Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Best laid plans...

When I worked for astronaut Sally Ride, the second question the middle school girls would ask her at the Sally Ride Science Festivals we held all around the country was, "How do you go to the toilet in space?" These sorts of questions are important to children, and my own childlike questioning must still be strong, as I never tired of the question, Sally's skill at answering, and the children's (and their parents') reactions; and I still get frustrated when reading adventure stories on or in sea, land, air or space, when they don't cover this basic question. How are we supposed to learn anything when we find ourselves in the same situation?

A lot of the time you have to figure it out for yourself (at least NASA has a manual). When I started climbing in the 90s, invariably a month's expedition would land sometime inside my menstrual cycle. I can still vividly remember having to change a tampon, standing in crampons on a 40 degree French Alps glacier, roped in with two young lads. When they figured that if they didn't help me out in this procedure, with a well-watched rope, that we could all go down together, we became pretty firm friends; and they became very soliticious to my needs for the rest of the trip. (One chap's girl-friend even wrote me after the trip, asking me what had happened to her man, as he was a much nicer person on his return.)

And I also learned the hard way that packing tampons on the last few days of a summit push, just in case my period started early, doesn't really add that many grams to a pack. Never will I forget, squatting on an open col at 19,600 ft on Peru's Huascaran, in a howling gale in the middle of the night, with ice flying all around, watching blood drip on to pure white ice.

For last year's Everglades Challenge, I packed a couple of in-cockpit pee systems I thought would have me covered. They didn't - couldn't get enough height sitting in my cockpit's pod seat. So I used a sponge and wore just a baggy pair of shorts. Worked brilliantly; except on day 3 when it was rough enough that I couldn't take my hands off my paddle. So I just peed in my boat as I paddled, and pumped it away with my foot pump. It felt quite liberating.

This year, I'd timed everything to realise that bang in the middle of the race I was going to start my period. This was going to be interesting, not normally stepping ashore each day for up to 16 hours or so. Well, perhaps approaching menopause (at least that's what FliesWithKB taunts me with) is a good thing, as last night my period came early, and I could unpack all those tampons that I'd solicitously packed away. Anything to save a few grams!

PS. the photo's tagged an earlier date, but the shot was taken at Bobby's just last week.

1 comment:

DaveO said...

I like the way you jump right in to these 'interesting' topics. I did some work for the Bancroft-Arneson Antarctic expedition a few years back, which had a large educational component. As you said, about the second question from any kid was, "How did you go potty in the below zero weather?". Frankly the menustral problem never crossed my mind.....typical guy, eh?