Although June 22 is the official start of summer, we’ve had summer conditions here since mid-May, and I’m already sick and tired of it. It’s a long, hot summer here in Central Florida, extending from mid-May to mid-October.
We seldom get a break from the heat and humidity. No need to check the weather forecast. We can recite it from painful memory. It doesn’t change. High today, 95; low tonight 75. There’ll be a regularly scheduled thunderstorm at 4:00 PM every day, which sometimes, just for variety, bring damaging hail, strong winds, frequent lightning, and, once in a while, tornadoes. What they don’t do is cool us off. They merely increase the humidity, and hence, the discomfort level.
It is the usual thing to see the temperature-humidity index (THI) exceed 100. Bad things happen to humans at those levels—heat strokes, breathing difficulties, and heart attacks, just to name a few. When the ambient temperature is above body temperature (98.6F/37C), and the humidity is high, it is difficult for the body to employ the standard sweating mechanism to cool itself off. When you stop sweating, that’s the first sign of trouble. The blood flows to capillaries near the surface of the skin in a feeble attempt to radiate heat, but that mechanism is impaired, so major organs are deprived of blood, body temperature increases, and bad stuff starts to happen.
A few years back, I was hiking in the woods on a 102 degree day, like a complete idiot. I had hiked only a few miles when I started feeling the effects of the heat. My strength rapidly declined, while my breathing grew labored. I had plenty of water and was drinking liberally and frequently, so I would not become dehydrated. Nevertheless, I stopped sweating. So, I lay down in some pine needles where there was a little shade. I was still a mile from my Jeep. I wasn’t too worried yet, because a friend was supposed to meet me in the forest, so I’d at least be able to get some help if needed. Then I called that friend to ask when he’d get there. He said that he thought better of it because of the heat, so he decided to have lunch with another friend where the air conditioning was good. I was on my own. So, after lying there for fifteen minutes or so, I got up to walk the final mile to the Jeep. It was the longest mile of my life (except when I ran out of food and water mountain hiking in North Carolina and hadn’t seen any humans for eight hours, but I digress). After getting home, I stripped off my clothing, cranked the air conditioner up full blast, turned on the ceiling fan, and lay on the bed. It took me about 12 hours not to feel hot anymore. I’ll never do that again.
Except maybe last September, when four of us Geocaching fools decided to hike on the hottest day of the year in an area that was largely open pastures. There’s strength in numbers. Or maybe there’s mass weakness in numbers. The outcome was less remarkable that that of the last paragraph. We all survived and wound up having a few beers over at one of Central Florida’s homey fish camps. All this for two caches. I think what saved us was a lay-down under a massive live oak at mid-hike.
And so it was no great surprise that on Monday of last week, the day the same four Geocaching fools got together for a trek up to the Ocala National Forest, it would be the hottest day of the year thus far. This time, we had a better plan. We stayed in the Grand Cherokee most of the time, and got out only for short hikes to conveniently placed Geocaches—then back to the air conditioned Jeep. Roughing it, man. Sometimes, I even stayed in the damn car while the other three got their sun. Hell, mah mama dittn’t raise no fool. Eventually, I was stuffing ice down my shirt to cool off. Nice thing to have in the air conditioned Grand Cherokee when you’re roughing it in the Florida summer. Our longest hike of the day was a total of a mile. That was the round trip to a sinkhole that I didn’t bother descending into with the rest of them. We all survived, though.
Sometimes, even with air conditioning, the house is hot. So, you say go take a cold shower. Yeah, we can do that, but then when we get out of the shower, we start sweating again. This heat is a real pain in the ass.
It wasn’t too long ago that we were bitching about the winter being so cold here. By that, we meant that we had a few days in the high 40s and low 50s. Great hiking weather, mind you, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it return — tomorrow!
And another thing. Diversions that make sense are so few. We can go swimming, but that’s pretty pointless unless we’re actually going from point to point by swimming. What’s the use of swimming laps in a pool? What really makes sense to this Turkey is sitting in an air conditioned family room with an air conditioned beer and an air conditioned flat screen watching great sports. But guess what? Ain’t much of that going on in summer, either! The “boys of summer” really ceased to interest me after the early 1990s. There was a baseball strike and the Pirates really started sucking because they couldn’t afford to pay competitive salaries. Buncha shit from which I never recovered. (Steve Strasburg might renew my interest in the sport yet, if he’s more than a short-term phenom.) So, what’s left. The NHL has wrapped up its year. So has the NBA. I’m really not a great soccer fan, but I can stomach the World Cup for a couple more days, anyhow. I’m even reduced to watching the U.S. Open golf tournament. I don’t think I’ll be able to stomach Wimbledon, though. So, once July rolls around, there just ain’t nothing to do!
We’re planning a trip up north around the last week in July, back to the Holy Land, the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. It is usually my luck that weather follows me when I try to escape it. Last year, I went to Pennsylvania to escape the heat, whereupon my friends up there announced to me that it had been quite pleasant, with temperatures in the high 70s — until I arrived, when the heat wave set in. On another occasion, I went up to visit friends in Washington and Baltimore to escape the foul mood three hurricanes had imposed upon us in Central Florida. Hurricane Ivan followed me up there. Then, to add insult to injury, when I returned to Central Florida, the remnants of Hurricane Ivan followed me and deposited twelve inches of rain over a couple of dreary days. I can’t win!
So, while many of you are celebrating the beginning of summer, many of us here in Central Florida are girding for its onslaught. Our outdoor frolicking time is November through April, for all but the hardiest of the hardy. You see, our blood has thinned, or so they say. I know that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence and we’ll be bitching and moaning about the cold again in January. That just human nature. But I’ve already had enough of this inhuman heat!