Written by Patrick Stelte - June 2018
This past Memorial Day weekend, we experienced our first really hot weather group rides. The temps during the rides reached the mid-90s and over 100 degrees on the pavement. Coupled with humidity and bright sunshine, the danger of heat exhaustion was tangible. This was evident as I rode to our Sunday ride from Arcola. I happened upon Darren Williams (a very experience rider) about a mile from the parking lot. He was also riding from home. We barely exchanged greetings before commenting on the heat. He looked peaked. Feeling a bit ill after leaving home, he talked about having to stop at a fire station and asking for an EMT to check on him. While listening, I noticed a blue cloth around his neck. He explained it was a cooling cloth designed to stay cool when wet. The towel was working as he was recovering from his early struggles to adapt to the extremes of the day.
Cyclists encounter different factors while riding than other outdoor activities. On the bike, we make our own breeze. This gives a false sense of comfort as that breeze evaporates sweat – an indicator of heat stress. We spend more time in the sunshine as there are few shady roads that offer relief. Also, our upper bodies have minimal movement and bake in the sunshine. Necks, arms and faces get direct sunlight. All of these factors mean that cyclists must think about their heat stress and self-monitor rather than relying on the body’s natural alarm bell.
In the past, I have written about my enjoyment riding in hot weather. For some reason, the heat and humidity keep my legs limber and my sinuses open. However, from past experience, my over-confidence has gotten the best of me. Learning from mistakes are the best lessons. Being self-aware and cognizant of my body during high stress, I continually monitor how I am feeling. The best remedies to counter such stress includes taking an extra stop to find shade, fill a water bottle to the top or just pulling over to clear my head and motor down to save myself from the pain of delirium. Another way to endure such weather stress is to ride shorter than planned. Finally, the best decision is to stay away from the heat of the day and ride early.
This thought was posted on our Facebook page after that hot Sunday. Why can’t the club time-shift a weekend tour during an unusual hot spell? The simple answer: not everyone looks at Facebook before a ride. Some cyclists will miss moving up a ride start and arrive at the designated time very disappointed. Also, ride leaders may not be able to time-shift on short notice. The best answer is to do what is best for you and ride earlier on your own or Facebook an invite for others to join you. There will always be another group ride.
That hot Sunday ride started with 22 in the parking lot. The group rode smart by taking an easy pace. At the short distance check-point, half the group decided to SAG and turn around. The rest rode the full course and made an extra stop to top off our bottles. Darren had recovered with his blue cloth helping to regulate the heat. He rode strong and took turns up front. As for me, I rode well with the group. However, riding alone on my way home I struggled over the eleven miles. I was paying the price for my plan to do extra miles. Without anyone with me, my adrenaline waned and my breathing became shallow. By the time I reached home, I was done – cooked. I had ignored past experiences and the next few hours were filled with muscle spasms, a lack of appetite, headache and a general sense of unease. My aspirations got the best of me and another lesson learned on the long road travelled.