Jun

22

 Everyone talks about the weather without defining 'warm' and 'hot' and applying a scientific plan to deal with it.

Yesterday Sunday was a 'warm' day in Slab City, CA. Warm by my definition means the ambient temperature is above the body temperature. One must move and breathe expertly to cool the body. Examples are volitional or subconscious control to move blood to and from the cool and warm body parts such as the skin, bone marrow and internal organs; and breathing in a manner to cool the air in route to the cool and warm lobes of the lung. A seasoned person who can do these things in outdoor activity is only 'warm'. My shirt left in the shade yesterday was too warm to handle comfortably, but shirts don't have the capacity to train themselves as the human body does. I've been out in the desert for fifteen years working up to the harsh summers by driving the car with the heater on full blast and the windows up, and by exercising gradually into the high temperatures. Yesterday it was 120F at 7pm in the shade of the town thermometer.

When it gets what I call 'hot' then I cannot brag so much. This is when even I can die on a leisurely walk without shade. Yesterday I was able to walk 4 hours with 10 lbs of ankle weights and no water. However, the 'hot' days are coming when it will be impossible for me, and I believe for anyone on a sustained basis. 'Hot' is another quantum leap that occurs when the body can no longer shunt blood and breath inside the body to cool itself. Outside resources are required to exist during exercise such as shade, water, and rest periods. Hot c occurs at about 120F or above depending on the breeze, alkalinity of air, elevation (we're 120' below sea level here in Slab City), and haze above a basin that acts as a magnifying glass of the sun's rays. The 'hot' days are coming in August and you may still be active outside using a baggy full of ice inside a hat that melts through a pinhole, drinking warm water (increases the rate of absorption), and resting ten minutes each hour in the shade.

There was a stream of bicyclers and walkers yesterday from Slab City along a 3 mile stretch to the little store that was sold out of water and nearly out of ice. The people thought they were suffering, but the hot weather is on the way.

Chris Tucker writes:

Stefan J. recommended Essentials of Sea Survival by Golden and Tipton recently and I cannot praise the book enough. It has a very thorough and scientific discussion on how the human body retains and sheds heat and the physical consequences of each.

Pitt T. Maner adds: 

My worst experience as an environmental geologist was working in 95 degree South Florida heat, 80 percent humidity, in modified level C with a full-face respirator, fully enclosed in impermeable Saranex.

Young and not overly cognizant of proper heat stress avoidance procedures, my teammate and I would saw cut through cement and then twist and turn a hand auger to collect soil samples to about 4 feet while a nearby gear testing unit engineers went through throttle up and throttle down torture tests.

It was a taste of what the upper circle of hell might feel and sound like. A couple of red devils with pitchforks were all that was needed.

We soon figured out that we could get fully dressed in our PPE and survive in our suits for about 30 minutes at midday before our gloves pooled with sweat and the level of perspiration inside our masks reached our lower nostrils and began to fill our chemical resistant boots.

We tried hard to avoid the feeling of claustrophobia but a surge of panicky adrenaline paid a visit once or twice a day to both of us.

Getting smarter (by trial and error) on the second day we began working earlier in the morning and wore cheap ice vests with pockets for those cool containers you can freeze over and over in the fridge. Each morning session lasted about 3.5 hours and then we weighed in on a scale (usually I was 7 pounds lighter by then) and headed of to an early lunch and rehydration. After and hour or so we would head back for a quick session to get in another 2 hours in the afternoon.

My teammate and I did this for 5 straight days. On Friday we collected our last samples , filled out the chain of custody and lab task order sheets and shipped the samples coolers to the analytical laboratory. Off to 7-11 for water, Gatorade, and 2 cold beers (wasn't a good idea).

For the next week I felt like I was battling the flu. The accumulation of heat stress and environmental stress each day sapped energy–there was no real training effect–there was a breakdown and exhaustive effect on the body and mind.

Fortunately after about a month the symptoms went away.

So if you are doing heavy work outside in high heat conditions you need to not only be physically trained but also aware of the how insidious heat stress can be. Best to know what the health and safety guidelines are on the matter too and take the advice of experienced medical personnel. Hydration, sitting down and resting, getting out of the direct sun, etc. etc. And for the amateurs a buddy to come along or at least someone who knows where you are and when to expect you and/or radio or smartphone at hand. 

Best regards to the desert dwellers. 


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