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Partly in Paradise

One of the advantages of writing is that it is deliberate and slow. It gives you a chance to test the clarity of your thinking.  Computers have made it so easy to edit what you've written that there are few excuses to be inaccurate or misunderstood.

Despite all those advantages there is still room for improvement, particularly in my recent advertisements for the Good Life in the great outdoors. I haven't been clear: it's living partly outdoors that deserves to be praised to the heavens.

1) Consider how lucky we are to be able to buy shoes and hats with mesh in the right places. Sure, mesh isn't so durable. But in a hot climate what matters most is ventilation and shade. Compare a hat like I wear now:

If there is a better hat than the Henschel Aussie Breezer 3.5" Brim, I'll eat this hat!

to what was available when you were a child. As a child I used to spend two weeks on my grandfather's farm every summer. He didn't wear baseball caps with "John Deere" logos as most farmers did. Instead, he never got on his tractor without his metal pith helmet. It looked like something worn by a soldier during the British Raj in India. Metal!

2) Consider the lack of sun protection that most bicyclists have. (And no, those teeny plastic visors that snap onto the helmet do not count.) I was impressed once by a mountain biker in the Flagstaff area who wore a classic bandana underneath his helmet, but it really only protected the ears and the neck -- not the face. And cloth against the ears is hot.

I had to see someone else do it first before I actually started to get sensible: for the next couple years I tried French foreign legion style baseball caps. The first one was made of Supplex nylon -- it was miserably hot. The next one was better because it was Cool-Max and more meshy. I finally experimented with a wide-brimmed, mesh-sided hat that was ready for throwing out, anyway.

It seemed like common sense that it would make the helmet too tight, or that the brim would flop in the wind when cycling. Not so! It is much cooler than the French foreign legion style hat because air moves over your ears. 

Looks clumsy and dorky, doesn't it? But it works beautifully. You might have to remove the spacer pads from the helmet to make room for the hat. Or buy a larger helmet. It's worth it.
An upside down shot of the above photo. Cut slits on the sides so that the helmet straps go through. Choose a wide-brim, mesh-sided, Australian breezer style hat. You will be amazed to find the brim NOT flapping in the wind, when cycling.

Why did it take so long? Other people in the bicycle club laughed at this hat, Ideally we should be indifferent to other people's opinions of this type.  

3) For years I've been hiking or mountain biking in the summer with inexpensive cotton tee-shirts. That means smearing the arms with SPF-30 Crisco. Hateful stuff, that. Why had it been so hard for me to realize that long sleeve shirts are the way to go, in summer? 'Because they are hot.' Not quite true. 

Once again the material and a too-tight weave are the problem. Avoid Supplex nylon or polyester. Find an open (low-cost and gauzy) cotton shirt. The best ones I have ever found are available now at Walmart. I like pockets and buttons and patterned white shirts:

If you can find a better shirt ($11, Walmart) than this for hot dry climates, I will eat it.

A shirt from Walmart? Oh surely not! How can that be as good as a politically correct shirt from REI that costs $100 and is made lovingly from recycled pop bottles? Somebody is now going to object: 'but Supplex nylon is rated SPF-30.' That is just (admittedly clever) marketing hype aimed at the demographic who hikes. 

4) Once again I have to break out of a lifetime of dumb habits. On a recent 4 hour mountain bike ride, we arrived at the creek, most of the way through. So we were hot and thirsty. Why didn't I have enough sense to take that shirt off and soak it in the clean water of the creek? The water had come back out of the ground just a hundred yards upstream, so it looked so clean and cool. Imagine how cool the cotton in that shirt would be as it evaporated away, into 10% relative humidity.

Look at that water vacuum sucker! Good job by my new camera.
Now I suppose somebody is going to tell me that cotton is not a good outdoors fabric because it absorbs water! Do you think a fabric can stay soggy for more than 10 minutes in this climate? Get anything wet and you have the perfect evaporative cooler. Please don't tell me that your $100 high-tech fabric wicks water so well. That's just the endlessly-repeated marketing hype. Yes, it wicks better than a leisure suit, circa 1975, because they have learned to make the fibers finer and to "texturize" them by chemo-mechanical processing -- more surface area means better wicking, everything else being equal. But polyester is still hydrophobic.

5) Why so stupid for so many years? I took a pair of scissors and gave my dog an ugly, but effective, haircut. She perked up immediately. Why doesn't everybody give their dog a summer haircut?

