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When bike tours get wet: How to tough it out in inclement weather

Make no mistake, a distant rumble of thunder should not be taken lightly.
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Nothing disrupts bike touring faster than the overhead rumbles of a looming thunder and lightning storm. Make no mistake, a distant burst of thunder should not be taken lightly. According to the Red Cross, with thunder comes lightning, and lightning kills more people than tornadoes or hurricanes every year. And when you are on a ride in the wilderness with little shelter available, then you're at an even higher risk of being struck. You also have to consider your location. If rain gets severe enough, it could cause flash flooding which can get dangerous fast. You need to be prepared for either event, so read on to learn how to do just that.

How to avoid hypothermia
If you get caught in a rainstorm your chances of catching hypothermia increase dramatically. Hypothermia is a condition in which the body's temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit because the body is losing heat faster than it can produce it. If not proactively prevented, or treated immediately, it can be deadly. 

Below are the symptoms you need to be aware of in case you or someone within your company starts to develop hypothermia:

  • Constant, often violent shivering
  • Mumbled speech
  • Loss of basic coordination 
  • Acting lethargic. 

If someone is displaying these symptoms, call for help immediately. But in case of emergency, you need to be ready to treat someone who is showing signs of hypothermia. First understand that his body is not in a good condition, so you need to be gentle with him. Do not under any circumstances massage him, as excessive movements like those can cause cardiac arrest.

"Never apply direct heat."

Then locate the driest area possible, keeping the individual protected from rain or wind as best you can. Next take care to remove wet clothing, lay the victim on his back and wrap him in dry blankets – only leave the face exposed and be sure to cover the top of his head. In desperate circumstances, it is a good idea to remove your own clothing and huddle together to share body heat with a victim. Never apply direct heat, like a hot water bottle or heating pack, as this could damage skin or create irregular heartbeats. 

In order to best prevent hypothermia you need to stay out of the rain, of course, but you also need to have the appropriate gear on hand in your pannier. Never wear wool when you are out biking – even in nice weather conditions, it's too absorbent. Stick to wool or synthetic articles of clothing. Always have certified water repellent rain gear in your bag that you can whip out in a time of need. 

Are you prepared to deal with inclement weather?
Are you prepared to deal with inclement weather?

How to create shelter when you have none
If you've found yourself in a situation where you can't get to a dry place in a safe manner, you might need to make yourself an impromptu shelter to avoid risking getting struck by lightning or hypothermia. One of the most basic shelters you can easily build and be prepared for is the wedge tarp. This shelter is better than an A-frame design because it only leaves one side open, which is ideal during a rainstorm. In order to build this shelter, you need a waterproof tarp and some ties or stakes to secure it. These all easily pack in your pannier. 

Begin by noting which way the wind or rain is blowing so you can position the entrance so that it's facing the opposite direction. Lay the tarp flat about five feet away from a tree. Then, secure the two farthest corners of the tarp into the ground. Next, loop a cord through the hole in the center of the tarp closest to the tree and then pull the string upwards so the tarp creates a shelter, and tie to the tree. Finish by staking down the remaining two corners and you've got yourself protection from the rain. 

What you need to be prepared with in case of inclement weather
You can never be too prepared when it comes to bike touring in the back country. Don't get caught in a potentially dangerous situation. Head for safety the moment your hear thunder, and have these items in your pannier in case of emergency: 

  • Plastic bags: These will be handy in keeping your valuables and spare clothing dry should it start to rain. 
  • Garbage bags: A garbage bag can act as an extra layer of protection as your ride, or can be used to create an impromptu shelter if you get desperate. 
  • Sturdy rain gear: While jackets are lightweight, they are your first layer of defense against hypothermia. Waterproof pants could also be essential in a storm. 
  • Multipurpose trap/ blanket: Just in case you can't make it to a dry spot, you might have to create your own. Bring one tarp for shelter and another for a blanket
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About Stephane Marchiori

Owner of Cyclocamping.com
Bike touring since 2003, including:
a 5-Year Bicycle Journey Around The World!

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