June 30, 2010

The wages of summer

So, I'd just written a lengthy post about hot weather riding.  I've got a long resume of rides and races done in 100+ degree temps, with humidity.  I have a storied relationship with hydration - some good times, some bad, but a learning curve that has me nearly past my old dehydration foe.  In fact, dare I say it, the last couple of 200K's have been... easy?  So, what's the problem with scheduling a 217km permanent the week after returning from vacation?  

Let me be perfectly honest and direct, and repeat what I've said before:  this blog is more a collection of how NOT to do things, more-so than it's a grouping of good guidelines and success stories.  There are a lot of examples in these pages where it's not so-much about how I've managed to accomplish something, it's about how I managed to get away with something.
Don't get me wrong, I'm proud of my palmares - but sometimes I chuckle at how I survived any of the rides at all. This is another one of those times.

Vacation.  All I ever wanted.  Vacation.  Had to get away.  

Away from WHAT exactly?  Whatever I "got away from", I managed to "get away" from nearly everything else a person preparing to ride a permanent does.  Like training.  Hydrating OFF the bike.  I relaxed by the pool, I went through about a gallon of sunscreen, and about three gallons of assorted beers and adult beverages in a ten day period, probably a third of it on a golf course with my brother-in-law - a champion of peer pressure and enabling.  Yeah, I'm a grown-up.  I should know about things like self-control, limits, responsibility.  In normal life, I do.  On vacation?  Apparently I had to "get away" from all that, also.  I had a good time.  I don't think my body did, however.  Fast-forward to Sunday, early AM, June 27th:  despite my best attempts to get back on track in the 48-hours since I'd left vacation and returned home, my body was probably not in the best shape for physical exertion in the heat.  If I was a smarter person, I would have chased my R-12 earlier in the month, BEFORE vacation.  Instead, I figured that the best way to wrap up a vacation and maybe burn off some of the previous-week's indiscretions was a nice, long bicycle ride.  I was sorta right.  One thing I definitely know about myself after this particular vacation, bike ride or not:  I am too old for that kind of thing.  Next year?  Different.  Oh, I know... I *SAY* that... but really.  Enough.  Moderation is fine.  I'm definitely NOT twenty-three years old anymore.  No reason to pretend that I am for a week.  Mid-life crisis, anyone?  

The morning air was simply thick with humidity.  The wind chimes on the back deck were in full song, and the wind vane showed a clear indication of the awaiting headwind that would mark the first half of the ride.  Two other brave souls joined me;  Gary from KCMO, and Robert on his recumbent from Lenexa.  Riding with a group is a good thing on a day like this.  It was about 77ºF when we shoved off for the first control at 3:50AM, and - like I mentioned - humid.  Very humid.  In fact, looking back at the climate summary for Sunday, it was 85% relative humidity at 3AM.  

We arrived at the 7-Eleven, got our post-4:00AM receipts, and then turned our sights to La Cygne, KS.  All around us there was the threat of thunderstorms and there was a promise in the forecast of a wind-shift later in the morning that would turn this into a double-headwind ride.  I suppose that's payback for the double-tailwind ride back in March, but I'm optimistic:  no reason to panic... just pedal.  Lights beaming into the night, we set off.  This would be cake...nice and easy, no rush, just get the finish.  A little disconcerting, however, I noticed after only a few miles that my gloves were soaked with perspiration that had been running down my arms.  Still an hour from sun-up, hydration would be a key factor today.  The only thing I was repeating in my head was the fact that it wasn't as bad as yesterday (Saturday), where it was 97ºF in the afternoon while I'd mowed the grass.  Today, Sunday, it was only going to be in the mid-80's, so no worries.  I hadn't counted on the humidity.

I don't mean to feign complacency about the 200K level - it's not "easy", but you reach a point in fitness and exposure where it's not AS big a deal as it was on day-one.  As we made our way up the first monster hill on Antioch, I felt pretty good - but my brain did something like a preview of the entire route in my head, all at once - and I caught myself wondering about the day.  This is a long route, and I haven't really spent a lot of time in the heat quite yet.  I remembered the May 22nd brevet, and it was hot... but that was over a month ago.  Not many hot commutes, and then nearly 12 days with no riding at all?  Was this a good idea?  Crud... no more "June" left, really... it was today, or flush the first four rides of this second R-12 run.  Yeah, let's just ride this thing... sweat dripping beyond the capacity of my headband, down my cheek as I gulped another swig of water.

I love the early part of this ride, ANY ride that starts before dawn.  Headlights dancing on the road, no cars, catching the eye-glow of a deer standing in the road... and remembering Noah's recent encounter with one as I announce the presence of "Bambi" to the group, slowing.  Stars, the moon, ghostly landscapes on either side of us... Ahhhh.... but, it was warm.  Too warm for so early in the morning.

We arrived at Louisburg, near K-68 and Metcalf - the BP station wasn't open yet, so we were obviously making decent time into the headwind, but we were already thinking that getting more water wouldn't be a bad idea.  Thankfully, I'd brought the big bottles with me today.  The sky was lightening in the east, and the promised thunderstorms hadn't showed up - which was both good and bad.  Another 25 miles, and we'd be at the first control already - not shabby.

Gary and I marveled continuously on Robert's recumbent, and his technique for the hills.  Effortlessly he'd fly past us, which was a reminder to us upright folks that a hill was coming.  He'd use the momentum and speed to carry him most of the way up the grade, and then we'd catch him before the top - only to have him blast past us on the descent.  It was neat to see... and there was simply no catching him.  If the road was pitched slightly downhill for any length, forget it.  Climbing looked like a low-gear chore at best, but the low wind profile and the speed on the flats... dang.  I was working to stay in touch for most of the day.

US-69 came and went, and then Jingo Road, and another "chase Robert!" downhill blast on K-152, finally reaching La Cygne just before 7:00AM.  The requisite freight train blasted through the crossing a few minutes later; good timing again!  This time, I decided to forgo the Cheesy Potato Bites that I usually dive for at Casey's, and I'm not certain why... oh, yeah, I know... because it'd gotten HOT.  I don't recall the temperature at that point, but the sun came up while we rode south, and there was nothing in the sky to block it.  The thunderstorms were showing up north and west of us, which made for a brilliant and colorful sunrise, but we'd get no shade.  I took the chance to reapply sunscreen, and instead of eating a whole lot of solid food I pulled out a packet of Carboplex and mixed it with the remainder of my water from the last leg, and downed it.  I've found this works better for me from a hydration perspective when it gets hot:  down the liquid nutrition like a full meal, at a control - as opposed to sipping on it while riding.  That leaves both bottles open for hydration needs.  I bought a pack of Fig Newtons for the back pocket, in case the hunger caught back up in the next leg.
I also went through my usual bathroom routine, which made things more comfortable in the gut region.  NOW I was ready to ride!  The hills were coming!  

I've come to love the character of this route.  It's a mixed bag of everything, and it's turning into good training for a lot of folks.  It's hilly, but really only in the middle section.  It's flat, but not enough to get boring.  It's exposed, which is good for headwind training, or fun tailwind-driven blasts - but it's sheltered in other sections, so you get a break if the wind isn't friendly.  There are plenty of stops so you can travel light, but not too many.  Thanks to Randy of Kansas Cyclist, there is a lot more to see than I originally thought - and I found myself looking farther off the road into the trees and cross streets this time, looking for more.  The only downside to this route, however, is the last section seems long, exposed, and brutal if you are not prepared - as I'd find out later on.

