I grew up in the northestern US. I lived there for 28 years. Every winter we’d have a “cold snap”. If you lived away from the coast this meant that for two weeks the temperature would drop below 0 and the wind chill factor would make it feel like 10 – 20 below.
Frostbite in Albany
Over Christmas one year, my brother Joe and I got cabin fever while visiting my parents. We decided to bundle up and go for a run in sub-zero wind chill weather. We picked the 3-mile loop road at what was then called the State University of New York at Albany. I was running marathons in those days and Joe was not. We were doing about 9 minutes a mile when I put my hand up to scratch my ear. Joe slapped my hand down. “Don’t touch it. It’s frozen. We’d better get back to the car.”
I was a more than a little freaked out. I looked over at him and said, “Bye” and dropped the hammer. I guess I did the last 1 1/2 miles in about 9 minutes. No lie. I balled the jack. It took a few hours for my ears to thaw out. The Scotch I drank back at my parents’ house didn’t help much.
Heat Exhaustion in DC
Ever since I have had a healthy adversion to frostbite. Then there is the opposite situation.
Around the same time, I spent the summer in DC. At the time, it turned out to be the hottest summer on record. (It has since fallen to second place.) Like a whole bunch of other government interns I lived in a dorm in Foggy Bottom on the urban campus of George Washington University. I’d go out for runs after work and drop five pounds in sweat.
One Sunday I decided to jump on my ten-speed Raleigh and go exploring. I rode to a bank in Capitol Hill to use an ATM. (Yes, it was THAT long ago. ATMs were a new thing and ten-speeds was the most you could get on a bike.)
After my errand I reversed course and rode over to the C&O Canal. I rode out the canal about 20 or 25 miles. I had brought with me one 12-ounce water bottle because that’s all I ever used when I rode in Providence. By the time I had doubled back 10 miles to Great Falls Park I was wobbling all over the place.
I stopped and bought a (glass!) bottle of Coke at a refreshment stand. Drank it. Then I refilled it over and over and over again with water from a fountain.
Feeling a little better, I jumped on my bike and headed back to GW, a distance of about 16 miles. I honestly did not know if I would make it, but I did. Before going into my dorm, I bought three bottles of ice-cold Gatorade
In my room, I chugged the Gatorade, took a shower, then collapsed on my bed. For 16 hours.
The next day I went to work. I had to do some things at the old Interstate Commerce Commission on Constitution Avenue. In lieu of air conditioning, the ICC used huge fans. After about an hour I became nauseous. I found a pay phone (lord, this was a long time ago) and called the office to tell them I was going home.
Back at the dorm I drank all that I could and fell asleep again for another 12 hours.
In 2007 the 50- States Ride in DC was held in August. It was sweltering. I fell in with three people two of whom looked like they were at death’s door when we arrived in Rock Creek Park at about the 50-mile mark. One of our group decided she had “things to do” and took off. After my experience with heat exhaustion, there was no way I was going to leave the other two alone. One of them dropped out about three miles later as he neared his apartment. The other made it to the finish. As it turns out she was okay with the heat, but her back was killing her.
It’s because of these experiences, that I refer to summer in DC as reverse winter. When winter flexes its muscles in the north, you crank the heat up and hunker down with a book and some hot tea, In summer in DC, you crank the AC up and hunker down with a good book and some iced tea.
As I type this, it is 99 degrees here in DC. The heat index is 111. I rode 33 miles in the relative cool this morning. (It was well over 80 degrees when I left the house.) I ain’t going out there. No way. No how. Time to hunker down.