Riding in Heat

By 8:15 I am rolling out of the driveway.  I know that’s not exactly the crack of dawn, now two hours in the past, but I have decided that with my kind of free time, if the day’s too hot, it’s too hot.  Not worth trying to beat the heat by stumbling out of bed at 6:00.  I had enough of that when I taught 8:00 classes.  I have already checked the temperature on my nifty indoor/outdoor thermometer, and viewed the forecast on the WeatherBug site.  Today it’s calling for sunny and hot, with temperatures in the upper 90s.  When I leave it is almost 80°.  I’ve also selected the right sunglasses lenses for the weather conditions, zeroed out my bike computer readings, freshened up my water bottle, and topped off my tires to optimum pressure.

At this time of year the sun rises far enough in the northeast to cast long shadows across some of my regular routes well into the morning, and I’ve chosen one of those: the W&OD down to Shirlington, then the connector to the Mount Vernon Trail by National Airport (the R word is not used in our household), north along the Potomac to Key Bridge, back out the Custis Trail to North Arlington, on a loop through local neighborhoods on the excellent set of street trails provided by Arlington County, and then  back onto the W&OD and home.  It’s a total of about 29.5 miles.

The key to riding successfully in heat is not putting excess stress on my body by riding at the rate I usually do.  Just doing about 90% of the usual effort keeps my body’s core temperature sufficiently low.  That’s the difference between work and power.  No matter how long the ride takes, I am doing about the same amount of work, because I am moving myself and the bike around the route described above.  But if I am going more slowly I am using less power each minute, i.e. burning fewer calories each minute, so there’s less heat to dissipate, largely through sweat.  Thus less possibility of dehydration, heat stroke, or worse.

Riding this way is psychologically hard for me, as I have stated.  I like the exhilaration and speed of pushing my effort toward the red zone.  Yesterday I tried to ride this same way, but on about the last half of the way back I was cranking it pretty hard.  Today it hit me: I should think of what I am doing as the cycling equivalent of jogging.  A runner doesn’t go at near race speed all the time.  And so I jogged along today, being passed by a couple of riders I could have passed, not keeping pace with one or two I could have, finding myself enjoying the scenery more.

Another key strategy is keeping moving.  Even stopping at a light makes me drip sweat because the air is not rushing past, evaporating it.  So I try not to take a rest stop, or if I do it is brief, just long enough to take a drink, wring out my sweat band, and wipe the sweat off my sunglasses.  Needless to say I am drenched by this time, despite the hi-tech wicking action of my cycling shirts.  They may be expensive, but whatever these things are made of is worth it.  They don’t get heavy with moisture, and when you drip-dry them after washing it’s almost like they’re repelling the water.

Hydration is also important.  I decided this year to be super-cautious on this point, because getting dehydrated is very painful and also dangerous.  So I sip as I ride along, using my new Camelback water bottle (or, since it has a rack, it’s probably a “hydration system”).  Riding at today’s pace, I don’t even start dripping through my saturated sweat band until I’m away from the River and the uphill climb out of Rosslyn.

By the time I am on the homebound leg, rush hour is over and the suburban streets deserted.  And on a day like this the trail gets deserted too.  While there are discernibly more riders to work than there were two years ago, they’re all gone by 9:00, and most recreational riders like me have gotten their exercise  over with by 10:00 or so.  No fools they.  As I get to my local  right-of-way turnoff and glide into the shade of its trees and bamboo, I remember how the path was drifted with snow and blocked by broken bamboo trunks.  That was five months ago.  Now it’s a tranquil, cool arbor through which I complete the transition from hot trail to leafy neighborhood.  Couldn’t be better.  Air conditioning and cranberry juice are just around the corner and up the hill, where I hit 20 mph on my customary all-out sprint home.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

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