The hills were brilliant.  Energy was good, push was spot-on.  I was feeling far better on the grades than I'd felt in several attempts, so perhaps the rest of vacation did me some measure of good - at least I wasn't paying too badly for my behavior.  Even though I was using every inch of my drivetrain, my RPMs were up and my cardio was working quite well.  Having a full range of gears is useless if you're only going to mash against one or two of them, and I have found that I've learned to select my gears more smartly - not mash quite so much, and use a more rounded approach to climbing:  the results, I tend to get over the top with something left now, instead of falling into the seat and quickly shifting down to try and get some sort of spin going again.  Consistency is good.

Pleasanton!  HOT!!!  At this point, the heat is getting ridiculous.  The local men are walking around shirtless, kids are complaining, and the air conditioning in the c-store is so much colder and drier than the outside air, I nearly get a headache walking into it.  Water, food.  NOW.  Unfortunately, the bathroom break at La Cygne was not the end of things in that regard - my stomach felt upset now, queasy.  I stopped into the mens room to right things, and diarrhea met me head-on.  Ugh, not good.  Not only did I lose some fluids, but something wasn't agreeing with me now.  Grand.  Whatever it was, though, this would be the only time it'd pop up on me.  I drank   nearly a full bottle of water with Elete drops in it, and then refilled with more ice and water in both bottles, after downing another serving of Carboplex, drank a real Coke - partially for calories, partially to settle the stomach, and had some Fig Newtons.  I bought another couple packs for the pockets.  Cards signed, and 20 minutes or so in the A/C, more sunscreen, a text to the wife saying "halfway", and we were ready to roll out again.  

This leg should be nice, from a wind perspective.  The forecast wasn't quite working out thunderstorm-wise, and we still had time to beat the wind forecast; it was 9:35AM when we left Pleasanton, and we were doing well on pace - the wind wasn't forecast to shift until something like 11AM, so the goal was to get back through La Cygne before it did.  Slightly nervous about my stomach, I was pleased to find no major issues on the road back to the last control - but I did notice that my push was starting to leave the legs a bit, and I got a mild cramping sensation on the last monster hill of the section, the one that always gets me.  I kept pedaling, and upped the electrolyte-water intake to nip it.  Robert and Gary were strong, and we three rolled back into La Cygne just a few minutes apart from each other.  

Wow... hotter still, really apparent (like the first two times) only when coming to a complete stop.  Upon hitting the sidewalk in front of the Casey's and stopping, the sweat was running like a faucet and the heat seemed to radiate off of everything.  The bank thermometer across the tracks a ways read 84ºF, and all three of us were convinced it was lying.  Mid-90's, easily.  Hard to tell... but the humidity and dewpoint was really high with thunderstorms threatening again only a couple miles north of us.  In fact, we'd watched cell after small cell pop up, dump, and die-off while we rode the middle 40 miles of the route.  There was so much moisture in the air, but none of it was falling on us as relief, and there were no clouds around us for shade.  The sauna was relentless.

I ate a slice of cheese pizza, drank a quart of Powerade Zero, another quart of water, more Carboplex for the final 46 miles to the finish, this being the official "lunch control" for me.  More sunscreen, and I noticed that parts of my cycling shorts were as white as the sunscreen I was applying, thick with salt from my skin.  Yikes... haven't seen THAT in a while.  I though back to Tejas, and Ort.  I thought of Tinbutt.  I thought of the stupid hot 300K and the Warbird back in '03.  I thought of hydration, and maybe taking this last part of the ride a little easier.  Robert and Gary both looked hot, sweaty, tired.  We all, however, had this one in the bag so long as we could finish before 6:30pm.  That little word crossed my mind again:  "cake".

We rode out of town, enjoying the cross wind -- it was 11:00AM, but the full wind shift was holding off, thankfully, and we ended up with more of a WSW cross-tailwind.  It was nice, and welcome, and well-earned as far as we three were concerned, having battled it for almost 70 miles on the way out.  After we stayed grouped together for safety and visibility up the long climb out of the valley on K-152, the next long, gentle downhills of Jingo Road were finding Robert far up the road, enjoying the recumbent in its natural habitat.  I kept up the middle of the pack, and Gary followed along - the three of us negotiating the occasional hill in good stead, taking advantage of the cross-tail wind, but being wary of the heat.  I didn't feel quite cooked, but I certainly was beginning to pay for pushing such a pace into the morning's headwind.  We'd managed a 16.0 average speed on the outbound, not bad considering the winds gusting to 15MPH, but it was catching up.  The sunscreen I'd just applied a few miles earlier was already running in streaks down my arms and legs, the sweat just pouring out of me.  With the slight vacuum of the tailwind, it was like baking the moisture out of pottery, like sitting in a kiln.  More and more, each sip of electrolyte water was followed by a hacking sensation, a spit to the roadside, and a slight amount of sinus pressure.  Hmmm.  Not good signs, surely.  

In fact, I get the impression that the Elete drops I'd been using for about a month had a flaw.  It might just be me, it might have been just too strong a mix - not sure;  but I got the impression in the later part of the ride that the liquid drops were not really creating a "solution" of my water -- rather, if this makes any sense, when ingesting a gulp of water it felt as if the electrolyte portion of the last mouthful was separating out, not getting swallowed - but instead hanging in the back of my throat.  The only solution, despite trying to rinse it down with another sip, was to hack it up and spit it out.  Was my body rejecting it?  I wasn't cramping... but my push was leaving, it seemed.  Contrast to Hammer's Endurloytes, which come in capsule form and are easily swallowed.  With that mode of delivery, I'm thinking that the "good stuff" is down in your gut, and probably will do more good.  Perhaps I'm reaching here, but it genuinely seemed that each loogey I was hocking up had a distinctly salty taste to it, not unlike tasting one of the Elete drops themselves.  Perhaps the heat and my level of exertion was emptying my sinuses?  Strange... whatever it was, it wasn't normal, it was really uncomfortable, was beginning to interfere with my breathing, and it was increasing in frequency.  The only thing I could fathom to make myself feel better was to drink more water... but something was changing.

Jingo Road came to an end, with an urge to relieve some pressure - so I rode across to a secluded gravel section and took care of business, happy to find things were perfectly as they should have been:  crystal-clear.  Confirmation that I'd been drinking enough was very welcome considering the conditions, but it was not explaining the fatigue, slight headache, and continuous desire to spit on the roadside and the sinus issues.  Was I bonking or something?  No clue.  I ate another Fig Newton bar to make sure.  US-69 became 339th Street, which became Metcalf - steps closer to Lousiburg, and a - now mandatory as far as I was concerned - stopping point.  

The hills came again - I always forget about this part:  fresh, early in the ride, the hills are there - sure - but they aren't as notable with only 30 miles in the bank.  With over a century on the meter, however, they are really "there" in the last part of the day.  More water, more hocking something salty into the bushes - nearly constant drainage or something happening, and another new visitor:  heartburn.  What the?  This couldn't be a good sign, and it's not something I've battled on the bike since I started riding in '98.  Back then, I blamed sugary sports drinks and largely being out of shape.  Today?  Things had gone pretty well so far, even considering the last 10 miles of slow, downward trending.  Heartburn, though?  I started scanning the mental documents:  what could this mean?  Not enough food?  Too much water?  Surely not.  It seemed that on every increase in effort, every hill - even trying to tender the amount I was pushing on the pedals - I was getting clear burning across the chest, and more hocking up of cloudy, salty phlegm.  This was not only getting old, it was beginning to worry me.  30 miles to go, maybe less... 

