Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Long Drives Into the Hot Summer Sun

THERE ARE ONLY A FEW THINGS I KNOW A LITTLE ABOUT. Even then, I only speak from my own experience. Nevertheless one of subjects I think I can give a tad bit of advice on is long-distance, marathon driving in the hot, summer solstice sun. That's because I drive back and forth across the country at least once, sometimes twice a year and have been for a long time now. The bulk of this driving is when the days are the hottest and longest of the year. It can be brutal.

I've found no matter how good a shape I'm in, no matter how fit, this is one of the toughest things I ever put my body through routinely each year. It's much harder than any half-marathon I used to train for and run.

The reason: driving into the mid-day and afternoon summer sun causes massive drowsiness. And often this drowsiness is way too intense to drive a car safely. I have a friend, in fact the woman of the couple I'm about to visit in Grand Junction---who simply can't drive any distances anymore because of almost narcotic drowsiness she's overcome with in the car, especially in summer.

I've made a study of driving drowsiness, especially in summer, and I'd like to share with my few readers some of the things I've learned over the years.

I've just driven the 20-hour, two day stretch from Tennessee to Colorado---the longest leg of my annual trip to Wyoming---and can happily say it was one of the best drives I've ever had for consistent alertness, focus and energy, even in the hot summer sun. So without further ado, here are a few drug-free tips that I've found to be helpful in my marathon drives:

1. I drink only water, often ice water, and black coffee (Whole Foods Market half-caf-half-decaf) that I put in a small thermos that I carry in the front-seat with me all day. In the ideal world that's all I would put in my mouth all day until evening.

2. I eat as little as possible until the sun goes down and avoid all salty foods, sugars and carbs, surgery drinks, fruit juices, cookies, cereals, breads, muffins, potato chips, and the myriad of other ghastly stuff at gas stations on the Interstate. The only exception is a trail mix with low-sodium nuts and raisins---and then just a hand-full.

3. If I must eat anything for breakfast, I eat only a small amount of raisins or figs with a little piece of cheese (or scrambled eggs) and drink a cup of coffee. Note that I eat no carbs, no toast, no cereal, no milk, no potatoes etc. which I find is the quickest route to overwhelming sleepiness by mid-morning.

The above usually gets me through the morning hours until early afternoon with steady and alert energy.

4. If I must eat lunch, I eat a few more raisins and nuts or cheese and a little more coffee and water then drive on. I will more than replace the calories after the sun goes down later in the day.

5. Polarized sunglasses help with the afternoon glare, but sooner or later, I'm going to have to pull over and rest---actually closing my eyes and lying down---sometimes only for only a matter of minutes at a rest stop to take a break from the pounding sun in my eyes. It also helps to stop at a restaurant for a cup of coffee and a cold glass of water. Beware of eating a lot of food that will weigh you down with sleepiness once you're back on the road.

6. Stopping at rest stops to exercise as well as catch a quick cat-nap is essential. I jog, I run, I walk several times a day. And I have my very favorite trails along the way at which I regularly stop to exercise. The Katy Trail along the Missouri River just off I-70 is a fabulous and beautiful place to exercise and resusitate a weary body and soul.

7. Once the sun goes down, I stop and eat dinner either at a restaurant like Cracker Barrel or from my cooler. This trip I brought cooked brown rice, grilled salmon and steamed kale with olive oil across the country with me, never eating anything from a restaurant. It's one of the reasons I felt so good over the course of the 20-hour, 2-day drive. I always eat brown rice on evenings like this because it helps me sleep better. Rice at night is like a natural sedative.

8. Once the sun goes down and I've had a regular dinner, I drive till I start to get sleepy, then get a motel for the night and sleep until early morning when I start again. I often drive until 10 or 11 but sometimes turn in before 9. I'm not a night owl and don't take any uppers or downers along the way.

Hope these tips are useful to a few of you, and if you have any questions, please feel free to post them in the comments below. Happy, healthy and safe traveling to you all, especially over the 4th of July holiday weekend! More as I journey on.


fraydna52 said...

I love these tips! We are considering purchasing a fun-to-drive car if retirement is still possible in a couple of years and hope to make some road trips across the country. I'm very interested in the Lewis and Clark route, so if you have any good advice, please share. Enjoy your travels!

Webutante said...

Fraydna, I have criss-crossed the Lewis and Clark lower trail for years and fly fished the head of the Missouri River too. I am a obsessed with watersheds and where they come from. And stood at the place called Parting of the Waters where the Missouri is but a trickle. Of course Lewis and Clark followed the Missouri all the way up into Montana and then over the great Continental Divide into the Snake/Columbia River watershed.

The most important thing to remember of the great exploreres is that they usually followed great watersheds up, up, up and then over to the great watershed on the other side.

It was and is a great adventure.

fraydna52 said...

Thanks for the info and the video link in your sidebar.

Happy Independence Day!

Pam said...

Great tips Web and most of the are just plain common sense. But I need reminders! Your voice of experience resonated here!