Blast of heat reminds Alaskans how to keep their cool while playing hard

  • Author: Alli Harvey
    | Alaska Outdoors
  • Updated: July 8, 2018
  • Published July 8, 2018

There's this frog, they say, that will jump out if you put it in a pot of boiling water. But if the water starts at room temperature with the frog in the pot and you slowly heat it up, the frog is boiled alive.

Record temperatures in Alaska and across the country, you say? Nothing to see here. I've never heard of a climate change.

Meanwhile, I've been feeling like the frog lately.

Intellectually, I am alarmed by the spike in temperatures. I continue to try and do my part to mitigate the worst impacts of that thing which supposedly doesn't exist depending who you ask, climate change. And at the same time, the hedonistic side of me cackles from within this giant pot of water and advises me to enjoy the warmth while I can.

I ran out of all two of my pairs of shorts last week.

According to U.S. Climate Data, the average July temperature in Anchorage is 65 degrees. Meanwhile, the night before the 4th of July, Anchorage hit a record 80 degrees.

I've been summoning lessons from life in "true" summers, from the muggy northeast U.S. to the high desert southwest.

First of all, and this goes without saying, but I have been pounding much more water than I'm used to. It's pretty easy to remember because even after I've consumed my normal morning glass of water, my body tells me it's still thirsty. I drink more. Still thirsty. Bodies have the darnedest way of telling you what's needed.

For hiking, this is especially true. For some mysterious reason perhaps known as "what we're accustomed to," a friend noted that 80 degrees in Alaska feels like 90 degrees anywhere else. This is an excellent talking point for complaining, and especially for explaining to anyone in the Lower 48 who complains of triple digits that we, too, are suffering.

On the eve of our Independence Day, while Anchorage was stewing in record heat, I was on the steep shoulder of Lazy Mountain in Palmer. The sun beat down on me as I slogged up my normal hike with friends. We paused for breath and water much more frequently than normal. Sweat dripped down my forehead onto my legs as I worked my way uphill, exerting normally except for the magnification of the hot sun.

I understand that friends in Washington, D.C. live in a swamp; I am concerned about wildfires raging in the lower part of the country, and heat that has killed people in places including Montreal, Philadelphia and New York. The pot is actually boiling in places. In Alaska, not boiling. Yet.

Perhaps this is a good time to revisit the signs of heat exhaustion. According to the Center for Disease Control, if you are in the sun or a hot place and experiencing heavy sweating, cold or clammy skin, nausea or dizziness, these are signs of heat exhaustion and you should take heed before it worsens into heat stroke which can be deadly.

The antidote? Move to a cooler place. Slow down. Drink water. I've been out running in cooler temperatures than last week's and found myself with goose bumps all over my skin, which is my sign that I'm approaching my max exertion for the day and am overheated. I slow down. I drink water. If it persists, I stop. That's it. I like my brain in its un-fried form.

Back to being the frog enjoying the warm water, though — I did have the delightful experience of going swimming the other night. I know! In Alaska! As I doggy paddled around in the flat water up to my neck, I remembered for the first time in a long time what it's like to cool down in a vast expanse of water with my body entirely immersed and the rippling surface of the lake at eye level. It's beautiful and calming.

However, swimming in Alaska lakes and ponds can also cause this uncomfortable thing called duck itch, or swimmer's itch. Don't swim in still or overcrowded areas where goose poop has been able to fester and grow. I learned this the hard way years ago, and will not soon forget my week of covering the painful welts across my skin until they healed on their own.

Finally, I am fully and raucously enjoying these long nights. The summer light makes the trees glow and casts purple across the mountains I can see or experience right in my backyard. It is an incredible time to be an Alaskan, even as it is a sobering time to consider the longer term implications of this place heating up.

For me, both of those exist at the same time — seeing climate change in sharp relief, and experiencing my life fully — which helps me to keep my cool.

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.