Louisburg!  Finally!  I dismounted, found Robert - who had taken a good lead with the downhills and momentum - and parked by the shady side of the building, then drank in the rest of my water, which was now almost hot.  It was a hard choice, packing and prepping for the ride the night before:  take the larger bottle to have MORE water, or take the insulated bottles to have COLD water?  I'd chosen the former, and downing the warm brine was almost difficult, almost burning.  Robert was complaining of the same problem:  "you know it's bad when it hurts to drink cold water."  

I stood in the shade of the gas station awning, looking south along Metcalf, scanning for Gary - he finally popped over the last hill, caught sight of me, and pulled in.  Something tells me, however, he would have anyways.  He looked almost as uncomfortable as I was feeling.  We all went inside, and were smacked hard with the air conditioning.  The discussion in the station was the same on the lips of the locals as it was for us - the heat, the humidity, the storms that had passed over and dumped rain a few hours earlier, only adding more moisture back to the air, baking everything in a sweltering, humid death-hold.  It was mildly comforting that it wasn't just me that was suffering - but I was still experiencing things that I hadn't felt since other, much hotter races.  I was experiencing things that I remember Ort complaining of on the last few laps of the Tejas 500 a couple years back.  I wasn't just "hot" and still ready to ride - I felt like I was going off-line.  Evidence in the restroom again was perfectly clear... so, technically, I was hydrated... so what gives???

I drank a real Coke - the caffeine probably being a poor choice, but I was associating it with feeling better:  maybe a little sugar, and definitely the COLD sensation of it passing my lips and running into my stomach.  I drank a full quart of Powerade - sadly not the Zero-calorie, sugar-free stuff I've grown to prefer, but the only thing this particular store sold, the full-strength, rot-gut sports swill.  It went down easily enough, but I still sipped it slowly - recalling times where I've seen riders slug it down, only to have it come right back up.  I was feeling the tentative tugs of nausea passing in and out.  I retreated to the restroom, removed my cycling cap and ran cold water through it, washed my face for the third time that day, ran my wrists under the cold stream of water and just concentrated on breathing.  In... Out.... relax.... If this was a bonk, I didn't care:  I wasn't about to eat anything solid.  Wasn't on my mind at all.  The Fig Newton package that was in my back pocket was removed long enough to notice the seam sealant used to hold the package together had softened enough for it to nearly fall open on its own, and then I put it back.  No more Carboplex left on me, so the calories from the Coke and the Powerade would have to do.  The three of us simply stood, staring out the window into the glare - which was almost painful for me to look at anymore.  

"I hope you're not in a hurry, because I can't go back out there quite yet."  It was Robert, and I had absolutely zero argument with his statement.  I was fine with taking as much time as needed here.  We were all in agreement.  Reluctantly, however, even as I was starting to feel more human again it was time to step back into the furnace and get back on the bicycles for the last 22-23 miles or so.  We all three agreed, let's regroup again at Stillwell - only eight or nine miles to the north - and take another break.  Again, there were no arguments.  We saddled up, and headed back onto the pavement - after a brief encounter with a young girl that was impressed and curious about Robert's recumbent.  With it's sleek and unconventional look, I get the impression he gets comments a lot!

It felt cooler, slightly.  I regretted having wished for dry roads and no storms earlier that morning - a thunderstorm would have felt awesome right then, but at least we were beginning to pass under a cloud deck of sorts.  After applying more sunscreen again, and the new clouds helping it cool down, perhaps I was turning a corner and the worst was over.  I was not in a hurry.  Even at a snails-pace, I could fall behind and still only be minutes behind Robert and Gary at Stillwell - and that's what happened.  Intentional?  Hardly... Even feeling slightly better, it was merely an illusion.  My speed was down.  My cadence was steady - but there was very little wattage behind each stroke.  Robert and Gary advanced up the road quickly, and I began to slip into auto-pilot.  

I coasted where I could, and every grade continued to produce the hacking sensation of heartburn.  This time I was sure - my tank is empty, I'm bonking probably - or near it - and the only thing in my gut is pure acid.  All I was doing was pouring salty water onto it.  My sinuses began to pound again, more drainage, more hocking and spitting.  The frequency of the urge to spit was downright annoying, but I had to get rid of whatever was in my mouth.  The only thing I really remember about this little eight or nine mile section was repeating the word "relax" over and over in my head, and spitting on the roadside.  I questioned whether or not my sunglasses were working, and I forgot where I was at times, "waking up" when the road surface changed slightly.  I remember stopping at 247th street at the stop sign, and then I remember reaching the Johnson County line at 215th street.  Finally at the Stillwell c-store, I knew I'd been drinking because my water bottles had less fluid in them - but I felt almost as bad as I'd felt pulling into Louisburg - and the majority of the miles between there and the last stop were a blur.

Gary and Robert both were laying prone on top of the partially-shaded picnic tables outside the store, drinking, looking zapped.  More restroom time for me, more evidence of perfect hydration - which just confused me again - more cold water over the wrists, more soaking the cycling cap, and emerging again to find a bottle of 7-Up and a bottle of Gatorade.  I'd completely lost the taste for the Elete drops I'd been using - as tasteless as they claim to be, it was like drinking sea-water.  Gatorade, again only the full-strength swill available here for some reason (why is the zero-cal stuff only sold in the sticks, and not up here in south JoCo?) and my two big bottles filled with ice-cubes.  I diluted the Gatorade into one of them, and left the second bottle as straight water - taking a cue from Robert and using it to douse myself for the last fourteen miles would help keep my temperature down.  It's one of my own tricks, too, but I hadn't been doing it since both bottles had been "treated" with Elete drops.  Shouldn't have mattered, because my jersey and shorts were completely clogged with body salts anyways.  Next time, it's Endurolyte tablets, period, and straight water in the bottles.  You can't lose your taste for something that you're just swallowing, and they seem to have a more complete ingredients list.

We mounted up again, and this time managed to stay almost lock-step together on the road.  We'd all reached a point where we were starting to watch each other.  Bonk?  I don't know.  Dehydration?  Every break indicated that I was staying right on top of hydration, all day.  SO, was it hyponatremia?  I don't think so, because I wasn't cramping at all - and complete lack of electrolytes would have had me in far worse condition.  The heartburn, the hacking up of salty, cloudy phlegm continued.  I was spitting up so much, and I knew Robert and Gary were behind me and that the wind had shifted into more of a headwind, so I began spitting into my gloves and wiping it onto my shorts.  Who cares anymore, but I wasn't about to spray spittle all over my fellow riders.  But the internal production of sticky crud continued, and a couple times I actually coughed and felt like a little bit more was coming up - but, thankfully, I never yacked.

The fast downhill on Antioch came and went without much enjoyment - no fast tuck, no smile this time... just going through the motions.  I may have even hit the brakes, I don't know.  I yawned extra-wide to try and get my ears to pop, to try and minimize the sinus pressure.  I even closed my eyes for a few seconds on the straight and even sections - and the creepy thing is that upon opening them, even after blinking, I would see echoes of some radial, ray pattern left in my purplish "after-vision"... the only thing I could figure was that it was the pattern of my iris, like I was getting a cornea burn or something.  With my 100% UV blocking glasses, I was confused how this was happening... but it's a first.  I've seen the echoes of white lines from staring at the pavement.. but never anything like this.  It would persist into the night, long after I'd stop riding.

