You’ve heard the old adage about people who don’t have enough sense to come in out of the rain? Indeed, we learned just last week that some of them are called “randonneurs.” Well, what about people who ride a hundred miles in the heat, on a day when even dogs have the good sense to cool it? Like this one . . .
It was so hot on Saturday’s ride we got a vacation from the dogs on vacation. Sure, there were a couple of “friendlies” like this one that came out to greet us. But due to the hot-weather exercise ban, it didn’t cross the line.
I was surprised that things heated up so quickly. At the first control, I heard somebody shout, “It’s my quarter; I found it first!”
But under the circumstances, the three of us who ventured out Saturday did a remarkable job of keeping our cool. Gary and Al were well prepared. In addition to light-colored jerseys, note Gary’s haircut and Al’s sleeveless jersey providing additional surface area for evaporative cooling.
Then there’s acclimatization. All three of us had logged significant hot-weather riding miles of late, including some long rides. Gary is back from a week-long bike tour of parts of Wyoming and Utah. It was obvious when he showed up with his fixed-gear that he was still loaded for bear.
Soon after leaving the Erwin control, we were elated to learn that the rumors we’d been hearing about the paving of NC 82—the battlefield road—all the way from Erwin to the Cumberland County line were true.
Gary’s response as we turn onto Iris Bryant Road is captured by his body language.
Some sections of NC 82 have not yet been paved. But based on the number of orange markers dotting the roadside, something major is about to happen. I don’t think the DOT plans to put out tomato plants.
The closer we got to the Averasboro Battlefield Museum, the more serious things became. The pavement at the museum is completely gone, a fact indicated by a detour sign:
It’s fitting that Gary is pictured here, since it was he who penned the phrase, “authentic Civil War era pavement,” pavement that will soon be history. More and more of the Tar Heel 200 “speed sucking pavement” as it is referred to by NC randonneurs Cole and Isaac is itself being sucked up.
The detour sign should have been poking in our collective craws rather than in Gary’s ear, since it added six miles to our ride on such a “lovely” sightseeing day, that is, with the exception of Al, who ignored the detour on the return and consequently beat both Gary and me back to Erwin.
With all this progress of late, the Tar Heel 200 may eventually become nothing more than a time trial course. There may be a message awaiting me on my voicemail from Le Tour folks upon my return.
Here is some Americana nostalgia just south of the town of Godwin, NC, on our detour . . .
What worked keeping our cool? We all showed up with Camelbaks (i.e., fluid reservoirs). We stopped periodically to top off drink bottles and fill our fluid reservoirs with ice. I’ve learned that ice lasts much longer in my fluid reservoir than in insulated drink bottles. Moreover, the ice in my fluid reservoir provides an additional benefit, cooling a good portion of my back. Borrowing a trick from our bulldog on ice above, Gary and I both prepared ice socks, which we wore around our necks. In extreme heat, I wear neither gloves nor skullcap, which allows air flow over these crucial heat-dissipating body parts. Those who wear cycling sandals in the heat would have an additional leg up.
My ride plan included monitoring my heart rate during the heat of the day and to adjust my speed accordingly. A spike in heart rate may indicate overheating, dehydration, or a combination of the two factors. Anyone who rides in extremely hot weather should be aware of the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. I was pleased that my pulse after the Tar Heel turn-around control, while cruising River Road at 16-17.5 mph with an ice sock around my neck, was about the same as when I push a mower on a warm day.
I knew how crucial it was to stay hydrated and that to effectively accomplish this I needed to regularly consume carbohydrates in addition to water and electrolytes. The constant sipping of ice water helped cool my core. I’ve learned that keeping the “food” I carry in drink bottles iced makes it more palatable. I also drank cold tomato juice at each opportunity. If one is looking for a quick-fix hydrator, tomato juice is a near-perfect choice.
Now a little bit about how the body stays cool in extreme heat. Tell me you didn’t see it coming! While the body has a mechanism for generating heat (i.e., muscles), it does not have a built-in air-conditioning system. Moreover, our muscles generate a lot of heat when we ride on hot days.
