January 24 – Elfstedentocht in the Netherlands

Posted on January 24, 2014

The challenge: can you skate over all the frozen canals that connect all 11 towns in the province—in just one day?
In the 1700s, young men who lived in Friesland, a province of what was then the Dutch Republic, began trying to accomplish this feat. 
These days, thousands of men and women take part in the “Eleven Cities Race,” skating about 200 km (120 miles)!
This race is not held every year. It is only held when the natural ice along the entire course is at least 15 cm (6 inches) thick, and some years that doesn't happen. (There have been gaps between races of 5, 10, even 20 or more years.) However, when the ice is suitable—BAM!—the race is announced and is held within the next 48 hours!
Actually, the race is accompanied by “the tour.” The first is a speed-skating race, and about 300 contestants participate. The tour is people skating the course at a more leisurely pace, not competing, and around 16,000 skaters participate in this way.
Here are the years that the Elfstedentocht has been held since I've been alive:

There hasn't been thick enough ice since 1997—that's 16 years! Because the event is so rare, people get really excited when there are several days of freezing temperatures; people begin to ask each other if this will be the year; weathermen make predictions; news reporters publish predictions and speculation; and officials begin to make decisions that will help the ice thicken (such as not allowing use of the canals). There was such a build-up of excitement in January and early February in 2012, and it seemed obvious that the race – would – finally – happen! But then the weather warmed, and everyone's hopes were dashed!
Some Dutch people want their 11-city-tour so badly that they travel to get it! Since 1974 people have held an Alternative Eleven City Tour in another country—meeting on particular days for 200-km races and leisure tours in nations such as Norway, Finland, Poland, and even the US/Canada. Since 1989 the race has been held on a gorgeous mountain lake in Austria. Today is a recreational tour, with distances up to 200 km, open for everyone. Tomorrow will be a speed-skating race. Monday there will be team-pursuit racing for pros. A variety of other recreational and professional tours and races occur during the January 21 to February 1 event.

Also on this date:

Pioneer in the study of memory Hermann Ebbinghaus's birthday 

AND Talk Like a Grizzled Prospector Day

Plan ahead!
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