I doused myself along my upper back, getting a delayed reaction to the ice-cold water.  I took sips of plain water, leaving the Gatorade in its bottle: I was finished drinking anything with a flavor.  I didn't want to eat.  I didn't really want to drink.  I kinda wanted to take a nap.  My body, clearly, had been begging me to stop for hours now - I think all three of us were simply pushing the issue, reaching for a finish - like Luke Skywalker reaching for Obi Wan Kenobi's ghostly image in the snowstorm on the ice planet of Hoth.  This was the last gasp.  175th street had never felt so long, and nearly all of it uphill it seemed.  The last three miles north on Murlen might as well have been a thousand.  It seemed impossible.  I was sure I was hallucinating - but maybe that shirtless jogger WAS there, maybe that WAS a rabbit rustling along the road next to me.  I knew what I wasn't seeing, however:  we all three knew, back at Stillwell - at this time of day, on a weekend, on these roads - this is cycling country... and we hadn't seen another soul on a bike all day.   We caught a red light at 159th and Murlen, joking about the two young girls on 24" mountain bikes; sidewalk riders -- "hey, see we're not nuts:  there's two other cyclists right there!"

One last mile was all that remained.... and I can't tell you how difficult it was to pass my street and keep riding to the 7-Eleven control.  Keep in mind, it's only 3/4ths of a mile from home to the control, by design - but it didn't matter to me:  I wanted to be home NOW.  I rationalized leaving the route, riding home, taking a cool shower, taking a nap, and waking up before the control closed to mount up and go get my card signed for the finish.  No, no... finish now, with the group.  I felt a small charge, but it didn't last long - we were in the parking lot, inside, buying one last item, one last receipt, one last signature and time-stamp on the card.  Done.  Done.  Done. 

I don't think I've ever stood inside that 7-Eleven for so long. 

Unable to stay balanced under my own power, I clutched my liter of water in one hand, and a four-foot high stack of 12-packs of whatever with my other, steadying my stance.  I stared out the window, my head throbbing, dizzy, nauseated, weary, hot, but then suddenly chilled - not even wanting to continue the conversation that was still taking place around me between Robert and Gary.  I wanted to close my eyes.  I wanted to call the wife to come get me... yes, with only 3/4ths of a mile left to ride, I wanted to call her.  I texted her instead.  Even the tone of my text must have been an indication -- I'd been texting her since Louisburg, at our two stops, and she knew it was bad.  Even for a non-cyclist, she knew that the last 22 miles usually took far less time than they'd taken today -- "take your time and be careful," she replied.

Getting back on the bike was SO hard.  I almost walked it home from there.  But, alas, I mounted up and piloted it home, my two companions-in-pain alongside - we three made it back, me to my home, they to their cars.  Handshakes, head-shakes... route cards and receipts collected.  

Slowly... real food.
Sitting in a chair.. eyes closed.

In the hours that followed, I continued to shake my head.  I erased my "future rides" section on the kitchen dry-erase board.  I posted hastily to social network sites, teasing this very blog post and doing nothing short of denouncing rando riding in my future.  I thought over and over, "what exactly is wrong with a nice, sensible METRIC CENTURY?  Why do I do this?  What am I proving?"  This simply CAN'T be good for my body, my life.  I went to sleep Sunday night with plans for the wife to take me to work.  I went to bed with plans to let the R-12 fall.  I went to bed with chills, dizziness, and a body temperature of 94ºF.  There was NO WAY I was doing this, ever again.  I felt like absolute crap.

Of course, you all know me too well.

While I am likely skipping the too-soon-for-me July 10th brevet in Topeka, there is an awful lot of "July" to think about what happened, and what I need to do differently.  But quit?  I don't think so... not now, after 48-hours of thought.  At this writing, I'm back on the bike - commuting - getting strength back, eating right, smiling again.  

Was I bonking?  I don't know... but it's possible I was knocking on the door.
Dehydrated?  Technically, no... but I don't know why I felt so horrid, and yet having evidence of being so well hydrated at every break.
The sinus pressure?  Perhaps a couple Sinu-tabs in my back pocket for next time?  I carry ibuprofen, Immodium, sunscreen, and extra Lantiseptic in a small tin... why not add a little sinus relief?  Done.  Perhaps it's a personal indication that things are wrong when its hot - and perhaps I should listen.  

The heartburn, the phlegm?  Not sure... researching, thinking.

Was my body simply still recovering from a liver-testing vacation?  Perhaps... and it's THAT which I am too old for, THAT which is not good for my body.  This isn't another "quitting coffee" ultimatum... merely a call to moderation, once again.  I'm an obsessive personality, as if there was any doubt.  With whatever it is, if a little is good - then a LOT must be great, right?  ... you get the idea.  When I ride a bike, this is also true.  I've got problems, but who doesn't?  My behavior on vacation, I'm not super proud of it - but I did have a memorable time.  I have little doubt that it compromised my riding preparedness, and my ability to stay hydrated at a muscular level.

All things being equal, I was not the only one having problems on Sunday... so perhaps it was just plain heat exhaustion.  Hydration was good - but with the humidity being so high it was clear that our bodies were not cooling themselves very well, or very completely.  I remember dizziness, nausea, loss of appetite, confusion, blurred vision, fatigue.  Nothing I did on vacation changes the fact Sunday saw a high of 89ºF with an average relative humidity for the day of 72%.  That's pretty miserable, and I don't think any of the three of us were prepared for it - least of all, me.  

I have no doubts I can be smarter about it... because there will undoubtedly be a "next time".
We'll therefore call this "number 5" in the quest for R-12 #2.... and move forward.

Thanks for reading... and for goodness sake:  be smarter than me when you ride!

June 9, 2010

Rhode Island in the building!

Two bloggers diverge on a quiet suburban street, early morning...
The result? Mayhem...

Ok, not really... but hey.

James B. from Providence, RI was in town a few weeks back during Bike-To-Work Week, and was a little bummed that he was traveling during the time where he'd normally be riding to work and logging miles for the nationwide effort.

What to do?

Fake it.

CarfreePVD and commuterDude... hittin' the streets of Olathe/OP!
Read all about it HERE.

Thanks, James, for coming out and sharing a commute with me!

June 6, 2010

June 27th, RUSA Permanent

For those interested, either chasing the R-12 award or just looking for a long ride, and not able to ride the KCUC 1,000km ride next weekend, mark your calendars:

SUNDAY, June 27th, 2010
4:00AM Start - designed to beat-the-heat.
The Free-State Border Patrol, 217km (137 miles).

Keith has registered this permanent with the RPC, and will act as ride leader for this event:
If you are interested, email Keith for details.
Must be a current RUSA member, must have signed waiver and check for $5.00 payable to Spencer Klaassen for certification and processing fees.
Pre-registration required, please. Again, email Keith to register.
(Cut-off date for registration is June 22nd, to allow time for cards to be mailed)

The Free-State Boder Patrol is 217km of flat to rolling terrain, with some challenging hills near the mid-point, on historic roads that were the trigger-point for activity that led to the beginning of the American Civil War. You'll pass near the towns of Aubry, Stilwell, Bucyrus, Wea, Cleveland, Louisburg, Rutlader, La Cygne, and Pleasanton along the old Leavenworth-to-Fort Scott Military roads that skirt the Kansas-Missouri border. Border skirmishes lit up the entire area along this route from 1854-1861, as John Brown stirred the pot that would eventually thrust the nation into war. Just as Union troops patrolled this major strategic artery, you'll "patrol" your way south towards the Mine Creek battlefield, where the only Civil War battle to take place on Kansas soil was fought in October 1864.
...And you thought it was just another bike ride!