Sure, the body diverts blood from the core to the skin in order to dissipate heat. And, yes, the body produces sweat, which can be an effective cooling agent. But there is a price to pay for these services, which ultimately guarantee neither performance nor cooling in some cases.
Blood diverted to the skin is not available to exercising muscles, slowing cyclists in the heat.
While sweat can be an effective cooling agent, it does not cool the body by itself, since perspiration is body temperature. Moreover, there is an energy cost in producing sweat.
Our physiological adaptations to heat are dependent upon purely physical cooling mechanisms which may or may not be working in our favor at the time they are needed most. It may be too hot and humid, for example, for evaporative cooling and sweat to act as an effective cooling agent. There is no convective cooling, for example, when a cyclist is standing on hundred-degree asphalt if the wind is not blowing. Nor is there convective cooling without a head wind even if a cyclist is traveling at 15 mph.
I entertained the thought while riding that knowing something about the physics and physiology of thermal regulation was a bit academic, superfluous. I recall thinking that perhaps I was being way too cautious in planning and executing my plan while riding in the heat. That could very well be. Maybe one has the luxury of entertaining such thoughts when things are going well. But what if my body had not been responding as well as it was? Indeed, there is something to the conventional wisdom based on the collective experience of untold numbers of people which warns against overexertion on hot, humid days. The question is where one’s own tipping point lies. When things begin going badly, they can unravel in a hurry.
The previous thoughts seemed less academic, when I found myself dawdling a little more than usual at the Stedman control. My deliberateness in the air-conditioned confine allowed my pulse to return to near-resting level. Now, with a fresh “ice sock” around my neck, my subsequent pace was good considering the heat.
Just after the battlefield detour, I noticed my riding speed had dropped a bit and that my pulse was beginning to climb. Even when I slackened the pace, my pulse did not follow suit. I slowed some more. No reduction in pulse. That got my attention. I did not want to cross over the line into heat exhaustion. A short time later, I began to feel a little woozy. This really got my attention. Just ask our favorite bulldog on ice above about the signs of heat exhaustion and he will unhesitatingly yelp, “Barf, barf!”
Cramps may be another sign of impending heat exhaustion in some people. Although I was a bit edgy, my stomach had not revolted, nor was I cramping. The Erwin control came none too soon. I knew that my faculties were intact upon noticing a newly created, paved, marked turn lane leading directly into the control that hadn’t existed on earlier rides. I thought to myself, “Wow, this is nice!” On the other hand, maybe I was hallucinating. I’ll check next time to see if the newly created special turn lane is still there.
The sign on the convenience store control entrance read “No Loitering.” I thought to myself, “This is great; I can hang out, cool off, and have the run of the place without being bothered by loiterers.” I kicked off my shoes and stood on the cold floor in my stocking feet in the walk-in beer cooler with the frigid air blowing directly on me. I used the opportunity to eat and hydrate.
I saw Gary utilize another trick to cool off: pour cold water over his head and body. In due time, we were revived. We set out on the last leg of the journey: Gary first, then Al, then me.
While I coasted to Dunn, I sensed warm beads of perspiration forming on my face. A good sign!
So that my ride experience would be complete, I flatted my rear tire just after turning onto Old Fairground Road north of Dunn. I laughed out loud, thinking to myself, “This is great, I can find some shade and take another break and fix this thing.” I was pleased to learn that I did not have to wrestle the tire onto the rim of my newly acquired hand-built wheels. Now with some luck and no major mechanicals, I should be back in Benson soon.
I never really beat my worthy opponent the heat. I just sort of fended it off for a good portion of the day. Things could have been worse. But for today, I was successful. Congratulations to both my riding companions for successfully completing their rides, especially to Al who, with this ride, keeps his R-12 aspiration alive.
This ride is dedicated to Gary pictured here:
Best wishes to you and Sara.