8 Tips For Beating The Heat

Rand Rassumusen, SEDALIA:

A Primer Focused Mostly, but not Exclusively, on Riding and Camping in the Heat

One-Hundred-and-ten degrees. Fahrenheit! That’s what the thermometer affixed to my windshield says. Of course, that’s in the direct sunlight; but then, so am I. I mean, really, why would a motorcycle rider care what the temperature is in the shade? Late on this Missouri July afternoon the heat bears down on me with an almost physical weight. Even so, I can still tell when a blast of air has first made its way past a cylinder, and collected it’s extra heat before swooping up my leg and under my helmet carrying an extra furnace blast. I haven’t ridden in this kind of heat for a while—if ever. But it’s okay; I came prepared for exactly this. I had made my decision that I was going to attend the BMW MOA National this year, in Sedalia, MO heat be damned and, anyway, I know how to ride in heat.

TIPS for Beating the Heat:

Andy Goldfine, proprietor at Aerostich, is fond of saying that, when riding in heat (or cold for that matter) a rider must strive to create a “micro-climate.” That is, a smaller, more hospitable personal ecology in which to ride. People who live in desert nations have understood this for millennia, and it is the reason that we always see desert-dwellers in heavy clothing—which seems counter-intuitive, but is backed-up by much objective science and many years of experience. So, I revert to my own experience riding in heat. I drink lots—actually forcing water, juice and Gatorade; I re-wet my long-sleeved cotton T-shirt at every stop, and I wear a jacket to control the evaporation of my shirt. Controlled evaporation is the key to staying cooler longer. If you wet your t-shirt and wear nothing over it, it will feel really good…for about 10 minutes. But if you mute the evaporative effect with an over-jacket, and venting, you will feel quite-a-bit cooler for an hour or more. That is one of the reasons Aerostich suits are built the way they are, with so many venting options. I have also resorted, at times, to filling the pockets of my Aerostich with ice (a tip learned from my wife, Susan) and sucking on the remaining cubes for as long as they last. But, despite the forge-like heat, I seem to be okay with more basic measures today.

As important as the physical adjustments a rider must make when the riding conditions are uncomfortable, is a positive mental attitude. Pirsig was right when he contended that focusing on the discomfort, or worse, complaining, helps no one, and just makes it worse for everyone. I knew what I was getting into before I ever decided to attend this rally, and I chose to come anyway; so I have no one to blame but myself. Anyway, I am very much enjoying the ride—heat and all. My bike seems always to have a positive attitude, no matter the conditions. Right now, for instance. I am running up-hill at 75MPH, pulling my trailer in 110 degree heat, with nary a burp or stutter from the motor, and with speed and power to spare. It makes me wonder how this little 650cc motor can withstand this kind of heat and use. And not just to withstand it, but to handle it. I take a gas break/rest stop at the north end of St. Joseph, MO, and go through my routine: fill the tank, use the rest room, re-soak my shirt and buy lots to drink. If not almost to the rally site, I am at least close. It has been a good ride so far…

Tip #2 for Beating the Heat:

What you eat significantly affects how much heat you produce. If it is hot, avoid high fat foods like meats and cheeses and go for foods with higher water content, like fruits and salads. I have to admit that I violate this rule all of the time and just order whatever I am in the mood for, but it’s worth bearing in mind if heat is a real problem for you. Also, as good as a cold beer might taste with your lunch on a hot day, it’s not really a good choice. Even setting aside the drinking and driving aspect, alcohol is a diuretic and dries you out more quickly. Tea too (although, again, I often have it for lunch despite my own sage advice.). If you get bored with plain water, fruit juices or club soda gives you a little variety and still gives you needed water. Club soda cuts cotton-mouth better than anything else I know of. I like Gatorade and its ilk occasionally, but the regular stuff has a lot of sugar.

