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Life's Rich Pageant

We Have Been Deprived Of The Elfstedentocht For Far Too Long

Dutch skater Henk Angenent (C/red/black) is followed by others as he glides across ice on a canal at Hindeloopen on February 14, 2021, as he attempts the 'Elfstedentocht' in the Netherlands' province of Friesland. - Angenent a farmer, who was winner of the last edition of the 'Elfstedentocht' in 1997, which is an organised 200-kilometre skating tour along the 11 Frisian towns and has been adapted to comly with restrictions as part of the ongoing coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. (Photo by ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN / ANP / AFP) / Netherlands OUT (Photo by ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)
Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

It’s cold! Cold in a lot of places. Wet, too. The South has iced over, which isn’t ideal for drivers. It snowed in the Pacific Northwest, which is ideal for bears. Texas isn’t doing great. It’s tempting to have a laugh, but resist: This is genuinely dangerous weather for places and people that aren’t equipped to deal with it. And I’ve seen your state’s drivers; you’re in no position to look down on anyone.

But America is not the world, and some places generally know how to handle this. Like the Netherlands, which is in the middle of the deepest freeze in a decade, leading to dreams of the return of the legendary Elfstedentocht.

The historic “11 cities tour” sees speed skaters and thousands of regular folks skate 120 miles on the frozen-over rivers, canals, and lakes of the province of Friesland. The event, which features both an elite professional race and a casual skate for thousands of Dutch, has been held since the 18th century, but only when nature allows: The ice along the entire route must be frozen to a depth of six inches, something that’s happened with depressing and decreasing frequency. The Elfstedentocht has only been held 12 times in the last hundred years, and not since 1997.

Henk Angenent, winner of the most recent Elfstedentocht, attempted this weekend to retrace his victory route, setting out with a small group, organizers be damned. But the circuit was not fully frozen, and they were forced to skip sections.

“It has been in my mind for a long time to do it once,” Angenent told the Leeuwarder Courant. “Preferably the real one, but that is not possible this time and we do not know when it will happen.” If it will happen. It’s entirely possible that it will never happen again, thanks to rising global temperatures.

This week’s freeze led to a glimmer of hope for Elfstedentocht loyalists, if not quite yet the ice depth needed. But there’s no point in getting excited. The formal event was preemptively canceled by the Royal Association of the 11 Frisian Cities back in November because it would be impossible to pull off with pandemic distancing regulations. Maybe next year.

Maybe the real Elfstedentocht was the friends and the hypothermia we made and caught along the way. This weekend, one brave, stupid man took to one of Amsterdam’s main canals, which has very specifically not frozen to a depth for safe skating. You’re on thin ice, mister!

This entire video is very stressful! Please leave the cold-weather idiocy and total lack of care for whether you live or die to countries with experience in that, like Russia. And please combat climate change so that we may one day again skate the Elfstedentocht.