Route Map

With c-stores spaced roughly every 20 miles, this is an "easy" ride, logistically - rise early, beat the heat and wind, and (normally for summer) enjoy a tailwind on the return... but watch out for ruffians!

June 4, 2010

HOT weather riding, dressing, prepping

You may remember a while back, when it was MUCH cooler, I drafted up a post about riding when it's cold. Thankfully, as I write this, it's possibly the last thing on your mind - assuming you are reading this north of the equator. Under the same guise, however, it crossed my mind that there are are some things about HOT weather that make riding a challenge. Way back in '99, 2000, I remember the Warbird mentioning this from time to time -- "it's too stinkin' hot to ride", and similar. Who can blame him, or anyone else, for thinking this? In Kansas, the heat is accompanied by humidity - prompting a phrase that is the opposite of the number-excusing phrase muttered in the desert: "...yeah, but It's a dry heat." In Kansas, and much of the plains east of the Rockies, it's anything but.

Big deal, right? "It's hot". Boo-hoo, right?

Compared to cold weather, I would certainly prefer hot. However, there are similar concerns - some of them just as hazardous to your health as frostbite or hypothermia. It's hard to wrap ones head around it, though - because... well, it's "nice" out. It's sunny. It's pleasant. "What's the worst that could happen?" Winter carries with it obvious signs of caution: biting winds, frozen precipitation, snow, and icy temperatures all immediately prompt adding layers for protection, for example. Summertime, it's far easier to just bust out of the garage without a second thought. I've done it. Many have.
So, what to do? What to consider?

This is more of a general-condition post. Compared to the cold weather post, where I had individual sections devoted to parts of the body, this is more vague and focused on what you are trying to prevent - not so much on what you are trying to protect.

What are you protecting, though? The body. It is a very well-made instrument. Like any intelligently-made machine, there are devices in place that are designed to protect the most vital parts of the operation. Your organs and your brain are critical to proper operation and the body is designed to protect them at all costs.

Think about when it is so cold your body starts to shiver uncontrollably: that is an involuntary response that your brain triggers to engage muscle tissue to try and produce heat in order to maintain core temperature so you don't shut down. It's debilitating and frustrating, but it is happening because your brain has reached a point where it's decided to take matters into its own hands to prevent the core from freezing. In hot temperatures, the same kind of things can happen and it's vital to pay attention to your body. Unfortunately, the WAYS in which symptoms of trouble present themselves are more subtle in summer than in winter. Numb toes, shivering, are pretty obvious... but in summer, you can feel "terrific" right up to the point you pass out. Things to watch for: if you stop sweating. You start yawning but you're not tired. Sinus pressure. Popping ears. Dizziness. Fatigue or lethargy. Hallucinations or confusion. In some of these cases, you need a buddy to tell you there's a problem - heat stroke affects the brain, and the very confusion that it brings on can prevent you from having the cognition to do anything about it. One good tip is to recognize the early signs of overheating about yourself, and you will never have to worry about the more severe signs.

Tolerance for heat is a very personal matter. Those that were raised in southern climes will be far more used to heat and humidity that someone that lives just south of the Canadian border. There are some folks from Arizona that don't understand why Missourians complain when it's "only 95 degrees" outside. SO, find out where YOU are, geographically and personally, and adjust accordingly. For the record, I have lived and ridden in Kansas and Missouri all my life, and commuted to and from work here for a decade or so. I hope to shed some amount of light on how to prepare and be comfortable and safe when the thermometer soars above 85 degrees F. For those seeking a car-free existence, or looking to complete a portion of an R-12 in hot conditions, hopefully you'll find some things in here that will help! Finally, preparing for hot weather is dynamic, and often depends on many factors: How used to the conditions are you? What was the temperature yesterday? Is it windy? Is it dry? What's the dew-point, humidity, heat index? People are very adaptable, but there are real dangers that exist with exposure to hot conditions - and it must be considered that "tolerance" and "ignoring the warning signs" can often be confused.
Finally, there are MANY hot weather activities that can benefit from the advice contained here in this post - HOWEVER: I can only speak from my own experience. The advice I give here could be easily transfered from bicycling to jogging to roofing to lawn-care to highway construction -- BUT, the purpose of this post is for advice for bicyclists only. Also, none of this is truly my own information: you can read about summertime personal safety in MANY places in print and on the web - no matter what your activity, read something about it and protect yourself.

The thing to remember in any situation: your core temperature is 98.6ºF, nominally.
Your body will work to preserve that core temperature.
If it gets too high, you die. If it gets too low, you die. Period.
Exercise fights against this process. The more you work in hot weather, the more your body works to keep itself cool... but there are limits to what the human body can endure, and each year many people succumb to heat stroke, dehydration and - yes - death.
You can't fight it. You can't ignore it. But, you CAN help it along and enjoy your outdoor activity.
You will see methods and procedures listed below to help you stay cooler and safer during your summer-time cycling.

Disclaimer-part-deux: I am not a doctor. I don't even play one on TV, nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. A lot of what is outlined below is common sense, and should be taken as advice only. If the National Weather Service or your momma says to stay inside because it's too hot, I'm inclined to agree with their advice. However, nobody can prevent anyone from going outside for a bike ride when the heat index is 183F, and nobody can make them drink water. You can lead a cyclist to water....

Another disclaimer? Whatever: the topic of HOT weather here is mainly from a long-distance randonneuring or club-riding perspective, but hot weather riding can still affect even the shortest commute. For commutes, think about options like rising earlier, pre-sunrise, and taking a really easy pace to the office in the morning. Save the "workout" for the afternoon, where a shower awaits. Getting really sloppy on the way to the office can make for longer-than-normal clean-up sessions in the restroom. Even if your office has a shower, once your core temp is up and your body is working, and even after cleaning off and "cooling" down, you can find yourself still sweating. Again, know thyself, and plan accordingly. Riding to work is one of the joys of summertime - but sometimes around here it can literally be 90 degrees and humid before the sun comes up. That can make you sweat like a pig just standing still, forget trying to ride a bike really, really slow. Stock your bag with deodorant, trim your hair shorter (men), allow extra time, and drink lots of ice-cold water.

Okay.. back to the longer-distance slant, although some of this can apply to commutes, too:

CLOTHING: The perhaps difficult thing for many to understand about hot weather riding is that you can only take off so much clothing. Compared to wintertime riding, modesty is a factor. It also needs to be mentioned that stripping down MAY NOT be the best way to cool off. We've all seen joggers and people mowing their lawn without shirts on, and while there are certainly some social implications here, I would argue that one stays cooler by staying covered up. This changes the approach from how much (or little) you happen to wear, to WHAT you wear.

You may already know from reading this blog that when it comes to clothing I am a true "cyclist and gear-geek". I touched on this in the cold-weather post and it holds true in the summer also. In the summer time there are those that bicycle in jeans and t-shirts, full-on work clothes, swim wear - whatever. Many things work for many people. I prefer cycling gear in the summer time, simply because it works far better than "normal" fabrics. I'm not "right" - it just works for ME.