At St. Joseph, MO I turn eastward toward Chillicothe. This allows me to circumvent the entire Kansas City metro, and do some other-than-freeway riding for a while. Heading east in the late afternoon, feels no cooler, so I employ another mental technique for beating discomfort; I simply force my mind to concentrate on things other than how uncomfortably hot I am. It can be done. I sing, compose, or think of my grandchildren or other pleasantries to distract myself. Thirty-six, while not exactly a rural road, is nice and rolling, and passes through several small Missouri towns. At Chillicothe I stop for fresh ice for the cooler, several gallon jugs of water, and some groceries. Another reason I like to tow my trailer to rallies: lots of room for groceries.

Tip #3 for Beating the Heat:

In the original insulated plastic cooler I had bolted onto the tongue of my trailer, the ice would be gone in just a few hours in hot weather. So, I replaced my original cooler with a larger insulated plastic cooler so I would have room to add an inner, collapsible nylon cooler. With the nylon cooler inside of the larger one, my ice now lasts from 12-24 hours depending on how hot it is. You can also increase your cold factor by freezing all your bottles of drinking water on the night before you leave home. If you save empties you can fill them at your home faucet and save a lot of money. Trust me: if you take one out and put it in your bottle holder it will quickly melt enough to drink—too quickly, as far as I am concerned.

Arriving a day early to a rally has several advantages. The registration process is a breeze, with no lines whatever. Choice camping sites are also easier to come by. After registering, I talk to Dan about where he is camped. I follow him, but just until I come to a large, shady tree. By scoping out the directions, I calculate that a correctly placed tent will be out of the sun from mid-morning through the entire rest of the day. For the next 20 minutes I talk with Dan and busy myself with the dozens of small details of making camp. Here again, experience pays off when dealing with heat: my tent has 100% mesh uppers. And that means with the rain fly rolled up and tied off I am sleeping in a screen tent which, I guaran-damn-tee is a lot cooler than a regular tent with breathable nylon uppers..

Tip #4 for Beating the Heat:

If you are in the market for a new tent, I would strongly suggest buying one with mesh uppers. If you are devoted to your old tent, but are good with a sewing machine, or if you know someone who is, some tents can be fairly easily converted to mesh uppers, without in any way compromising their weather resistance.

After my complaints about the heat and humidity at last year’s rally at Chippewa Falls, Susan bought me a small “tent fan.” These attach to the tent using a magnet on the outside to hold the fan on the inside. Tonight is my first use of the fan. What a small miracle! This is not a wind tunnel; but it does provide just enough moving air to keep me comfortable. Its performance is greatly improved by the fact that because of the mesh uppers it is pulling in cooler air in rather than just re-circulating the hot, humid air present inside a normal tent. We’ll see how long the single “D” battery lasts. I brought spare batteries just in case.

Sometime about two in the morning I awaken to thunder, and I can see flashes of lightening in the western sky, but I decide that I am not deploying the rain fly unless it starts actually raining, as to do so would obviate the advantages of this tent. I thus go back to sleep and remain so until morning. When I wake up, the fan is still running. Although I never had to cover up during the night, I was comfortable enough to sleep. That alone was an improvement on last year.

Tip #5 for Beating the Heat:

If you attach your rain fly on one side, and roll it up, you can sleep cooler, and it still only takes a minute to deploy if rain threatens.

Tip #6 for Beating the Heat:

As obvious as it sounds, the colder the drink and the less you move, the cooler you will stay. Therefore, when I get back to my tent I set-up my sunshade. I take my umbrella and mount it to my fairing with mini bunjis. This gives me 4’ of nice shade in which to sit. And as Colin Fletcher (in his book The Complete Walker) describes it, that little patch of shade makes the difference between hell and, well, something a comfortable half-hitch short of hell. Then I break out cans of cold club soda and start reading my books.

Tip #7 for Beating the Heat:

If, like me, you enjoy (or at least can hack) getting up in the pre-dawn hours, you can sometimes beat much of the day’s heat. If the trip is short enough, you can be home and napping before the real heat starts coming on at noon. I know some riders who break the day into to riding halves, with a long afternoon hiatus in between. Just before crossing the Mojave, my friends Matt and Joanne Butler rented a hotel room at noon, and napped, read, watched TV, and swam until 10:00p.m. before checking out and starting their ride. Matt told me it was worth the money!

