Enjoy the mild weather but always be prepared

Enjoy the mild weather but always be prepared

Image Credit: John C. Lorson

With broad sunshine and the temperature flirting with 80 F, my bicycle club friends and I set out on a looping route that would carry us 40 miles over the course of the next two hours or so, a realistic goal for such a group.

Fit and experienced cyclists all, we’d gather every Wednesday to work together as a well-oiled machine, drafting in a pace line like a skein of geese, and occasionally work each other over with sprints to certain hilltops or “village limit” signs. Good-natured rivalries led to fast rides, and if you wanted to keep up, you’d travel as lightly as possible, typically carrying nothing more than a few water bottles, a spare tube and a banana for refueling if the day got long.

Notably missing on such rides in those long-ago days were cell phones — they hadn’t been invented yet. This particular ride stands in my memory as the day I learned a dangerous lesson in being prepared.

What began with sunshine and perfect conditions turned within an instant into an oddly desperate situation as about halfway into the ride a pop-up shower blanked out the sun, drenched us thoroughly head to toe and tossed a wicked headwind in the way of our ride home. The temperature dropped into the 50s and stuck there. As wisdom demands, we sought shelter from the rumbling skies under the overhang of a nearby garage.

The storm hung on for half an hour, and in that time every bit of body heat generated by the quick ride and sunny skies washed right out of me. The shivers set in, then the chattering of teeth, followed by a pale flush that a friend later told me looked an awful lot like a cadaver he’d seen in a college lab. I was headed toward hypothermia.

Hypothermia — a medical emergency where one’s body is losing heat faster than it can produce it — is commonly misunderstood as a condition that can only occur when one falls into icy waters or becomes stranded in blizzard-like conditions. The truth is it can happen in any number of conditions and well into the type of weather many of us would consider free of any potential threat.

For a cyclist, one of the more dangerous combinations at any temperature is rain and wind. The evaporation of perspiration from our skin is the very mechanism that keeps our bodies from overheating during athletic activity. Rain and wind punch the body’s natural cooling system into overdrive, and one can lose critical core temperature at a shockingly rapid rate, especially when halting intense activity to stand soaking in it.

Wisely noticing my distress, my friends huddled around me awkwardly while another scared up a sweatshirt from a benevolent neighbor. The clouds rolled on, my color returned and we rode on to complete the ride.

The lesson left me with a new attitude. From that point on, I’ve always carried an extra “just in case” layer of clothing that includes a lightweight zip-up vest I can slip on quickly even while in the saddle, a set of wool arm warmers and a pair of wool knee warmers. Why wool, you ask? Because wool has the unique ability to become even more effective at keeping you warm as it becomes wet. Nylon alternatives actually accelerate the very evaporation that saps you of your body heat.

All can be folded easily down to the size of a pair of socks and stuffed into the pockets of my cycling jersey. The setup has spared me distress dozens, if not hundreds, of times over the years. Biker, hiker or fair weather walker, all would do well to carry along an extra layer — just in case.

Remember, if you have comments on this column or questions about the natural world, write The Rail Trail Naturalist, P.O. Box 170, Fredericksburg, OH 44627, or email jlorson@alonovus.com. You also can follow along on Instagram @railtrailnaturalist.

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