Just like in winter, if you are DRY you are comfortable. Hypothermia is not a concern here, clearly - but staying dry in the summertime accomplishes much the same thing: Just like 95 degrees and 10% humidity feels more comfortable that 95 degrees and 60% humidity, paying attention to your "micro-climate" can make your body feel more comfortable and help maintain core temperature. You will sweat - period. In fact, if you DON'T sweat, you're in trouble. Sweat is your friend. How you handle that moisture can dictate how comfortable you are. The body is intelligently made, yes - but, your skin and body hair can only handle so much before their ability to maintain core temperature reaches a point of negative returns. With cycling, you may be sustaining a level of effort that flies in the face of what our ancestors did: in the heat of the day, REST, don't move much, don't exert much. When the body is telling us to take a break, we may be headed out for another 30 miles. How do you cope?

Without getting too techie, all fabrics absorb moisture to a certain degree. Cotton is extremely popular in just about any garment form - cotton is comfortable, affordable, and it does wick moisture: but that moisture tends to hang onto the fiber. The body sweats to keep itself cool, but it is not the fact that you are wet that is keeping you cool. Evaporation is critical and the process of sweat evaporating is what provides maximum cooling potential. Unfortunately, if the AIR around you is too humid, the moisture differential between your skin and the air passing over it is too narrow and cooling is not as efficient. Cotton tends to get wet and stay wet - so your micro-climate tends to have too much moisture hanging around the skin to affect good cooling - unless it's really dry outside. Add in the weight of water and how some cotton shifts can sag when wet and, as an athletic fabric, cotton is not the best. Wool, surprisingly enough, maintains "miracle fiber" status here in some ways just like it does in winter... although, personally, even the lightest wool jerseys feel too hot on my body above 80 degrees. We're talking about temps above 85 here. So, synthetics work well: polyester, and other blends. These fibers tend to absorb or wick moisture, but get rid of it very quickly. You'll see this reflected in the branding: "Hyper-Dry, Micro-Dry, Quick-Dry, Sport-Dry", or similar. The faster something dries, the more evaporative cooling it provides.

Try this test on a hot day: while the fabric you are wearing doesn't do anything chemically to your sweat, the comparison is sorta valid. Take a teaspoon of room temperature water and rubbing alcohol, respectively, and pour them onto different spots on your arm. You can feel the difference. Even though both liquids are at room temperature, the alcohol feels colder on your skin because it's evaporating faster. Technical fabrics are designed to soak up sweat from your body quickly, and then let it evaporate quickly. The transpiration of moisture from the fabric to the air provides more cooling potential than your bare skin alone can provide. This, of course, is offset by the humidity and dew-point of the surrounding air, but in general you will be cooler if you wear some sort of technical, "sport" fabric, as opposed to cotton or nothing at all. Sure, the water/alcohol test is more of a chemistry demonstration, but the effect is basically what the technical fabrics are trying to do for you.

If you are wearing a soaking wet cotton shirt, eventually the liquid held in the shirt will become heated - but will be slow to evaporate, which can make you feel hotter and more uncomfortable. Those that are walking around shirtless in the summertime under the guise of staying cooler were - arguably - probably wearing cotton before they went shirtless.

Wicking fabric, finally, does NOT have to take the form of a cycling jersey - although I personally still love the cooling potential of a 3/4 length zipper and the convenience of back pockets. Wicking fabric comes in form factors that allow the plain-clothes stealth-commuter to look "just like everyone else": golf shirts, t-shirts, baggy shorts with liners - there are many ways to do it. Price? You can spend as much as you want to - it doesn't have to be at a cycling store. Many discount chains carry a wide variety of $5.00-$15.00 sport shirts, and on the flip side you can spend up to $100 on technical base-layers at the local bike store. It just depends on what is "you".

Further - most of your body heat is lost through your head, something that still holds true in summertime: A well vented helmet is a good thing to have. To assist with cooling pick up a wicking helmet-liner, cap, sweatband or similar. Even if you have a full head of hair, just something to keep the sweat out of your eyes is a good addition.

DEHYDRATION: If you've read this blog for any length, you know this is a recurring theme here. Mainly, however, my experiences on the fringe of dehydration have been pretty mild: fatigue, tiredness, cramping and the like. Full-blown clinical dehydration can put you in serious jeopardy if it's not addressed immediately when riding. There are a few stages that I won't get into here, because are are many websites on the subject from a sports medicine perspective, and dehydration is probably not an unfamiliar topic for any cyclist or anyone that spends time outside. At best, dehydration can be annoying - at worst, you are talking about heat stroke and death. I've been hospitalized for dehydration, and I've been sidelined at events because of near heat-stroke. Neither are fun, and they are completely preventable. If you learn nothing else from these pages, learn from my mistakes and the myriad examples I've highlighted in the past about not drinking enough water while riding.

Drink before you're thirsty. In my forgetfulness, sometimes I resort to watching the clock and reminding myself to take a drink every ten minutes while riding in warm-to-hot weather, every five when it's "stupid hot" (ie, 100F+). Sweat takes water away from your tissues - you HAVE to replace it. There is no clear gauge on how much to drink because it's extremely individual. It will be based on fitness, level of exertion, body weight, pre-exercise hydration, electrolyte balance, tolerance to heat, your skin type, and more. If some water is good, then a LOT must be great, right? Well, no... there is such a thing as drinking too much water, which I'll touch on in a moment.

Electrolytes are important. Calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, to name a few, are critical elements that your body needs to maintain good nervous system function and muscle control. That's really a high-level explanation, but lack of electrolyte balance is essentially what causes cramping: your muscle fibers fire based on signals from the brain. If your electrolyte balance goes out of whack, certain fibers will fire out of sync with adjacent fibers, causing them to fight against each other in a painful way. Muscle lock-ups like this hurt, and can be ride-ending and injury-creating.

So, while straight hydration is important, if you find yourself with a crusty layer of salts on your skin, around your eyes, or in the creases of your skin around your joints, chances are you are going to need to replace the electrolytes you've lost though sweat. There are MANY ways to replace these elements, from capsules to sports drinks to pickle juice. It isn't important HOW you replace electrolytes and fluids: just DO. Plain water is fine on short rides because most of us get enough electrolytes from the food we normally eat - however, in hot conditions or on rides exceeding a few hours, supplementing electrolytes is important to prevent hyponatremia. This is a condition wherein you are technically "hydrated", but you don't have enough sodium in your bodily fluids to support what you're doing. Continuing to drink just plain water in this case can be just as dangerous as not drinking at all. Without opening up the "sugary sports drink" rhetoric, sports drinks do help in this area. Even a V8 drink or a bag of chips can help, but you have to have SOME "salts" in your body.

In either case (dehydration or electrolyte imbalances), watch for confusion, slurred speech, blurred vision, fatigue, a spaced-out look, sunken eyes, or lethargy as potential warning signs. For me it is sometimes popping ears, "sinus" pressure, and "dents" or deep impressions on my forehead from my hemlet or headband that tell me I'm not drinking enough. Watch your riding buddies, share supplies, and stay smart.