I awaken Sunday morning at 2:15. It takes about 20 minutes to pack all of my junk into the trailer. As promised I would make sure Andy knew when I was leaving, so I drive as close to his tent as I can without actually running over his head. I smile into my helmet as I think of him good-naturedly cursing me in his tent. As I connect with north 65 I am surprised at the amount of traffic still on the road in Sedalia, including another rally-goer leaving north on 65. About five miles out of town I pass him/her, and we ride in tandem the 15 miles up to I-70, where she/he goes east and I go west. It feels good cruising along in the pre-dawn hours. Watching the day come on is one of my favorite things to do as a rider. The air, while not exactly cool, is some 30 degrees better than it will be this afternoon, and I am determined to get as far as I can, as early as I can. This is as much psychological as it is physical; if I don’t make some real miles early in the day, I feel like I am behind all day. I take the 435 around KC and connect with I-29 N., with dawn coming on.

By 11:30, when I reach Sioux Falls, my thermometer shows 101 degrees, and it feels like it! I buy gas and then drop into an Erberts & Gerberts for a cold sandwich and an air-conditioned rest. As I eat and read, I am also subconsciously preparing for four more hours in 100-plus degree heat. And with that in mind, I go willingly—rather than reluctantly--back out into the heat where my ever-faithful R-65 waits. Across the lot, in the shade of a bank, there is a sinister looking dude eyeing my bike. It occurs to be that he might be casing the banjo strapped to the top of my trailer. I don’t know if that is right, but I do notice that he moseys off as soon as I come out.

Tip #8 for Beating the Heat:

Sunburned lips are no joke so keep your high SPF lip balm where you can frequently apply it both on and off the bike. The high SPF lip stuff can be hard to find at C-stores, so we always lay in an ample supply whenever we find it in stock, until we have so much of it that I can always find a tube around the house. Always wear a brimmed or visored cap in the sun. I keep mine right in my tank bag and don it as soon as I stop if I am going to spend any time in the sun.

4 thoughts on “8 Tips For Beating The Heat”

  • Kurt

    My go to solution for beating the heat
    1, wear the Aerostich
    2. stop at convenience store
    3.purchase and dump one 5# bag of ice in back pocket
    4.Ride cool for hours!
    5. alternately buy a 5# block of ice instead of cubes it lasts even longer but it is a little bulky for the first hour.
    Oh and don’t put your wallet and cell phone in the inside pocket, don’t ask how I know.
    Thanks for a great product gang!

  • Duane "Digger" Carey

    One thing I used to do when I lived in the Mojave Desert (Edwards AFB) in the mid-90s was to fill a CamelBak with water, then freeze same overnight. I'd do the same with one or two quart-sized canteens.

    I'd get an early start, donning said CamelBak and tossing said canteen(s) into a saddlebag. As the morning sun appeared, the ice in the CamelBak would begin to melt and I'd spend the next few hours sucking it dry. Then, I'd stop and pound one of the canteens - all at once. If the ride demanded it, I'd stop about an hour later and pound the second canteen.

    Although I wasn't comfortable, I do remember riding past the giant thermomoter in Baker, CA one time and seeing 114 degrees and marvelling at my relative lack of misery!

  • Keith M Carmany
    Keith M Carmany July 19, 2016 at 6:05 pm

    Even in Northern N.Y. it gets hot. Ice in the jacket. Then by 11 pm it's cool. All the gear...make it work for you not against you...

  • Don Olson

    Coming back from Tucson to Flagstaff, Arizona, a few years ago, a buddy and I say the temperature hit 117 near Roosevelt Dam, but the real surprise was when we started climbing from the desert into the mountains. By the time we reached the tiny hamlet of Clint's Well, it had dropped to a rainy 55 degrees, a drop of 62 degrees in only about 90 minutes.

    Living in this part of the West, i always make sure that I carry about 150% of the water I think I'll need, and taking a break in the hottest part of the day is a very wise move. I've noticed my judgment can suffer with my head stuffed into a full-face helmet for hours on a hot desert run, so give your brain a breather for safety sake.

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