Friday, June 26, 2009

Beat the Heat


photo credit: Mr. T in DC
As the summer heats up, don't let it keep you inside all day. Here are some tips for keeping cool outdoors.

Go early. There's no reason to be out at the hottest time of day. If we're going out (or working in the garden), we'll do it early and be back inside before noon. On a typical summer day, heat will continue building until 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon; after that it may start to cool off a little as the sun goes lower in the sky, but it still won't be as cool as it was in the morning.

More plants, less pavement. Pavement acts as a heat sink, capturing the sun's heat. Plants, meanwhile, are taking the same solar energy and using it to perform the chemical reactions of photosynthesis. They're also evaporating water from their leaves, which cools the air around them.

Dark Inside
Photo credit: M.V. Jantzen
Seek shade. Clearly, the shade of trees will help. Also consider walking in areas that are even more intensely shaded, like north-facing slopes and creek ravines. How about Soapstone Valley in Rock Creek Park (previous post)? For a spot that gets no sunlight, ever, check out the Dalecarlia Tunnel, where the Capital Crescent Trail passes under MacArthur Blvd (map). It is deliciously cool all summer.

Drink water. Remember to bring lots of water and stay hydrated. Even better, freeze your water bottle before you go and you'll have cold water on your hike (remember to leave room for the water to expand before you put it in the freezer).

Northwest Branch
Photo by the Natural Capital
Find water. Being wet will help you stay cool. Find a creek to stick your feet in briefly, or make your whole walk a wade in a creek. Just be safe -- don't wade (or swim) where there's a strong current. Or, if you're willing to drive a little, check out our list of places to swim within 2 hours of Washington, DC.

Acclimate. Your body makes physiological changes to deal with heat. If you spend most of your time in cold, dry air conditioning and then try to spend time in the hot, humid outdoors, you'll be physically less able to deal with the heat. Spend more time outdoors, and set your thermostat to a higher temperature. It will take a few days for your body to adjust, but you should find the heat more bearable.

Take it easy. Similarly, there's no reason to push too hard. If you're feeling wiped out by the heat, take a break. Listen to the birds. Sit by some flowers and watch the pollinators. You may find that you cover less ground, but see just as much.

Do you have a favorite cool spot or a tip for keeping cool? Post a comment.