So you find yourself at a summer conference in Las Vegas, and you figure you’ll sneak up to Zion afterward to ride the famous mountain bike trails at Gooseberry Mesa. There’s one big snag, though: daytime highs are predicted to hit 105º. You assure yourself it’s just a “dry” heat, as you have been dreaming of riding God’s Skate Park, Rattle Snake Rim, and Hidden Canyon for years and you are not about to let this chance pass by. Some might call you crazy, but we know you’re simply motivated. Before you hit the trail, however, take a gander at these tips and lessons I have learned over six summers in the dry heat of Southern Utah. I guarantee some forethought about heat and hydration will lead to more fun on the slickrock and the freedom to enjoy many more days on the trail.
DRY HEAT. What does that really mean? To me, “dry heat” means the temperature in the shade is significantly cooler than the temperature in the sun. This can be really helpful, especially if I need to cool down, since simply finding a tree or rock outcropping can really help me cool down and rest. But WHY are the shade/sun temperatures so different? The answer is HUMIDITY. The dry air so common in the desert holds very little water (humidity), which leads to a dangerous misconception: Because dry air absorbs the moisture from your skin faster than a sham-wow on wet dishes, you often don’t notice yourself sweating. And not noticing how much water you are losing, you can find yourself in trouble very quickly.
WATER IS EVERYTHING. As Camelback says, “Hydrate or Die”. This holds true in all aspects of life, but especially so if you plan intense mid-summer desert activities. Plan on drinking AT LEAST a gallon of water a day in Zion. This needs to start hours before you plan on going out, so if you are planning an early A.M. ride, then drink a lot before bed and as soon as you wake. On the other hand, if you plan to ride at the end of the day, then drink water all day long. Be sure to eat salty foods along with your water; this will help you avoid hyponatremia, a dangerous water/electrolyte imbalance. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyponatremia I like to freeze some water or Gatorade the night before and leave it in the car for after the ride. Try to empty the water in your hydration pack by the time you finish your ride, and have a gallon or so extra water in the car to splash on your face, back, and neck when you return.
LEAVE EARLY. Just as the early bird gets the worm, the early desert riser gets to ride again another day. Check what time the sun rises and plan on starting your ride within thirty minutes of that time. To ensure you don’t end up riding in the heat of the day, plan no longer than a 2 – 3 hour ride and make sure you know your way around the trail. Carry a map and find out about trail conditions before starting. If you plan on riding in the evening, make sure you also carry a light source to help you back if the sun goes down. As always ride with a partner, and stick together at all times.
One great thing about riding during dawn and dusk hours is you’re likely to see the critters that inhabit this amazing desert. Coyotes, foxes, snakes, and lizards are all likely to be roaming around. Please respect the animals and the environment here and learn from the ecosystem you are visiting!
Scott Williams guides mountain biking, road cycling, canyoneering, and rock climbing with Zion Adventure Company. When Scott’s not working, he’s probably cruising around the wilds of Southern Utah with his daughter, Makena, or gathering war wounds on the bike trails and climbing routes around Zion.