July/August 2009

Get ready for the heat!

Trying to keep with the time of year, I thought that I would turn again to an issue that comes up in July and August every year; the heat! How can you have missed that one coming huh?

Well, I have to say that I have been working, and of course playing, outside recently in this 90 degree weather, and I have had a few times where I was not feeling too good afterward. So it occurred to me to try to find out a little bit more about what I can do to see the effects of the heat in myself and others before they get serious, and to find out how to prevent these effects.

So what can the heat do to us kayakers when we are out playing hard in the sun? Well, we could expect some of the following problems: dehydration, hyperthermia, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat stroke.

Let’s look at what these are. Dehydration occurs when you simply are not drinking enough water to replace what you are sweating out from the heat. Symptoms of mild dehydration may include: thirst, loss of appetite, dry skin, flushing of the skin, dark colored urine, a dry mouth, fatigue, chills, and a head rush.

Hyperthermia is the overheating of the body. It can be a serious problem when working or playing hard in hot weather, especially when you are far from home on a kayak trip. Hyperthermia may take the forms of heat exhaustion, heat cramps or even heat stroke. Heat exhaustion occurs when you body simply gets too hot; when the normal process of sweating cannot stop your core body temperature from rising. Heat stroke is a severe rise in body temperature which can create more drastic medical conditions to occur simultaneously. Mild symptoms of heat exhaustion may include feeling weak, dizzy or worried. Heat cramps can also be a symptom of heat exhaustion. If you play hard while kayaking in hot weather, you may experience muscle spasms or involuntary muscle jerks.

None of these conditions sound very pretty, but knowing that we need to deal with them if we plan to paddle during the hot days of summer, we should all learn how can we prevent or even treat them. So what can we do? It all comes down to knowing what you are up against, and being prepared.

So you know you will be out paddling on a hot day. You know that, as a kayaker, you will be exposed to the heat of the sun not only from above, but from below as the water reflects the sun back up at you. You know that you will have little protection from the sun and the heat, except for the water you are paddling on, and that you may have limited options for stopping what you are doing anytime you and your group want.

So let’s be prepared. First, before you go out into the heat, you can start by drinking a couple of glasses of water in the hour or two before you start paddling. Then you should have enough water to stop and drink as much as your thirst tells you to every 20 minutes. If you sweat a lot or you plan to be out for more than a few hours paddling at a good pace, then think about taking some sports drinks that will add some sodium back into your system, or make that planned snack be a salty one like peanuts or pretzels.

More than just water, plan on how you dress. Wear long sleeved, light colored, loose clothing that will reflect the sunlight and promote sweat evaporation. Big hats and big sunglasses are always good ideas. Take more frequent breaks than you would at other times of the year, and get wet. Remember that the water on which you are paddling is cooler and just splashing it on yourself will create cooling evaporation.

What should you do if you think you or your buddy has been affected by the heat and are showing signs of hyperthermia and heat exhaustion? The best answers lay all around you. Get out of the heat and into a cool area. Maybe you have the opportunity to get out of the water and into a cool shady area. Maybe getting into the water will help. Paddle to the shore and find a convenient place to sit in the water and relax. Drink plenty of water. Avoid taking in more caffeine or any medications

Remember that summertime is about fun too. Since that water already has a cooling effect on us, use it. If you have a kayak roll, practice it. If you have a buddy, ask them to spot you while you try. If you want to practice your kayak re-entries, ask someone to watch you while you slip out of your kayak for a moment or two and try to climb back in.

Cooling off with a roll

And also keep in mind that it is always appropriate to ask your paddling buddies for help if you feel the heat is affecting you. And be willing to recommend to them that they may need to take care of their condition too, if you suspect the heat is getting to them.

Always, remember your buddies. Pay attention to them. Ask them if they have enough water for the day. Take turns being the one who says it is time to stop for a water break. Talk to your buddies every-so-often to see what their physical level is, how fatigued they may be, how aware they are. Try to spot the signs of dehydration and heat exhaustion before they get too far. If it does get out of hand, be willing to seek more experienced help.

Knowledge and preparation are always the best two medicines you can carry with you in your medical kit. Be aware of the possible heat related illness signs in yourself and your buddies, and be prepared for the weather and the possibility of its influence on you.

Now go take your preparations, your kayak, and your padding buddy out for a day trip on the Chesapeake Bay, and have a great paddle. You don’t have to avoid the hot days of July and August, but you should go out paddling well prepared.

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