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!

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