In summer, sweat is an important body function, part of keeping us safe from overheating. Inconvenient, for sure; unattractive, perhaps, but there you have it–our body’s way of helping us cool off on these hot, July days mid-summer.
But some of us are unable to sweat. As one of those “you don’t know what you lost till it’s gone,” parts of life, I never appreciated how losing the ability to sweat would compromise my ability to enjoy the outdoors. For many years, I had too many other health issues to cope with to worry specifically about this problem. But as I’ve gotten healthier, stronger, and more motivated to get outdoors, this inability to cool myself off has continued to plague me and limit what I’ve wanted to do.
My walking buddies have learned to be careful for me when we venture outside. “If my face turns pink, I’m getting too hot and need to spray myself down with water,” I’ll tell them. We meet in the summer at 7AM, 8 at the latest, and get off the trail before 10AM. My fanny pack is loaded with extra cooling scarves, and a spray mister, to spray down my face and outer limbs. These walking friends have become “friends of the heart,” people I will always cherish. They have been willing to get up earlier than they might have otherwise, for my sake, go places they had no idea about, and have remained cheerful on the many outings we have headed out on together.
My husband and I joke about “heading for Mars’ when we set off on a trip with our tandem bike. Since the bike can carry us miles farther than I can walk, each bike outing is a risk. But riding on the back of the tandem offers me cooling breezes as I peddle along the trail. Our panniers are stuffed with supplemental ice in case of emergency. And I wear my cooling vest.
You may have noticed the cooling scarf in different pictures of me on the trail-I use it often. The cooling vest has been another story–battery-operated, we have to make sure the batteries are charged. Plastic tubing that fills with chilled water flows through a mesh-like shirt I wear under my clothes. We carry extra ice for when we go on longer bike rides. I am able to enjoy miles and miles of local and area railtrails, on the back of our tandem. But it is heavy and cumbersome for hiking. Wearing it in the car, on our way to a trail is uncomfortable. I have chafed at needing such support. How I wish this journey had been filled with grace and gratitude. Alas, it has often been more about tears and frustrations.
My hope is that by talking about these experiences, some of you who struggle with the heat, or perhaps other limitations, may find there are things you can do to venture out safely and wisely.
Some of these tools are quite cheap–others are much more costly. Each one has been trail-tested (by me!) and works for me. It might help you too.
Cheapest and easiest: A plastic spray-mister, filled with water. I found the 8 oz. size mister works best for us–it will fit in my pocket, easily fits in a fanny pouch, and I’ve never used up the entire 8 oz. in an outing of a couple of hours.
Another option–cooling scarves. There are so many varieties of these–I’ve tried ones that work by simple evaporation–soaking the cloth then wrapping it around your neck. It works all right. But my “go-to” scarf I keep in the freezer, along with a backup, and two additional refills. They will harden in your refrigerator, but work best spending the night in the freezer. I carry them on the bike in an insulated zipper pouch.
More expensive, more complicated to use, but effective in up to low 90’s weather when we are biking, is my cooling vest. We have two different vests we now use–An all in one vest with water filled bladder and ice–good for less extreme weather (up to low 80s for me) by Compcooler. We have a much more expensive vest that works like your own air conditioner–drawbacks–heavy, noisy, and expensive Also by Compcooler.
My point in sharing all this? I’ve become known by many as “that woman who loves the outdoors and writes very local guide books about trails in Central Massachusetts.” But I couldn’t have done much of any of this without the support of my husband. He has spent hours researching, looking for ways to help me more safely and easily spend time outside. Buying some of these products has not been cheap. I have been blessed beyond measure to have him in my life.
I can’t even begin to describe the multiple adaptations we have added to our bike to help me better enjoy the time we spend outside on the trail. The quest to get me out and moving has been a very long one. The ability to move with such freedom and deep joy as we ride is, indeed, priceless. People often smile as we sail past them, and we regularly hear, “I love your bike!” If they only knew…
Today’s ride offered “Birds and berries along the Bay”–Narragansett Bay, that is. We spotted loads of black raspberries along the East Bay Bike path, starting in E. Providence, Rhode Island. Blackberries along the trail are still green, but will ripen in the next month–there will be fine picking soon! We spotted someone picking mulberries along the trail.
And purple flowering raspberries were near the ballfield near the Barrington YMCA, right along the bike trail. (The “Y” folks were awfully gracious in allowing us to use their bathroom too!)
Because of the heat we didn’t stop to get many photos this trip, but we did spot a strange looking bird and got some photos–turns out this was a black-crowned night heron, out during the day (they usually feed at dusk or in the evening.) We also spotted a mother duck and her ducklings in Narragansett Bay.
The mother got by before I could grab her photo, but from the bills of these ducklings, I’d say they look like eider ducklings.
The rest of our trip was part of what we always call the “Hollman stimulus bill,” since we usually spend money, and at least buy some ice cream. This trip we stopped at Blount’s Clam shack at the Carousel at Riverside, and got a fish sandwich, lobster roll, and onion rings. We then found ice cream and went back to Crescent Park, across the street from the carousel, and enjoyed the ice cream as we sat in the shade overlooking the bay.
It’s a lot of work for us, but the joy runs pretty deep. Thanks for reading, and let me know if you have questions.
Marjorie Turner Hollman
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, and editor of Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed. The newest book is Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are.
She has been a freelance writer for numerous local, regional, and national publications for the past 20+ years, has helped numerous families to save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress.