Tuesday, February 2, 2010

6 weeks and 6 days: Screw you, Phil....

If you are reading this from outside the United States, you may not be familiar with a little tradition we Americans have on February 2nd every year called "Groundhog Day."  It's common knowledge that on the morning of Groundhog Day, people (especially those who live in the Northern climes) gather around a hole, watch a groundhog named 'Phil' emerge to see if he is scared by his shadow, and if so prepare for 6 more weeks of winter.  What is not commonly known is that this holiday of sorts was created by those Americans who live in Southern climes, and typically are already tasting the sweet balmy notes of springtime.  And as Northeners crowd around the rodent hole waiting to see if the groundhog will notice his shadow with the fear of suffering a longer winter, Southerners crowd around televisions and watch the Northerners watching the groundhog on something called The Today Show and revel in the news that someone else will be miserable for a while yet to come.  The Today Show has embraced this tradition so much, that they've hired their own rodent which they keep on their staff full time, now:
And if you've not yet heard, that little bastard adorable bundle of fur did in fact see his fuzzy little shadow this morning, thus committing us to a longer winter.  Because Phil lives in Pennsylvania, he has a marked dialect, making it occasionally difficult to understand when he tells everyone if he has, in fact seen his own shadow. Therefore the entire ritual is overseen by a group of individuals refered to as the "Inner Circle of Punxsutawney" who interpret and then communicate Phil's decision to the masses.  I am left wondering if this "Inner Circle" like any other "Inner Circle" isn't at risk for interference from outside forces, from someone who say, gets to live and train in warmer, tropical locations, like Hawaii and Southern California?

This is a serious matter, of course, because prolonged winter, generally speaking, is not good for people.  If you are a road cyclist and cannot escape the basment trainer because of the weather, then you may start to contemplate things like your bike's gears, and 52x12 versus 52x11 gearing, and what, if any, the difference a single tooth can make.  If you are trying to get a job, and the absence of the prominent tooth is in your mouth, this can be a make or break factor (depending on the place of employment).  But what if you are a cog?  As you ponder this, the next thing you know you are staring at your chain as it engages the sprockets in your cassette and you begin to contemplate how the links swing around the various angles as the rollers seat themselves between the teeth, and before long, you start to draw graphs like this and write extensive blog postings on the subject.

This is not healthy.  I  might just be saying that because I'm not very smart and thus cannot understand a flipping word of the aforementioned post, but everyone who has seen a certain movie should be well aware of how this kind of obsessive activity in the midst of a prolonged winter can turn out, when "all work and no play" begins to take hold.
In the days of yore, such cabin fever was dealt with by cyclists through the creation of indoor events, of which, one of the most popular was the six-day race.  This started in 1878, when, in the dark depths of a London February, a cyclist named David Stanton bet someone that he could ride 1,000 miles in 6 successive days, riding 18 hours a day around a track.  He won the bet in 73 hours.  Thus the six-day race was born.  Initially, racers would ride as far as they could around the track over a period of six days, resting and riding when they chose to do so, but often refusing to stop.  Over the course of the event, as the cyclists exhausted themselves, their faces would become gaunt, their nerves frazzled and many were reported to become delusional with hallucinations.  This of course, drew more spectators, most entirely ignorant to cycling, who simply came to watch the men suffer, much as the people in Honolulu all are giggling this morning about the news regarding Punxsutawney Phil.  The six-day races became extremely popular social events and may have even given birth to the original cycling hipster.  Take this photo of Fausto Coppi from the 1952 Paris 6-day race.
Crowds of the socially elite would gather around the track and eat, drink and listen to music while the cyclists rode.  A favorite drink amongst the spectators was champagne, but the cyclists, ever fearful that their legs would go flat like a popped bottle of champagne loses it's energy once the cork is on the floor, started riding with corks wired to their saddle rails to superstitiously never be "out of cork."
Despite whether or not the cyclist ran "out of cork," however, riding around in a circle, day upon day, must have been a mental exercise of such futile tedium that it rendered the mind numb.  Imagine getting up each day to sit in the exact same seat, staring at an endless track ahead of you while being surrounded by clueless assholes.  Every day - nothing changes, just the same old thing.....I mean, as I sit at my desk now contemplating it, I can hardly imagine what that would be like.......oh, wait.....nevermind.

Pedal On!

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