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My Hate Affair With Heat: What I Have to Do to Escape

You won't believe how far I go to flee Florida summers.

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illustration of woman hiding block of ice from bright sun, heat, summer, hot weather
María Medem
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My kids and I call Florida the Diaper State — and we’re not making a joke about incontinence. The temperature of a soggy diaper is at least 96 degrees. We’ll be living with that heat every day by August, when the humidity’s 75 percent — just like a diaper, baby.

My hate for heat begins to simmer on the first 90-degree day in West Palm Beach, where I live. This year, that was on Feb. 28. Ugh.

The older I get, the more I dread the diaper. I can feel my spirit drooping with the weight of the hot, moist air. It is a wonder to me that I survived grades 4 through 12 in Florida — in schools with no air-conditioning! Now, I keep my AC set to 70 degrees all year long and I plot how to escape, like many Floridians do, flocking to the Hamptons and Cape Cod and Maine.

Already, I’ve traveled to London this year — soggy but 60! — and the North Carolina mountains to escape the diaper. How far will I go? Maybe I should give the Southern Hemisphere a try? It’s 68 in Sydney in July.

We are a two-season state: snowbird and hurricane. The first lasts from around Dec. 1 to May 1, and then Florida’s year-rounders settle in for the summer sauna, with the threat of killer storms keeping us on high alert and glued to the Weather Channel.

My summer mood ricochets between heat-induced drowsiness and Category 5 anxiety. I’d cool off in my pool with a cocktail but then I’m reminded that my pool screens blew down for the third time during Hurricane Wilma in 2005, and a few of them are still dangling.

My family went 16 days without electricity after Wilma but sleeping in 100-degree heat in a boarded-up house was nothing compared with the death and destruction of last year’s Hurricane Ian, the deadliest hurricane to hit Florida since 1935. There’s a scientific factor to heat fatigue too. We’ve all heard of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, the blues some people get in winter. That also can happen in summer, and it can be deeper than just emotional distress, particularly for seniors.

According to a 2021 report in Harvard Medicine, our bodies can’t handle heat as well as we age because our systems get blown, like my pool screens. The report explains that our glands don’t release as much sweat, and our hearts may not circulate blood as well, so less heat is released from our skin. Of the 12,000 people in the United States who die of heat-related causes each year, 80 percent are over age 60, according to Climate Central, a nonprofit news organization cited in the report.

I’m blessed to have options and good health at 66, but I’m wary of wilting. My friend Barbara Mintzer Davidow thinks I notice it more now because I don’t go to an office every day.

“You went from your house to your car to your office — in air-conditioning,” says Barbara, a retired human resources director from New York. “When your day isn’t dictated by the office, and you’ve got time to spend outside, it’s simply too hot. You can’t even take a walk at 6:30 in the morning in Florida in the summer.”

Barbara and her husband, Jerry, used to be snowbirds. A few years ago, they sold their Florida house and moved year-round to Asheville, North Carolina, where they enjoy breezy porches, cool nights and very cool people. More than 425,000 Floridians — the most from any state — moved to North Carolina between 2006 and 2019, according to an August 2021 story in The Fayetteville Observer. My South Florida friend Carolyn DiPaolo is from Indiana — a land of four seasons — and though she is naturally sunny herself, the heat gets to her. She and her husband, Bill, both journalists, find September to be the cruelest month.

“Every year, I tell myself, ‘I am going to embrace the Florida summer’,” she says. She and Bill start off swell, hitting their favorite restaurants when crowds dwindle. And then … “by September, I have to get out of here,” she adds.

In 2018, they visited Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming at the end of September. After a meal at the lake lodge, they chatted with a woman who was clearing the tables. She had signed up to work 20 hours a week for six weeks at Yellowstone in the Helping Hands program, which pays adventurous seniors and restless youngsters to work the park’s “shoulder” seasons in May and September. (The vendor who provides lodging and restaurant services at the park pays $14.25 an hour this year. Go to xanterrajobs.com.)

Right then and there, they decided to work at Yellowstone for six weeks to escape Florida in September, and they did, in 2021 and 2022.

“I felt like I was running away from home,” Carolyn says. “It was a total adventure — pure happiness and pure exhaustion.”

Bill worked four days a week in the employee dining room at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. He started at 5 a.m. in the kitchen, scrambling and serving eggs to 200 employees, and worked till 10 to set up for lunch. Carolyn was a hostess at the lodge’s Obsidian Dining Room, where lines can be long and tourists’ patience short. 

“There were times I was sore and tired, but there’s a satisfaction in being physically tired,” she says.

There were other satisfactions: friendships formed by living like college students again, the time to revel in the views — “I had the time to wait two hours for the spectacular Castle Geyser. I sat there with a book … wonderful!” — and the 70-degree days and nights so brisk they once got snow.

“Yellowstone looked like a Christmas card,” Carolyn recalls. “I remember one night it was 20 degrees as I walked the half mile from our cabin to the restaurant. I saw a shooting star go across the sky — it was cinematic, a glorious orb etched in the dark sky.”

They have a new escape planned for this September: a cruise to Alaska. As for me, I’ll be high on a mountaintop that month. I’m saving my airline miles to book a trip to Aspen.

How do you deal with the heat each summer? Do you go somewhere to escape? Let us know in the comments below.

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