solution.
After talking with my gynecologist, I was pretty sure I’d found my perfect solution: Depo-Provera. Depo-Provera is a hormonal, injectable contraceptive administered by an OBGYN every 12 weeks. My gynecologist explained that this shot had the potential to keep me from having my period all together. Wait. Not bleeding and being miserable in the woods? I was sold.
I received my first shot in November so as to test the effects before setting out on the AT.
Luckily there were no weird effects, and the depo worked like a charm, completely eliminating all menstruation & cramping. I received the next shot in February, expecting I would be somewhere around Damascus when I needed the third one in May. ‘It shouldn’t be so hard to find an OBGYN wherever I am, right?’ I thought. Cue that woman on the phone referring me to the Department of Health. Never before had I heard of a doctor’s office refusing to take a new patient! Was this how all of Virginia was going to be? Were the rules in Virginia surrounding health visits so different?
I decided to focus on enjoying my last week with my roommates and deal with doctors and their nonsense later. And things ended up fine! I located an OBGYN in Daleville, VA at the Carilion Clinic who was happy to have me as a new patient! Judy at the front desk walked me through everything on the phone and made the faxing of my records from Atlanta super easy. When I arrived a few days earlier than expected to Daleville, she even gladly rescheduled my appointment to fit around my plans to eat and sleep .
All of the staff were so kind and interested in my hike. They asked lots of questions and told me about their experiences living near the trail and meeting thru-hikers. We chatted about family and the town and restaurants. After getting my shot they already had a release form ready for me to sign to allow them to send my records forward to wherever I would be when I needed my next shot. Before leaving, a nurse gave me a handful of KIND über bars and wished me luck.
Now, while I can’t say my next experience locating a doctor’s office in Gorham, NH went quite so smoothly, the Depo-Provera shot was definitely the right method for me on the trail. No periods. No hassel. No weird mood swings. Yes, still lots of cravings for chocolate and ice cream, but that was definitely at usual thru-hiker levels. And I may have cried a few times… but that was only because it took me three weeks to get a trail name! Let’s just not talk about it.
While this was just my personal experience, I promise you it all works out once you’re hiking. Things like planning how the heck maildrops work and how to handle your period in the woods can seem overwhelming. While you likely already have a method in mind, if not, I encourage you to consider all the options and figure out one that works best before hitting the trail. Getting your period is NEVER fun, but it doesn’t have to have an impact on how much you enjoy your thru-hike.
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