It was 4:30 in the morning. Still dark. The hint of a moonglow could be seen behind the layer of illuminated cloud cover.
Not a leaf was moving in the heavy air. Neither, were Nieto, the hotel security guard or myself. Moving that is. That would have required effort.
We sat on the front steps of the reception area of the hotel. We were waiting for my fishing clients to come downstairs so we could load them in our shuttle van and get them to the beach to go fishing.
Nothing was moving except the beads of perspiration rolling off my forehead and my arms. I could see Nieto was soaked as well. The only movement I could see in the dark were his eyes blink and his Adam’s apple swallow hard. Enduring it.
As I found out later, at 4:30 a.m. it was 93 degrees but the humidity was a whopping 89 percent already! Oppressively all-encompassing Baja steam.
Apply any cliché you want. It hung there heavy as a soggy drape in a steamroom gym. Blanketed over your head. Actually breathing heated wet air. Like mom left the vaporizer on. Or the shower turned full to “H.”
I’m generally not a sweaty person. I’ve lived in tropics of Hawaii. I’ve lived in Washington D.C. I’m no stranger to humidity. But, I can’t remember when it was simply too sticky to even move.
Heck with this, I thought. I’m a weenie. When the clients come downstairs, they can load themselves in the van. I’m headed for the air-conditioner.
I didn’t really do that, but I was sure thinking it! How can this be? The sun isn’t even up, but the earth was already a giant steamed tamale.
But, it’s getting to that time of the year. Temperature-wise, it might be a tolerable 90 degrees. But, it’s the humidity that stops folks in their tracks, saps energy and sometimes makes folks pretty sick. I have clients from Vegas where it’s 130 and 110 in Sacramento and 118 in Phoenix but wilt here in Baja by 8 a.m.
And these aren’t reckless folks. They’ve got the hats and sunscreen and long-sleeve t-shirts. They’re doing their best to stay under the boat’s bimini shade.
But, that’s all well and good for the sun. The sun comes from above. Humidity permeates everything. It’s nature’s terrorist assault from all angles.
First, you’ve got warm water being heated even more by the sun. It’s evaporating all around you and rising into the air. It makes the air heavy.
If there’s enough of it, it rises into clouds above the water. You can often see big puffy thunderheads building up by the end of the day especially bays and channels where the water is shallower, warmer and therefore more susceptible to heat and evaporation.
This is also the rainy season, so-to-speak. Regular high-cloud cover is not uncommon as cells big and small roll through. They’re not necessarily dropping precipitation, but enough to somewhat block the sun.
Well, El Sol doesn’t just go away. It’s burning right through that cloud cover which is putting even more moisture into the air. Just because the sun isn’t shining doesn’t mean you can’t get sunburn. It doesn’t mean it’s any cooler either.
You end up with this chopsuey of heavy air. It’s not a dry heat. It’s a wet thick viscous gooey heat that’s not in the travel brochures.
I was doing some reading in a great book called “Grunt…the Curious Science of Humans at War” by Mary Roach. She goes into some fascinating details about clinical studies done on behalf of our troops in the Middle East regarding the deadly combo of heat and humidity.
Physiologically, she explains, “ When the air is cooler than 92 degrees Fahrenheit, the body can cool itself by radiating heat into the cooler air. Over 92, no go. Radiation’s partner is convection: That cloud of damp heated air your body has generated rises away from your skin, allowing cooler air to take it’s place. And, provided it’s drier, allowing more sweat to evaporate. Likewise, a breeze cools you by blowing away the penumbra of swampy air created by your body. If the air that moves in to take it’s place is cooler and drier, so, then, are you. “
If it’s not moving and hot and heavy, you’re not getting cooler You’re gonna overheat. You sweat more, but it’s not necessarily cooling you off. And sweating, is drawing blood and moisture from other parts of your body.
Say, you’re in a boat fighting a fish and exerting yourself, Roach explains that the muscles you’re using demand more blood and oxygen that the body needs for sweating and cooling the skin.
Go long enough and your brain doesn’t get enough blood. It’s needed elsewhere to help toiling muscles. Blood pressure goes down. You get heat exhaustion and faint.
Not necessarily real serious except you panic everyone, but now you’re horizontal, you’re no longer exerting. Blood flows back to your noggin. Your buddies help you to your feet. Your terrified wife says next year, you’re going to Disneyland.
Heatstroke, on the other hand, can get your wife that big insurance policy. She’s going to Disneyland without you.
Again, it’s the competition for blood as your muscles want blood and oxygen and your sweat is trying to cool down your core. You’re underhydrated (you pee’d away all your beer) and there’s not enough water to replenish your blood volume. The exertion is also generating heat…in the heat of the sun…in the humidity. CRASH!!!
Deprived of oxygen, glucose and toxic waste pickup, organs start failing. Perfect storm. Bacteria leaks into the blood and a “systemic inflammatory response” sets in, and multi-organ damage ensues. Delerium, sometimes coma, even death may follow, according to Roach.
Ever fought a fish long and hard and it can’t be revived? Same thing. Over-exertion and systems failure. That’s you! Belly up. Gaffed and into the box.
Don’t be a fish! Be pre-emptive.
Drink lots of water. Hydration does NOT include mango margaritas or light beer. I aim for an ounce for every pound I weigh. Daily.
In addition to sun protection, help your body with loose light-colored clothing. There’s a reason folks in the Middle East wear billowy clothing. It helps keep the heat off the skin and help evaporation of sweat. Dark colors absorb heat.
Also, for Pete’s sake, keep your shirt on. Yes, you’ve got great tribal ink and I hate your six-pack abs, but you’re not doing yourself favors.
It’s false security. Studies show bare skin gets as much as 10 degrees hotter than fully-clothed skin. Plus you’re gonna get sunburned as hell, lobster boy.
Prevention doesn’t take much. Go fish. Don’t be a fish. Be ready to fight another day. It’s prime time for fishing right now and through the fall. Stay upright!