Thursday, August 6, 2009

Acclimatization to the Heat. Adaptation to One Another?

Wikipedia says: "Acclimatization or acclimation is the process of an organism adjusting to change in its environment, allowing it to survive changes in temperature, water and food availability, other stresses and often relates to seasonal weather changes."

For Seattlites, last week's 90+ degree days (even over 100!), were hot, hot, hot! It was all anyone talked about.

I know. For those of you from states where it actually gets and stays hot, I can hear the "Sheezes!" already. Just so you know, I wasn't one of the complainers. That's not to pat myself on the back. In fact, my personal theory that my upbringing in Western Pennsylvanian summers prepared me for the heat is now borne out according to the theorists of such things. The news story below bears this out.

Truth is, I welcomed the heat so I could acclimatize for the upcoming Oregon Randonneurs Alsea 400k. On Thursday, my stepson, Janak, and I hopped on the Light Rail, me with my bicycle. I dropped him off at Fall Ball Little League practice (Fall Ball in July? Right.). I then proceeded to ride hard in the 95+ degree heat.

I came across the ghost bike pictured above on the long climb up the Renton Avenue Extension from Renton to the top at Skyway. I was inside my head on the climb, focusing on my pedal stroke and trying to keep my hands and feet light. The white bike entered my peripheral vision and I rode past it, stopped, then turned back for the photo above.

I'd driven past ghost bikes, but I don't recall riding by one, at least not as slowly as I did crawling up the hill. Ghost bikes are memorials to cyclists killed on the road. I didn't see a plaque, though there was the remnant of a bouquet of flowers. For whatever reason, the heat, the slow climb, I was strongly affected. I wanted to know how it happened, and I clearly felt more vulnerable.

You mean a cyclist was killed here? So that could happen to me? I'm on this hill. Who was killed? What were they thinking just before it happened? Did they have family that loved them and depended on them?

After connecting up with Janak and having dinner, we "Light Railed" it back home and after Googlizing I found that an unidentified 56-year old Seattle man was killed when he was struck by a car driven by a 79-year old Renton man at around 6:30am on December 11, 2008. The victim died at the scene.

Here I was trying to acclimatize to the heat, and I was confronted with how we're still acclimatizing to one another's presence: cyclists and drivers, that is. For the full story about this still anonymous cyclist's death, see the Seattle Times here.

So what about the original acclimatization? Well, once again the Seattle Times is the source, this time for a scientific story on how adaptable our bodies are to heat.

And the truth is we are remarkably adaptable. We're built for heat. With simple adjustments we do pretty well, and we can tolerate a fairly wide range of temperatures. Sweating, for example, is one of our chief strategies.

I believe we can acclimatize to one another very well too...if we so choose. The techniques are available. We're pretty darn adaptable when we decide it is in our interest. The trick is in the choice: we must make the choice that bicyclists and automobiles and trucks and pedestrians will each have to adjust a little, and we'll do fine.

And by that I mean education for all, laws that support the equal rights of all, infrastructure for all, and a commitment that all are equally entitled.

And if one investigates the nature of acclimatization further it becomes clear that acclimatization happens within an individual organism's lifetime. It is a temporary effect on an individual. Adaptation is the process a species goes through whereby it changes permanently--across generations as in Darwinian evolution--in response to its environment in order to facilitate long term survival.

In the short term, we need to acclimatize to one another, i.e.: not crash into each other accidentally because we take precautions against the circumstances that lead toward accidents. In the long term, we need to adapt to one another so that over the generations we become more loving to one another and less self-centered in order to facilitate our collective long term survival, i.e.: an injury to one is an injury to all.

Which leads to something I've always wanted to know: Is self-centeredness a species survival tactic we've been honing and polishing because it increases the liklihood of the survival of our species if at least a few ornery and selfish brutes survive? Or, did we start out really really selfish and we're gradually (but unnoticeably to each generation) evolving to becoming increasingly collectively oriented in order for our whole species to survive?

Or further still, if I recall my Darwin correctly, there can be two adaptation strategies in which different populations of a given species exhibit divergent strategies simultaneously. Eventually, one of them--in our case either self-centered strategy vs. collective strategy--wins out.

I can testify as one representative of the species that becoming less self-centered is certainly a struggle. But I am working on it while I root for the collective strategy.

Whew! Guess that ghost bike got me to pondering! Either that, or despite all my talk of acclimatization that darned heat wave has been getting to me!

Keep it sweaty,



  1. Well said Grasshopper.
    It really doesn't take much adjustment at all, even with the current infrastructure as it is.
    When will the "drivers" get it....?

  2. I've become so much more aware of every cyclist I see (and I was pretty careful before) since you've started cycling. And the question about self-centeredness -- hmmmmm....lots to think about in this post -- thanks!