6) Half the reason why I prefer mountain biking to hiking in the summer is that you can carry stuff on the bike instead of your back. So naturally they invented those awful Camelbak water bladders so you can have a hot and sweaty back. They have become so common that high-end mountain bike designers have reduced the water bottle cages down to one!

At the Patagonia coffee shop the other day I saw a bike that had water bottle cages attached to each of the front forks, by means of hose clamps. Why had I never done this?! 

Well I did do it, and it is working great. (First wrap black sticky tape over the tubes of the front shocks. You buy the tape at some sporting goods or hardware stores. It's also good as the first layer when wrapping bicycle handlebars.)

How to have more water along on a mountain bike ride, without those ghastly Camelbaks.

Why have I burdened the reader with all these examples? Because they are glorious. Because protecting yourself from Dry Heat is the very essence of the Good Life outdoors. Shakespeare was wrong when he said that 'eyes are the windows of the soul.' Well, maybe in sunless England. The skin is the largest organ in the human body, and certainly the most under-rated sensory organ. 


edlfrey said…
All good stuff. Other riders thought I was crazy to wear a long sleeve t-shirt and tights when riding across the US during the hot summer. I stayed cool providing the humidity was not too high and never used any sun screen. There is a fellow here in the Park that wears a bicycling hat-helmet very much like what you have pictured and you never see him without his big brimmed hat on if he is outdoors.
I have also many times questioned the benefit of shorts. The only shorts I have ever worn were for cycling and that was more for the padding than any cooling of the legs. The calf of my leg has never become so hot that I needed to wear shorts to keep it cool.
The water bottle mount idea sounds good. I never considered a camel back hydration system for the very reasons that you listed. Would like to see a picture of the fork mounted bottles.
A photo has been added.

I too question shorts. For one thing, any experience with a third world country will convince you that it is silly and ugly for grown men to wear shorts.

I have been held back on hikes by a fellow hiker's shorts: he was unwilling to bushwhack off the trail because of the stickers. Well duh! (Ditto for bug bites.)

On a bike I give the benefit of the doubt to shorts because air is moving over the legs, unlike hiking. And my legs never seem to fry.
XXXXX said…
Very scientific analysis of your situation. You mentioned in the last blog your desire to "live a deliberate life" and I think this is a good example of that. To step-by-step look at something, a situation, questioning previously held beliefs is a strong component of living a deliberate life. It takes this questioning to open up new doors and ways of thinking. As you mentioned at the beginning, writing, as the mode of communication, supports and encourages this process of being deliberate as well.
I do agree with your conclusion that the skin is under-rated and under-valued as a means to perception. I would go so far with it as to wonder if it is not the porosity of the skin which contributes to what we sometimes refer to as the sixth sense. Something akin to intuition. Not the sole means of perception in such cases but a significant one.
Indeed it is remarkable how blind a person can be, just going along with imitation and passively believing marketing hype, with huge practical advantages waiting in the wings.

As for your sixth sense, geesh George, don't go New Age on us!
Jim and Gayle said…
I know you are adamant about cotton, but Jim will strongly disagree with you about the lightweight nylon shirts and pants he wears. Cotton is great if you never hike or bike anywhere with higher humidity, but for all around wear the fishing-type shirts are cool, breathe, and dry much more quickly than cotton. To each his own.
Great idea for a water bottle holder. Jim bought a replacement bike yesterday and there are NO brazens for even one water bottle cage so he's been trying to figure out a way to attach one. And it isn't even a high end bike!
Coffee Girl is looking good. Looks like some of that hair is growing back;)
Yes I'll admit that synthetics are a better idea for humid climates, but humidity is so far off the radar screen for me that I never think or write about such places.

Zero water bottle cages is the new normal! Aaargh! The bicycle industry is sicker than I thought.

I like how water on the front fork puts a little more weight on the front. Also, I have a front bag for clothing and junk, since it is hard to carry stuff on the rear triangle of a full-suspension mountain bike. Just ask Mark Johnson about that.
Jimbo said…
I took your advice and started to give Chica a haircut, but to no avail as she already has a permanent one. HA!
edlfrey said…
Attach one anywhere you like using the same method that Boonie has mounted his pair to the fork. I remember when I first started riding that there were no braseons for water bottle mounts on the cheaper bikes. I guess history has repeated.
John V said…
I liked the guy at the Patagonia coffee shop who had the dual cages on his bike to hold his flasks of liquor!