Heat Exhaustion, A Personal Experience

Like so many incidents, especially in the outdoors, my recent bout of heat exhaustion can be traced back to a number of factors, all small variables on their own, but when combined, tried their best to ruin my day!

On our family holiday this year to the Italian Alps I was lucky enough to be heading away for a day’s mountain biking with a good friend who runs a mountain bike guiding company over there.  (variable no 1, added pressure due to the constraints of a family holiday and trying to fit in a day ride amongst several other activities)

Unfortunately I suffered a stomach upset during the night before setting off and so wasn’t in the best condition in the morning, but persevered anyway (ref, Variable no 1).  This meant that not only did I start the day weak and dehydrated, (variable no 2),  eating and drinking became increasingly more difficult through the day and my body was not keen on being fuelled.

Although our plan was not too ambitious, it still involved cycling, pushing and carrying our bikes to 2815m altitude, (giving variable no 3), on a very hot day (variable no 4).  These two factors require some management, and eating and drinking plenty are big parts of that, neither of which I could do.  When we eventually reached Col Tsa Sétse, the rest of the group had a sandwich, while I managed 1/2 a banana.

The view from the top of Col Tsa Sétse
The view from the top of Col Tsa Sétse

Not much I could do from this point except get down the other side to our eventual aim – lunch in the valley below.  Riding itself was OK as long as I kept things controlled, but mountain biking in that environment is a physical business and very tiring at the best of times, so rather than improving as we lost height, I was feeling worse.  So much so in fact that by the time we reached the town below, I was struggling to stand up, the world was spinning and I felt and looked horrendous.

I knew myself what had happened, so drank a fizzy drink (very slowly!) to get my blood sugar level up as I still couldn’t eat, then sipped fizzy water and nibbled slices of tomato as everyone else had pizza and beer to celebrate a fantastic ride.  After what seemed like an eternity, I was driven home, and went to bed with 2 pints of re-hydrating electrolyte drinks and slept for the rest of the day.

I managed a bowl of granola later in the evening and concentrated on re-hydrating, and after an early night felt human again the next day, although still very weak.

So what have I learned?

Nothing that I didn’t know already I have to say, other than a timely reminder that sometimes you need to forgo your only opportunity to do a particular activity if the odds are stacked against you.  Thankfully I was only on a single day trip, and vaguely enjoyed the day, but it could have been a lot more serious had we been in a more remote situation.

Sometimes, the person you need to keep an eye on most is yourself!