Monday, March 19, 2007

An Oval Adventure

I saw a little validation of my latest political thesis over the weekend looking at columns written by dependably conservative types - you know, members of the RWPC (Right Wing Pundits Club). Sure enough, instead of attacking their enemy (Democrats) on anything major, they were writing a little defensively - George Will warning about pro-gun control stances and Charles Krauthammer on why Dick Cheney should NOT be considered crazy as a result of his circulatory problems.

Which makes me think that I could leave politics alone for a little while. It's pretty clear that the Bush heyday is past, and that Americans will more than likely spend the remainder of the term wondering how they could have voted for such a dope in the first place. It leaves me with other things to examine for (I hope) your benefit.

Last summer I became aware of an attempt taking place locally to set one of those obscure human performance records. It wasn't something silly like the record for the longest roller-skating conga line, but an attempt to break the distance traveled in a human-powered vehicle in a 24 hour period. Gee, I thought. How often does a guy get a shot at seeing a world record at a place (the local racetrack) maybe five minutes away? I decided to go see.
I drove to the track, unstopped by anyone, and parked in the almost empty lot. I saw a vehicle which looked like a cross between a silver-plated cigar and a 1930's version of a rocket ship circling the 1/3 mile oval track at a modest speed. The rider couldn't be seen, though you could see the bike tires meeting the track. The raceway contained maybe thirty people of all ages, many of whom seemed involved with an active role or two in the effort. Our track had been chosen for this attempt because of a combination of cool weather, low winds and a smooth paved surface.
Like many endurance events, there was little in the way of "action". One lap followed another, all completed within a second or two of each other. The rider, a Canadian with an impossible Polish name, couldn't see much except for a stripe painted on to the track to guide him around. One of the entourage held up a sign for him which he viewed from a narrow slit as each lap was completion while the rest of us clapped and yelled encouragement. I guessed his speed at around 30 miles/hr., and was surprised to see that his cigar-shell was almost free of commercial decals. The vehicle was virtually noiseless.
The 24 hours ended late in the morning after I had watched for less than an hour. The record was broken! I don't remember the exact total distance, but it was something over 600 miles. The shell was removed with the rider looking surprisingly fresh for having completed such an ordeal. The local media (this is probably the smallest two-newspaper city in North America) were on hand to cover the event, and they proceeded to interview the rider. The rest of us threw up some cheers and went home, happier that we had seen something that, if not life-changing, was certainly worth being noted and remembered.
What causes people to train endlessly to set these impressive though obscure records? There was a great investment in training, not to mention the expenses of the support staff. All for an article in publications like Bike Endurance Monthly or The Journal of Human Performance and the ability to claim, if briefly, a world record. I couldn't pretend to read the minds of those involved here, but I salute and admire them. May more of us think of ways to change, if only in tiny ways, the world.


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