Now that June is boiling up all over, as a public service this column will provide, especially to new arrivals, unsolicited advice on summer survival in the Sonoran Desert. When you’re not covering yourself in aloe vera juice to relieve a scalding sunburn, when surfaces inside your car are noticeably less than molten, when you’re watching someone else on TV being carried down from Camelback Mountain giving a thumbs-up to the camera — that’s when you’ll thank me, um, I hope.
Let’s start with a few philosophical considerations, just so you know what you’re up against. This is information the TV weather people won’t give you.
First, disabuse yourselves of any notion that what you are doing constitutes “beating the heat.” You can never beat the heat. It always wins. What you can do is at least make the final score closer.
Second, realize the alternatives. Midwestern summers’ high humidity is far more stifling than desert-dry oven-like heat here, as bad as it is. Your clothes are soaked within minutes and their air conditioners just don’t cool as well as ours do.
So when your relatives call to needle you about three-digit highs, remind them that they have both uncomfortable summers AND unbearable winters, and if they don’t shut up their February visit to you will be cancelled.
Now, for the dos and don’ts. My disclaimer is that, no, I’m not a doctor or health professional, just a guy who has lived in this Valley for 45 years and has seen plenty:
• Don’t hike desert mountains until October. Just don’t. You want to go hiking? Arizona’s this great place where two hours away you’re in pine-covered country where it’s 20 to 30 degrees cooler.
And yet, too many of us just don’t get it. You seldom if ever hear of a guy from, say, Wisconsin, nearly freezing to death because he decides to hike in some deep, dark Wisconsin woods in late January despite having little to no experience doing it, especially while it’s 5 degrees below zero and he’s wearing nothing more than a windbreaker.
Yet in any given summer week here in the Valley, many Valley residents with little to no physical conditioning to such an activity think nothing of scaling some rock at 2:30 in the afternoon. They’re often equipped with not much more than a can of Dr Pepper, a baseball cap for shade and a pair of old sneakers whose tread has worn smooth — which may contribute to why these people get stuck up there, dehydrated and with a twisted ankle.
• Do use windshield shade screens and a big terry cloth towel over your steering wheel (and your seat if you like to wear tank tops and/or shorts). Forget making your vehicle a fashion statement of how you’ve arrived in upscale society, or whatever the German-car commercials like to talk about. If you don’t want to be heard howling like a coyote because your bare skin touched a hot wheel, console or seat in front of several others in the parking lot at Chandler Fashion Center, you’ll be doing yourself a favor by using these ugly but very helpful accessories.
• Don’t underestimate the sun’s power to burn and, down the road, to cause skin cancer, of which Arizona is the nation’s capital. When you see those sun-intensity numbers of 9, 10 or 11, know that this means that untanned skin can start to burn in 20 minutes or so. Wear long sleeved cotton clothes, a broad-brimmed hat, and sunscreen. Stay in the shade. Swim at night (your pool water’s a little cooler and more refreshing then, anyway).
• Do keep hydrated. Think of your body as like your car radiator. When readying for a trip into the desert, you’d make sure your car’s radiator was filled to the brim with coolant, right? Do the same with you. Before you even venture outside, drink plenty of water until your “radiator” is full. Perspiration dries instantly in our low humidity and most people don’t even know they’re sweating until it’s too late. Carry water with you and know where you can get some more wherever you’re going. The experts I’ve read don’t put too much faith in those sports drinks and recommend plain water.
• Do get up early to do strenuous outdoor tasks. It’s light enough outside this time of year by 4:30 or 5 a.m., so adjust your day to do the outdoor stuff — gardening, lawn work, home maintenance, etc. — and you’ll feel much better if you finish by 9 a.m.
• And try to avoid watching the TV weather people and their depressing commentary. Get your forecast from places that just give the numbers and leave the depressing commentary to you.
Read Tribune contributing columnist Mark J. Scarp’s opinions here each weekend. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.