Oh my, oh my, oh my- it is a hot one out there! This is what we mostly have been hearing this summer from meteorologists across the country. Hotter than normal for the most part. Whether it is that ‘dry heat’ we have here in Tucson, AZ or the thick humidity and heat of the Southern US it is HOT!
So how do you safely (and without being bait food for mosquitoes and other blood suckers) bike with the kids (or even pets) on days like this? It is not just the heat that gets you in the summer. Bugs are out and we are prey. In addition, hot weather does not make for the best air quality. All these factors need to be considered to make your summer bike ride enjoyable.
Essentials on a summer day for kids in any activity include:
- Loose, lightweight clothing preferably light colors (Cool clothes for parents too!)
- Hats! Even with the helmet- kids need hats!
- Sunscreen (30+SPF), Zinc oxide (non-nano) is preferable (EWGs website has further information on Sunscreen and chemical safety)
- Hydrate! Water is best!
- Frequent breaks in the shade BEFORE you need it!
- Bug spray (either store or homemade as I will mention later, Best Bug Spray – Results)- mosquitoes are out for blood!
- Acclimation to the hotter environment – often overlooked but critical for both mom, dad and kids.
- Air quality reports- hotter weather can mean more ‘not so good’ days for breathing in the air around us (NOAA Air Quality Information)
In Arizona it get HOT. And when I mean HOT it is like being in an over- literally! We have already hit 118F this year BEFORE summer officially arrived! The wind is even HOT- our only possible refuge is the shade or swimming pool. Since we live here year round and are out biking daily, we slowly acclimate as the temperature notches up (BUT 118F is a bit extreme).
For safe summer riding with the kids we have a few rules that we live by:
- If it is over 100F (heat index, not just temp Heat Index FEMA) and air quality is at least MODERATE (Air quality daily updates) we do not venture out in the trailer.
- We try to make all or most trips back home before 11am – see #1
- If we do consider the trip ‘ok’ we apply Badger Sunscreen (30+SPF, EWG Link – Safety , Skin Cancer Risk )
- Then apply your bug spray- homemade or store- whatever works!
- At least a 32oz of water for each participant. Plan to refill for the return trip. Rule of thumb- at the halfway point of your water turn around and get home if you cannot fill up.
- Plan your trip with the most shade possible.
- Clothing is loose and light colored with hats and of course very cool sunglasses with UV protection.
- We also keep the trip under an 1hr round trip. Plan for at least one bathroom break with all the water.
- Even if Mom is ok that does not mean the kids are so I check in every 5-10min to note how hot they feel, if they have enough water, are drinking (or spilling) and how flushed their face looks.
- Spray bottle to ‘cool off’. Each kid has their own little personal ‘misting system’. This worst beautifully in the dry heat of AZ.
- When we get home, I continue to monitor the kids and encourage them to continue to drink water.
So, now that we are prepared for our ride it is important to always remember that kids are more sensitive to heat stress as their bodies do not adapt to hot weather as well as adults.
Whether you are hauling the kids in a trailer, bike seat, cargo bike or riding side by side your acclimation may not be theirs so we need to know the signs of heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke and how to treat these serious illnesses.
So, what are heat cramps?
Heat cramps are muscle spasm that are painful, involuntary, brief, intermittent and while not fun, they will go away and quick action can mitigate their longevity. These cramps can happen while out and about OR once you have gotten back from a ride a few hours later.
The cramping can be rather painful. Make sure to rest the child in a cool place, provide them with a sports drink or water. You can also make a salt solution of 1/4 to 1/2 tsp in a quart of water that will help replace salt similar to the sports drink. DO NOT use salt tablets. These can cause an upset stomach and cannot replenish the fluid needed.
These heat cramps can accompany heat exhaustion. If for some reason you cannot get the child sufficient water due to nausea or vomiting or they are running a high temp, shortness of breath, headache, fast heartbeat, dizziness or fatigue seek medical treatment immediately. Most likely you will need help replenish the body’s needed hydration.
The best prevention of heat cramps includes both adequate acclimation and fluid replacement.
And heat exhaustion, what should I look for with that? How can we prevent it?
Heat exhaustion is not just being tired of the heat. It is a very serious illness brought on when the body becomes overwhelmed and cannot properly cool itself anymore.
As mentioned above heat cramps can be a sign of heat exhaustion. Telltale signs are nausea, dizziness, weakness, headache, pale/cool/moist skin, quick but weak pulse, disorientation, paleness, fainting and tiredness.
Some of these symptoms may be hard to determine in your children so constant monitoring is best. The check in asking how they are and hearing a hearty response is always a good sign all is ‘OK’. If this response becomes delayed, less energetic you most likely will recognize the change and have time to improve any issues if needed. Parents have an ‘intuition’ with their kids. You typically know what is normal and what is not- use this carefully in monitoring and listen to what your gut may be telling you.
If you suspect heat exhaustion- stop activity immediately! Find shade or a cool room and begin drinking cold fluids. Take a cool bath if possible (a dip in a cool wading pool or something similar can help). Remove any extra clothing on the child. Our goal is to get the child as cool as possible since their body has stopped doing it for them.
Following the list of preparing for a ride in summer will help prevent heat exhaustion. As a reminder hydrate, hydrate, hydrate is key. Light and loose clothing as well as sunscreen help prevent heat exhaustion. Ironically a sunburn can not only increase your risk for skin cancer but sun burn can limit the skin’s ability to cool itself. Wearing a sun hat and hitting the shade as often as possible helps!
Lastly, and the most serious of all conditions we have heat stroke.
Heat stroke is the progression of heat exhaustion if left untreated. With heat stroke the presence of confusion and other mental status changes occur in addition to heat exhaustion.
Heat stroke affects the neurological system and causes odd behavior, delusions, and hallucinations. Eventually this conditions leads to seizures or a coma. In a cause of possible heat stroke- seek medical attention immediately! There is no time to waste and recognizing this to receive proper help makes all the difference in the world.
At the first sign of any heat exhaustion system- cool the child down and get them water. Even if they simply state they have a headache. You cannot assume they are crying wolf and it is better to act cautiously to catch a heat illness before it progresses.
Lastly, we focused on the heat and illness associated with that but I want to come back to the bug spray.
We have heard of Zika, West Nile and Dengue fever in the US. West Nile is the most familiar and hits most if not all of the states. Dengue is limited to VERY south FL in the continental US. Zika is the newest and all cases reported thus far are illness due to travel to an infected country. There may be a low risk for any of these but, in my mind as a parent, better safe than sorry. Plus, well, my kids (and dog) welt up from a bite so for a good night’s sleep prevention is best (bentonite clay and alcohol swabs are handy if that doesn’t work).
I always spray both the trailer and the kids before a ride. Personally I rely on my homemade recipe to better tweak the spray for insects ‘in season’.
In a small bottle we fill it with half boiled water and half with witch hazel with 10 drops of each of the pictured essential oils plus rosemary (not pictured). There are many sites for other recipes that work (here is one more: DIY Natural Repellent). A search for homemade bug spray works wonders (Natural Repellent Web Search) I recommend trying what you like and can tolerate. Apply a spray every hour for effectiveness. With my children, the spray actually acts to cool them down as well. They run into the sun after each spray claiming to be ‘cold’ 🙂
Ride safe! Oh baby, it is hot out there! 🙂