Yesterday morning, the TV meteorologist sighed and said, “Another day of heat.” Bright red warning boxes covered the screen. The temperature at 5:45 a.m. was 84°F. By noon it had climbed to 100°F, and when I was preparing for the evening ride home it was 106°F. Extreme, and it’s been like that nearly all summer.
Used to be I wouldn’t commute by bike unless the temp was under 90. After awhile that crept up to 95, and the past couple of years it’s been sitting at 100. This year, well, screw it, there wouldn’t be any cycling at all if I stuck by the old rules. Misery loves company. There are four of us coworkers who have been riding despite the heat. We have been called “crazy” and even “stupid.” Maybe we are a little crazy, but we’re not stupid. People everywhere must work in this heat to earn a living. If those folks can cope with it, so can we. So can everyone.
Obviously you’ve got to drink water on a ride (Camelback’s slogan, “Hydrate or Die,” is an adage to live by). But you’re asking for trouble if you wait until you’re on the bike to drink in this weather. A 64-oz. bottle of water sits on my desk every weekday. It is my goal to drink all of it before I swing my leg over the saddle. On the trip home, Sweetpea’s downtube cage carries a bottle filled with ice and a dash of water. The ice is melted after a couple of miles, and that’s perfect because it’s 2.5 miles before any shade kicks in. I’m not really thirsty because I’ve been drinking all day, but a swirl of icy water in my mouth makes me feel great while climbing the mile-long hill out of the valley. And when I finally reach shade and am just starting to feel hot, I pour the air-warmed water down my back, arms, legs. Aaaaah, sweet relief.
These are amazing inventions. I prefer the type with water-absorbing gel beads sewn into an inner band. This summer I’ve been experimenting with refrigeration, specifically, placing the water-swollen neckerchief into a freezer for about 40 minutes. This seems to be the optimal time to create ice crystals on the outside but not freeze the gel within. It’s a shock when the crystals first hit the skin, but the neckerchief stays cold for the worst part of the ride–the Big Hill. There’s no shade on that hill, not a dab, not a blur, not a thin gray line. All the way up, I feel the heat blasting my body like the devil’s breath, but I don’t care. It’s a little like laughing gas–you still feel the pain, but you think it’s funny. Gotta say, I’m a little addicted to the neckerchiefs. There’s always a damp one lying around somewhere at home or work.
High tech clothing
One of this year’s goals was to wear “regular” clothing while riding, but that was pretty much thrown out the window when the mercury hit the boiling point. New exercise fabrics have the optimal design for keeping your skin covered and cool at the same time. I rode home once a few weeks ago in the full heat of day wearing a cotton t-shirt and shorts. Never again.
Nice and easy
On the first 100+ day I attacked the Big Hill because the chilled neckerchief fooled my brain into thinking it was invincible. The result was a beet-red face and feeling sluggish for the rest of the evening. As the century days began to pile up, though, I realized there was nothing to prove and I might as well slow down. So what if it takes five to ten minutes longer to get home on a hot day? The important thing is that I’m riding. I’m not fast, but I’m riding.
The days of century temperatures don’t appear to be ending any time soon. We’re starting to get used to them, and 95°F doesn’t seem so hot any more. In a few short months we’ll be complaining about the cold, wondering how those Minnesotans can ride their bikes in snow and ice. I hope some of them are reading this and wondering why we Kansans risk heat stroke. A little crazy, yeah, that’s what we are. Just a little.