As with anything, moderation is key when it comes to electrolyte replacement and supplementation, and it's very personal: there is a lot of research regarding sodium intake and blood pressure, and how too much is a BAD thing. I tend to agree with this thinking, but I still take electrolyte tablets to avoid cramping. Do some research, and determine what is best for YOU and your unique body and set of circumstances. I know it's REALLY overused as statements go, but seriously: ask your doctor.

Finally, stay away from caffeine when it's 85+F. Tea, coffee, sodas. Sometimes, and I am very guilty here, there is nothing that lifts the spirits like an ice-cold Coke on a hot ride. Moderation is key. Caffeine is a diuretic and in continued doses can pull moisture out of your muscles and tissues, speeding your dehydration potential. I'd say that if you are supplementing with plenty of water - not "liquids", but WATER - then you'll generally be fine. Just don't make soda your primary fuel on long, hot rides. Alcohol, or beer: do I need to say it? I like a cold one on a hot day as much as the next guy, but that's reserved for afterwards, kicking my feet up in the shade after the ride is done.

Drink water often - it's a good idea.

SADDLE SORES: Wha? Yep... salty skin, combined with pressure, combined with heat can yield some bad saddle sores. Even if you don't normally get them, summer can create its own issues in this area. On LONG rides, sometimes I'll pack a spare pair of shorts (400K and above). For commutes this is generally not something I'll do, but: when you get to work, wash your shorts out and hang dry. The technical fabric (if you wear cycling shorts) will likely be dry by the time you need to ride home. Take care of your "parts", because hot temperatures and sweat can breed a nasty combination of bacteria in places you don't want them. It's far less gross to wash your shorts in the bathroom sink than it is to suffer. Be sure to use some kind of chamois creme, or powder, to help keep things dry, clean, protected on long rides. My favorite is Lantiseptic. This is not marketed as a cycling product, but it WORKS and comes highly recommended in the rando scene. Been using since 2007, and it simply works and it's cheap. Ask your pharmacist to order it - no prescription needed.

The Rest of You: Besides saddle sores, on longer rides it is a very nice "treat" to just wash yourself off a little at stops: face, arms, legs, neck deserve a cooling splash in the c-store sink. Comfort goes farther than just position on the bike and clothing choice - feel fresher, ride longer. Circling back to clothing and comfort and electrolyte loss, many styles of wicking fabrics can eventually become clogged with sweat and can lose some of their wicking and cooling ability over time. After hours in the saddle, your shorts can be in this scenario as well as your shirt or headband or cycling cap. Part of your c-store break routine or your post-commute clean-up process should include rinsing these items out WELL. Nothing else feels quite so good as putting a cool, damp cap (or doo-rag) back on your head before resuming riding, or a clean, damp jersey. There are many benefits here, so take the time at stops to refresh yourself and your clothing if bathroom privacy allows it.

In the same guise as saddle-sores, the rest of your body can react poorly to the sweaty, salty mess you can become after riding in the heat. Sweating out body salts adds a pretty abrasive coating to your skin. Your lips can suffer - so lip balm is still a good idea. An oft unmentionable part of your skin at the apex of each of your pectoral muscles, also the name of a small threaded fastener used to secure spokes to wheels, can become very irritated after hours in the saddle: combine salty sweat with the gentle motion of sweat clogged technical fabric against the protrusions here, and you've got pain - at least mild discomfort. Use band-aids or chamois creme here, to ward off this situation. Lantiseptic, my fave for saddle sore prevention, works well here. Seriously, they can scab over after a ride and make for a few days of continued tenderness and even bleeding - it's a goofy, teenage-giggly subject, but it needs to be addressed.

Around your face, the corners of your eyes and nose can become raw: avoid the temptation to wipe too much with your cycling gloves when sweat drips or your nose runs: instead, if you can spare the water, rinse first. Glasses complicate this if you wear them, so be safe -- don't create a situation where you can't see while you're rolling along. Do this as part of your off-bike c-store refresh routine.

Did I say glasses? I did: as an RX-wearer, I don't have a choice. My preference are Transistions lenses, and most RX plans will cover them. These are photo-chromatic; they darken in sunlight. On longer rides, or rides that begin before sunrise, I don't have to change lenses, change glasses. Handy... but this isn't really so much for the convenience factor for RX wearers; this is more to say to ANYone riding in the summertime: sun-glasses are a good idea. The corners of your eyes won't get quite as irritated if you don't squint as much, it reduces road glare from bright sun, reduces eye fatigue in general on bright days, and keeps summertime bugs, dust, pollen, and things like airborne grass clippings from a nearby lawn mower you passed from getting into your eyes. For non-RX folks, sunglasses are cheap, sold nearly everywhere you're going (c-stores) - and if you want to get crazy, the LBS has 'em, too. Can also help keep sun off your face, in general - good for preventing sunburn.

SUNBURN: I'm of the opinion that sunscreen is essential gear - as important as clothing. When it's warmer there is a good chance that you'll have exposed skin. Apply sunscreen, and reapply depending on the directions - even if you don't have a tendency to burn. The UV-reflective/scattering/absorbing properties of the chemical compounds in sunscreen act in a way that literally shades your skin - and you will FEEL significantly cooler because of it while riding, in addition to protecting your skin. If you feel cool, you are more comfortable, which translates to a better riding experience. Even on short afternoon commutes home it is a good idea, and on longer rides sunscreen can make things more enjoyable by a large factor. Your neck, nose and the sides of your face are critical, as well as your knees, legs and arms - even the backs of your hands. If you don't wear a helmet liner of some kind, don't forget the top of your head: getting burned through your helmet vents can happen. From a long-term perspective, even though sunburns heal the damage your skin sustains is cumulative. Skin cancer is serious business, and - trust me - you don't want it. As cyclists, we spend a lot of time outdoors - it's our lifestyle, our choice, our preference: be sure you are protecting yourself so you don't pay for your time in the saddle later in life.

Sunscreen makes money. In some cases manufacturers have turned to boutique-style marketing wars to get your dollars. Some promise convenience; spray-on sunscreen is very handy but expensive considering how little you get in a can, so be wary of gimmicks and trademarked ingredients. Don't be discouraged, or think that you're buying the "wrong" kind if you want to save a buck. Know this: "SPF" or Sun Protection Factor, is a laboratory-measured indication of a sunscreen for its effectiveness at blocking UV rays for a certain period of time. So, a $20 bottle and a $5 bottle of the same quantity may very well do the same darn thing. Claims like "#1 dermatologist-recommended" may be worth the money, but seriously: read the labels. Some sunscreens only block UV-B, and do nothing for UV-A, for example. As cyclists, look for "sport" brands that are sweat-proof, or "dry" formula - to keep stinging chemicals out of your eyes, and to keep it from running off your skin after only a few miles in the heat. Sweat-proof or not, however, remember to reapply per the directions especially if you sweat a LOT like I do. Just use SOMETHING, especially if you have a skin type that warrants it.

Other Tips and Tricks from the Dude-arsenal:
While staying dry can help speed evaporative cooling, sometimes it gets SO humid it almost doesn't matter what you wear or what you do. In cases like this, sometimes I just want to feel the cooling effects of ice-cold water on my body. One way I've done this in the past is to take a sandwich-sized zipper-top baggie, fill it with cubed or crushed ice, and close it. Then, make a tiny, tiny pin-prick sized hole in one of the bottom corners of the baggie. Put the baggie into your center rear jersey pocket. Ride. Your body heat will melt the ice, and the occasional drip of icy water will make you feel a little cooler. It's nice. But, it's not for everyone, obviously.

