Well, hello again! Last time you read my column, I thought it was my final one for TEAM Arizona. Hence the reason I allowed myself to go all reflective and inspirational. But now, thanks to a nice cosmic twist, I’m back, and — this month at least — you’re stuck with observations that are less likely to get you all teary. Heck, maybe you’ll enjoy judging me instead.
That’s because a friend suggested I write about coping with the Arizona heat. I mean, since we have chosen to live in the desert Southwest and embrace the riding life, we should have no compunction about facing the heat head-on.
On a bike, of course. Sure, right.
Here’s how I face the Arizona heat: From within my car.
When there’s sun and three-digit temps, you will not find me on my bike unless it’s sunset, or close to, and the ride to my destination is short, and the trip home therefore will take place at night. I’m just not as hard-core as I would like to be. My reality is, I dehydrate quickly, even if I’ve been strategic about my water and electrolyte consumption; and, when I dehydrate or am too warm, I get dizzy and spacey. My subsequent recovery time takes at least a couple of hours, often longer. These are not ideal conditions under which to operate a motorcycle.
I learned this lesson the hard way. Five years ago, I had made it back to Flagstaff after a week-long solo ride to Idaho. I had reached that mental point where I was itching to be home right frigging now. Most riders understand that feeling, I think. And so I decided to keep going down into the valley, into the extreme heat of the day … in my heavy leathers, helmet and gloves. The outside temperature was 108 degrees. My internal temperature wasn’t far behind. I’m not really sure how I made it home but as soon as I pulled into the driveway and took off my helmet, my husband looked terrified. My face was red — Red Delicious Apple red. I got out of those sweaty leathers and my husband almost tossed me into a waiting ice bath. Thanks to my impatience to get home, I flirted with a dangerous level of heat exhaustion and my body did not return to normal for about two days.
Obviously, not every trip in the heat turns out that extreme. But, for me, being hot and trying to maintain focus and reaction time on the bike is hard. I re-learned the focus lesson, in particular, this summer. I was visiting my brother in Boise and we set out to go dirt biking north of the city. The thermometer hit 100 degrees, long before noon, at 3,900 feet, but I thought, Hey, I live in Phoenix, I can handle it. Once we were on the bikes, I was already roasting, even in the shade. And the trail we’d chosen was like none I’ve ever done — singletrack, drop-offs on either side, loose sand, slippery pine needles. Those conditions required powers of concentration I did not have that day. In fact, neither my brother nor I made it too far. We both were tired, hot and lacking in overall enthusiasm for hurting the bikes we’d borrowed, so we called it a day. For me, most of that was because I was too hot to focus. Here’s embarrassing proof: My borrowed bike — which was a CRF 230, the same model I have in my garage — was not running right and I could not figure out why. Later, I discovered I had the choke flipped the wrong direction. But I was too out of it, thanks to the heat, to figure out the problem on the trail.
I think that’s evidence enough that riding in the heat is not for me. And no, I won’t capitulate to the heat by riding without gear. I just won’t. I would rather complain about missing out on riding than be on the road — tar or dirt — without protection.
Again, the few times I do ride in the sun and heat, chances are I’ll be on the bike for 30 minutes or less, and the sun will be down when I’m ready to go home. In these instances, I dump ice water into my cool vest, wear a wet cloth around my neck and keep more ice water at the ready in my Camelbak.
The Arizona heat is not something to mess with; I cope with it by avoiding it as best I can. For me, that’s the right choice. The story may be different for you. I think it’s imperative that each rider learn and know his/her capacities when it comes to these extreme temperatures. If you can’t handle them on the bike, I see no shame in that. If you can, I envy you. But I accept my limits and very much look forward to fall.