What comes along with it, however, is pleasant. There is a lot to be said for the olfactory excitement that comes with increases in heat. Take stew, for example: put a buncha stuff in a pot, and it smells... well, like nothing, really. Turn on the heat, and within an hour the house will be filled with pleasant aromas. It seems the outdoors is the same way, to a certain extent. There is a wild smell to the flowers, fields, and there is a waft of sunscreen and chlorine from local pools, something I didn't really notice a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately, there is also a strong smell of stagnant water along the bike trail - but that's okay. Nature! Whoooo!
Speaking of the bike trail, not since probably 2004 have I seen the trails so empty in the afternoons, and instead busy in the mornings! Things have flip-flopped, as the weather has reached a point where people are rising early to get workouts in before the heat really builds up. This morning started out in the lower 70's after some wild impulse thunderstorm activity from a passing shortwave, and it was "almost" cool feeling. Halfway to work, however, the truth was another day of relative misery in store: humidity was high, and even tenderized efforts weren't rewarded with any respite. I arrived just as sweaty as I had the day before. I'm hopeful for a repeat of last nights thunderstorm pop-up, for my ride home tonight from job #2. Pray for rain, they say... I'm there. It will be a thrilling treat to get a cool summer shower to wrap up an especially hot couple of days, maybe a little light-show along with it. I even took the bike out last night after dark, just to ride around the block a little and watch the lightning flash and the hear the skies groan. A LOT of energy - it's remarkable to see.
I've been pulling out some of my old methods for surviving the extreme heat, taken from many a stint at summertime 12 and 24 hour races, brevets, and commutes under high-heat advisories. These days, even fully frozen water bottles are fully thawed and warming after only 10 miles - and that's even with insulated bottles. For the commute, normally a one-bottle job, I've been running two this week: one for the inside of me: stay hydrated! Staying hydrated while sitting at the desk is a good idea, too. Don't head home in the afternoon on a hydration deficit, or you'll end up paying for it. The other bottle for the outside of me: A long squirt of icy water down the back feels GOOD at that long stop-light when the pavement is baking me from the ankles up. A plastic zipper-seal baggie, sandwich-sized, filled with ice and sealed - then with one of the bottom corners snipped, small, maybe a 1/16th inch - just enough to allow one drop at a time to pass. Stick that in the center back pocket, with the cut corner facing down and there will be a nice stream of cold water to keep you chilled after a while. You're gonna get wet anyways, right? Might as well be cool moisture, because the humidity here is too high to allow evaporative cooling to work with sweat alone - depending on what you're wearing, that is.
Clothing is important, too, this time of year. You know, honestly, I'm a cycling-geek big-time. Do I really have to get all suited up, gloves, cap, all that jazz, JUST to ride to work? When the temperature is between maybe 32 and 70, probably not. I see plenty of people just riding along in jeans, t-shirt, maybe a button-up with a few buttons un-done, casual shorts - whatever. I think I just get suited up in the cycling garb, A) because I've paid for it already, so I might as well use it, and B) it's just habit. I started riding recreationally before I ever considered commuting regularly, so it was just "what you did" to get ready to ride the bike, even if it was only for a few miles. This time of year, however, technical fabrics, jerseys, shorts are nearly essential. You NEED something to move that moisture away from your skin, something that is designed to cool, someplace to stash an extra water bottle (back pockets). You have to have something on your head to move sweat away from your eyes, keep the blistering sun off your face a little. Cycling-specific clothing and accessories, even if you only have one "kit" are, in my opinion, absolute life-savers - literally. If your body can't cool itself, you are putting yourself at serious risk. I can even tell a difference when I wear a "power-dry" or whatever athletic t-shirt.... they're just not the same as a good jersey. As long as I'm moving through the air, no matter how hot it is, I feel fairly good in these get-ups. They don't have to be expensive, either. A lot of jerseys or shorts will run upwards of a full Benjamin, but my basic, no-frills, solid color, no ads or graphics jersey is about $44, shorts a little more. Hand wash, hang dry, and they're ready for the next day's commute. Shop the close-out bins if you need to, but you don't have to have a full wardrobe of cycling gear by any means. Just a couple good pair of shorts, a jersey or two, and weeks like this one are far more tolerable. Compared to regular casual clothing, the technical stuff DOES make a difference in this heat. Considering we're all supposed to be "avoiding strenuous exercise" during this Excessive Heat Warning, I'll take any advantage I can get.
Areas to the south where you wouldn't think twice about associating the word "hot" with the city names, it hasn't been this warm or humid. Places like Houston, Phoenix... nope. It's been hotter here, in some cases the heat index in some Texas cities has been cooler than our actual temperature. Training? Check... Between Bob Burn's brevet series and the wild weather, the Kansas City area certainly gets me ready for whatever cycling challenges lay ahead. Surviving this week will be the first real test of summer fitness, and so far --- well, so far I feel like the dried-out grass clippings that I've been running over these past few days: squeezed dry, and cooked. But, it's getting better, easier... One thing is for sure: summer is in the house.