Another trick, learned from Ort of Texas: same kind of effect, but used a little more smartly: take a neckerchief or bandanna, lay it out on a table unfolded. Put crushed or cubed ice in the center of it, and then proceed to enclose that ice by folding up the garment into the familiar triangular shape - then drape the resulting ice pack around the back of your neck. The ice will melt, saturate the fabric, and drip down around your carotid arteries - which, smartly, cools you down at a much deeper level. Replenish ice at rest stops, which should be often and evenly spaced when it's super hot out.

I mentioned before that nothing satisfies like a cold soda on a hot day --- but don't open it too fast. Insist on CANS, and upon purchasing and before drinking, hold said can under your left armpit. I don't really think the side of your body matters as much as simply doing it, but hold it up under there. The same arterial cooling affect really helps get your core temperature back out of the clouds at rest stops - and it won't cool the soda so much that its unpleasant to drink. Just take a few minutes to do this, and then enjoy the drink.

I've seen a few people take kinda slushy ice from the bottom of a drink cooler (like on a supported ride, where you leave your cooler in the shade) and form it into something of a loose ice-ball, and then shove it down into their helmet vents. The conical shape of the helmet vents sorta holds it in place while you ride, and then you have a steady stream of fresh water running down your neck and face. For me, I wear prescription glasses, and the drips made things hard to see, so I don't normally even try this method... but I can see how it would be pretty neat. Maybe just at the stops, eh?

Water for me... inside and out. Along the same lines as the above, I've been known to douse myself with water , errr... "down unda" ... on hot, hot days for a cooling bit of relief for the area you're sitting on. A little sip for my insides, and a little squirt for the rest of me. Just remember: you need more of that water for your insides, so don't douse yourself so much that you end up not drinking enough. Again, the power of the three back pockets on a real cycling jersey: carry an extra bottle for dousing.

Road glare and squinting can be maddening on a hot, clear day. While some models don't keep sweat out of my eyes very well, I still prefer the shade that the brim of a good cycling cap provides. It keeps eye fatigue at a minimum, and protects most of your face from sunburn. Just remember to make sure you can see the road, and any obstacles - although most cycling caps brims are minimalist enough not to cause problems.

To save a buck or three, and avoid refined or concentrated sugars (if that's your thing), there are a lot of neat "sports drink delivery" options out there, too, for electrolyte replacement. My faves take on the form of effervescent tablets that dissolve quickly in a bike bottle, and provide a bit of flavor and electrolytes for your body. Camelbak makes some, as do other companies like Nuun and Zym. You can also buy little flavor packs of Gatorade and other brands like GU (GU Brew, formerly GU2O), and larger tubs or bags or capsules or drops of all sorts of different sports drinks and electrolyte replacement supplements. Yeah, and I just scratched the surface there. Read the labels, know what you're using, and note that some of them contain caffeine. Whatever you do, however, no matter WHAT: don't drink Cytomax. That stuff has got lactose in it. You're gonna drink that, you're gonna cramp up, and you're gonna puke in a ditch. Then you're gonna die. Have a good ride, though! That's an inside joke, by the way - I have no real reason to believe Cytomax will kill you, because I haven't used it.

No matter WHAT you drink while riding, keep it cool, Charlie: Insulated bottles and packs: a few companies make insulated water bottles, and they really do work. My favorites are the "chill" and the new "ice" models from Camelbak. The "ice" model is pretty expensive for a bottle, but the insulation sounds a lot like some kind of aero-gel, and apparently is really amazing. The Chill models have worked just fine for me, and I even find the drinking spouts superior to the normal bike bottle. Polar is another company that makes insulated bottles, and I'm sure there are others. Check your favorite retailer - they work on hot days. Just note, the capacity is a little less than a normal bike bottle, so make sure you plan your stops so you don't run out of liquids. Insulated panniers have been seen before, as well as insulated rack trunks -- although it's a lot harder to drink out of a rack trunk than it sounds.

Extra bottles can be good: I may have mentioned this before, but it ties into my next tip: KNOW YOUR ROUTE. I hate to really spell it out, because I've been stupid before - you know that if you've read this blog. Bike choices, fit, forgetting to drink, getting lost, etc. We've all done it. The LAST place you want to be is on the side of a blistering hot highway, off the route, and out of water. These things can be prevented, and while I'd argue there is never such a thing as a "routine ride", the winter and summer are two extremes, seasonally, where preparedness pays. Have a map, have a phone, have GPS if you choose, have an idea where you're going, what you're riding through, make sure your bike is in good working order, have spares where appropriate. Look at an online map program, map out c-stores and gas stations, and plan to carry enough water between each one to make it. Some brevets around this region feature sections with 100-150 kilometers between controls. In one case, on a 1,000km route, it's 89 miles to the next town. Contrast to denser areas like the Lone Star Randonneurs region, and some places on the east coast, perhaps California (guessing here a little) - you can look at a cue sheet, and see that controls are 60 miles apart, but you know there are generally towns and gas stations every 12 miles. BUT MAKE SURE. On some of the local routes here, that's not the case - and you are literally looking at four hours of pedaling before you see another house, much less a Kwik-Mart. Make sure you know this, and don't find out the hard way: ask your RBA, don't wait for them to tell you it's like this in the parking lot at the ride start. Know your personal needs, and carry what you need. Don't follow minimalist trends when it comes to hydration and nutrition. If it works for you, do it. In this case, if you don't want to carry four bottles all day long, arrange a bag drop, or - use that aforementioned insulated cooler on your rack, and fill it with 20oz water bottle at that last control before the long section. Get creative - just don't get dead.

Finally, use your network:
Facebook, Twitter, email, text messages - even if it's your Mom in Vancouver (whatever)..... regardless of season, it's a good idea to let SOMEONE know that you are out there, riding. Tell them where. Forward them a cue sheet. Even if you know it's gonna take a miracle to get Jim-Bob outta bed to come pick you up, let him know where you're gonna be. Let them know when you're back safe. Wife, sister, cousin, stranger in line at Starbucks -- who cares? Tell someone you're going out, and guarantee that if the worst happens they are probably going to look for you, or at least wonder and call someone.

Summer is definitely the "cyclist's season": racing is ramped up, more people are on the roads and trails, and the organized ride calendars are full of good rides of all flavors. Above all else, be SAFE. Just like "riding to the right" and staying responsible in traffic, it is important to take care of your engine. While this - and MOST of my posts - are exhaustive (exhausting?), this is not an exhaustive list of everything that could potentially await you on a long, hot summer ride - but maybe you found a couple things that get you thinking, a few things you can use on your next hot-weather ride, long or short.
Just remember to be SAFE, have fun, ride smart, listen to your body, and keep yourself topped off with fluids. If there are heat index warnings posted in your area, take every precaution. Most advisories will specifically say "stay indoors and avoid strenuous activity"... but sometimes, I know too well, the call to ride is too loud - or, if at work, you've just gotta get home. Ride with a friend, watch each other, carry extra water or plan a route that takes you near c-stores and water stops. When times get rough, don't push it: stop, rest, find shade, pull the speed back down. Sip water until you feel human again. Make a phone call if you need to. Cut the route short. Take the bus home from work. You can always ride again... no-one is keeping score. Make a conscious decision that no matter what ride you start, no matter your personal goal, you'll finish it on your terms, healthy and safe.

Thanks for reading, and stay cool!