My breathing had become rapid.
I felt faint and had stopped sweating.
An hour earlier I had run out of water.
It didn’t sink into my thick skull what was going on until I thought I saw a bar.
I told myself I didn’t care if I was in cycling gear and cleats I was going to go in. And get something cold to drink – a soda if they had no water.
It was when I realized I was staring at an old dilapidated barn seemingly in the middle of nowhere in Butte County I put two and two together.
The first thing I did was to find shade.
Once I cooled down a bit I assessed my situation.
I was 72 miles into a 110-mile trip on back roads from Lincoln to Chico via Paradise. I had filled up my three water bottles before pedaling out of Oroville.
Five miles out of Oroville on a blind curve on a descent I ran over what appeared to be the remains of a half dozen or so beer bottles deliberately smashed against the asphalt. Both tires blew and I crashed.
Given it was able to slow to 15 mph before the first tire blew, my crash was less than spectacular leaving me with just a robust case of road rash. I did, however, have a problem. Since I hadn’t started shaving my legs yet, the mess on my right left included not just bits of gravel and dirt intermixed with blood and skin, but also hair that was in danger of scabbing over.
The impact effectively emptied two of my three water bottles. The one I had been drinking out of was perhaps a third empty.
Before deciding what to do with the last water bottle, I consulted a AAA map I had.
While I had never been in the route I was taking I had mapped it out. Paradise was 20 miles or so away. But in looking at the map I noticed just up ahead was a road that, if I took it and headed back down toward the valley, I’d come across a place marked on the map in seven miles. I figured I could get water there even if it was from a garden hose.
So for the next 45 minutes I sat on dirt baked in 103-degree heat along a road that not one car had come by as I cleaned my road rash using my remaining water and fixed my tires.
Long story short, there was no “there” as the map said. I had gone an hour without water. Worst yet, I had stopped sweating and was out of water.
As luck would have it I got back on my bicycle and within three miles I was at a crossroads with the biggest convenience store I’d ever seen in the middle of nowhere and it wasn’t a mirage.
I got the biggest drink cup I could find, filled it to the brim with ice, and added soda. (OK, I know now it should have been water but I was a 31-year-old idiot). And since this was before the days of smartphones I called by sister in Chico via a pay phone and explained my situation.
An hour later she showed up. I had consumed a second 64-ounce cup, ice and all. Mary also brought a container of ice tea that I gladly accepted after loading up my bicycle.
Back at her apartment I took a cool bath, polished off an entire container of ice cream bonbons, and drank ice water. I then stepped on the scales before we went out to dinner. I still weighed less than when I left Lincoln. It was also clear I had not been drinking enough water before I crashed given how much liquid I was consuming.
I considered myself extremely lucky. And yes, I bicycled home the next day on a longer, flatter route via Colusa but not before buying two much larger water bottles so I had two on my down tube and three more for the back of my jersey.
Since that day 34 years ago, whenever I head out into the heat for a long time I carry lots of water.
If I go off on a 10-mile day hike in the eastern Sierra, I take enough water in my backpack bladder that tops out at three liters in case it somehow turns into a two-day venture. I do so even if others will tackle the hike carrying just a single water bottle
A doctor friend who was a runner figured one of the reasons I fared as well as I did from the Chico ride fiasco was the fact he said I “respected” the heat. Both of us would venture out in the heat of the day — him to run and me to cycle. Neither of us would push it to the max. We both had a habit of weighing ourselves daily – sometimes twice – to make sure we were staying hydrated in the summer.
At the same time an incident years before in Yuba City had gotten me into the habit of eschewing air conditioning whenever possible so I can adjust my body to the Valley heat.
It was a 100-degree day. I was wearing a suit and had to cool my heels in the outer office of a gentleman I was supposed to collect some copy from. I waited for 20 minutes. Since this was back when electricity was cheaper than water, he kept his office cool. At one point I got up and walked around and noticed a wall thermostat was set at 55 degrees.
When I left his office, I got into my locked car where it easily had to be 140 degrees inside. That was a 95 degree swing in temperatures in mere minutes.
I got faint-headed, nauseous, clammy, and felt as if I was going to throw up.
That’s when I decided I was going to embrace — but respect — hot weather.
I figured if my grandmother could run a working ranch on the edge of the foothills in the same oppressive valley heat without benefit of air conditioning and such I could at least reduce my reliance on modern cooling technology.
Granted homes were different then. They weren’t sealed tombs designed to keep the cold of winter out and the manmade cold in summer in.
You relied on trees planted around your house to reduce ground temperatures 10 to 20 degrees and to cool the air when breezes kicked in.
Summer porches were designed to take advantage of the evenings when nature cooled things down to make it easier to sleep. You can replicate the feeling by taking advantage of delta breezes at night and opening windows.
It goes without saying there is a middle ground.
Retired Manteca Fire Chief Kirk Waters used to try and squeeze in his daily run in mid-afternoon when temperatures reach their peak. His rationale was simple. He could slowly condition himself to deal with the heat.
And just because you get “used” to the heat doesn’t mean you don’t take precautions.
I take in more water this time of year than the Titanic. Working up a sweat thanks to hydration is your body’s primarily cooling mechanism.
Whenever I head out for my normal daily 2½ mile jog and the temperatures is well past 90 degrees, I carry a small handheld water bottle. I have yet to drink from it during a jog but it is a nice backup in case my hydration effort wasn’t up to par.
I do not ignore heat such as the 108 degrees Mother Nature is expected to blast us with Thursday. Nor do I take a cavalier attitude toward it.
Instead I respect it and do my best to prep for it and deal with it.
Even so, as a mishap 34 years pounded into my head, you’ve got to be aware when it is getting the upper hand.
You can learn to live with the heat but you can’t always beat it.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or 209 Multimedia Corporation.