Keeping your cool in the heat: Tips from a desert rider
It is that time of the year when the temperature is all about extremes. Depending on which hemisphere you are in it’s either heading into the heat of summer or toward the depths of winter. Some of us are looking for extra gloves for warmth and rain jackets while others are tipping bottles of water over their heads in a vain attempt to get some relief from the heat. That makes it the ideal time to bring out the articles we’ve done on coping with whatever the weather may throw at you. Last week it was riding in the rain, so now let’s turn our attention to ways to stay cool so you can keep pedalling even when the temperature soars. Who knows, for those of you currently shivering away, thinking about summer may even distract you from those frozen toes for a moment.
If anyone should know the tricks and techniques to keep pedalling no matter what weather comes along, it is adventure cyclist Kate Leeming who has cycled a distance that is equivalent to two trips around the world on the equator. No stranger to extremes, her current plans are for a crossing of Antarctica, while previously she took on hot and sandy deserts in Australia and Africa on her ground-breaking adventures.
Her remote territory riding has often meant tackling stifling temperatures without the easy cooling options of refrigerated water, ice-cube laden bottles or even regular supplies of water. Tight schedules and long stretches of unrelenting heat also meant she didn’t have the choice of putting off the riding for cooler days.
These are some of the techniques she discovered during those cycling adventures to keep going in high temperatures, day after day. Some of the tips she has shared are suited to touring, when you are carrying more, but many of the lessons learned are just as easily applied to those long hot days out on a recreational ride.
Leeming’s tips on how to beat the heat:
Make sure you are protected
If you are out there for a long time the sun will really take it out of you so cover up while still allowing for airflow. Leeming opts for long sleeves, a protected neck and a regime of applying sunscreen twice a day.
Planning water availability and carrying capacity
You always need to know where your next supply of water is coming from and have the ability to carry enough to get you through. For touring it can be handy to pack some water bladders as they roll up, don’t take much room and can provide crucial extra water carrying capacity when you are in remote areas.
The importance of water supply was bought home to Leeming on the isolated Canning Stock Route in Western Australia. She was caught short after a planned support vehicle meet-up didn’t occur, and pushed on in the heat to find a well. The next day she had to wear the consequences.
“Determined to beat the heat, I made an effort to start even earlier. But I was tired and, for the first time, I felt my spirit wane. My muscles were shaky and completely drained of energy, and my heart raced with each minor effort. Yesterday’s dehydrated state had caused extreme stress to my cells and they had not recovered.”
–excerpt from Out There and Back, Leeming’s book on her 25,000 km trip around Australia.
Hydrate, hydrate and hydrate some more
Hydrate before you leave and when it’s really hot make sure you get yourself into the habit of drinking regularly, with a timer set as a reminder to drink if need be.
Keeping it cool with socks
You miss that refreshing cooling hit when you have to drink water that is the temperature of tea. Put a thick wet sock over the bottle so as you are cycling the evaporative cooling keeps the heat down.
“By 10 a.m., the heat was particularly ferocious. I wasn’t looking forward to venturing away from the shade of Minjoo’s tea-trees and desert oaks. Over the previous few weeks when temperatures had been extreme, my drinking water had heated, becoming a less effective coolant. A technique I decided to trial was to wet a pair of socks and fit them over my drinking bottles on the theory that the evaporating moisture would have a cooling effect on the water, making it a more palatable temperature to drink… The faster I travelled the cooler my water – the new technique was extremely effective.”
– Out There and Back
Design your day
Don’t ride through the extreme heat of the day if you can help it, as you may manage it at the time but could pay for it later. Use the cool of the morning and the evenings. Rest in the middle of the day.
Use the shade
Seek shade at all times when you are not on the bike, or use whatever you have on hand to make it if there is none available. If you are touring a piece of shade cloth can come in handy, both for shade and something to sit on.
If you get a chance, take the opportunity to acclimatise to the heat or be prepared to take it easier for a start while your body gets used to the conditions.
Mind over matter
When the going gets tough focus on the beauty of your surroundings, or try and picture yourself somewhere cool. This is what Leeming did at Lake Disappointment, a salt lake in Western Australia which covers approximately 64 km from north to south and 48 km from east to west.
“A massive mirage hung over the lake, like a giant blanket of steam, and the islands appeared to hover above the shimmering expanse like extra-terrestrial ships. If Greg was with me it would have definitely reminded him of his visit to Antarctica. It was comforting to imagine the freezing landscapes of that cold desert when it was 43 °C in the shade. I am certain the reverse idea has warmed the hearts of many polar explorers.”
– Out There and Back
Leeming may well be grateful for her many memories of hot desert adventures. She hopes to take on a 1,850 km, 45 day trip across Antarctica, where temperatures will range from -10°C to -40°C, on a custom all-wheel-drive fatbike.