That Time I Got Heat Stroke From a Half-Mile Hike. Or, How I Wished For an Afternoon That it was A Canadian Song.

Okay, so it was minor heat stroke. Very minor, actually. Maybe you can’t even call it heat stroke.

What I do know is that I felt faint and nauseous when I got back to the car. And it was a half-mile hike that did it. In April, no less.

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Unlike today’s sweatbox, at least it was dry. The humid weather came during my trip through Virginia and Maryland, where it was occasionally far more oppressive than it is today. But there isn’t much more to it than that. It was incredibly uncomfortable. I dealt.

In Big Bend, however, it was obscenely hot. I took precautions. I drank a lot of water. I made sure to wear sunscreen. It didn’t matter.

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Actually, I should amend that. I wore sunscreen, but I didn’t reapply any before heading into Santa Elana canyon. The hike in was short–a quick walk through perhaps two-hundred yards of exposed desert, followed by a trip over a steep but short rock outcropping that leads into a narrow canyon with vertical, 1,500-foot-tall walls. On the Mexican side the cliffs rise directly from the Rio Grande. My manliness laughed it off as little more than a stroll, and I was sure I would be well-shaded even without a page to hold a lacy umbrella over my aristocratic head.

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I wasn’t. There was a sliver of shadow near the banks of the river, and a small patch beneath a large boulder. But otherwise, I was in the sun. And the temperatures were brutal. (More on that in a minute.)

I didn’t stay long. Even so, I was there long enough to get sunburn on my neck and arms. The return trip over the outcropping seemed like a High Peak. My corporeal fragility was readily apparent.

I would have been better off had I been Canadian. A woman from that nation struck up a conversation with me while I was in the canyon (indeed, speaking to her might have contributed to my troubles, as for the time being we forgot ourselves in the sun). She had spoken to a ranger earlier in the day; he told her that it had crested 120 the day before, and that the forecast was for similar heat that afternoon. She knew that was hot–really hot. But she didn’t know the conversion to Celsius. And at that point, she didn’t want to know. She was pretending that it was 39. 40, she said, might be something she couldn’t handle.

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Do the conversion yourself, and you’ll know why I granted her the favor of not revealing the actual number. Blissful ignorance is sometimes the best air conditioner.

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