CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Somewhere along the Sambodromo parade route in Rio de Janerio, the last big blowout before the Catholic season of Lent begins - Carnival - is in its last throes, featuring costumed men and scantily clad women gyrating and cavorting in the Brazilian heat.
Meantime, this weekend in Punxsutawney, Pa., the Groundhog Day celebration concluded, featuring an excessively large, weather-forecasting rodent and 30,000 mitten-clad men and women rubbing their hands to generate heat in the 28-degree weather.
(Some of the younger women who decided fashion trumped warmth were, by comparison, scantily clad in tight jeans, trendy boots, sweaters and down vests. I think they qualified for looking hot and cold at the same time.)
PhilFest '08, as my friend Jacque dubbed our road trip, was ostensibly a lark with five other friends to experience the nuttiness surrounding prognosticator Punxsutawney Phil, made famous in the 1993 Bill Murray comedy "Groundhog Day."
But, as much fun as I had on the visit to the tiny village in western Pennsylvania, it was the side-trip that put the journey over the top.
A mere hour east of Punxsutawney was Clearfield, home to Denny's Beer Barrel Pub and the 123-pound "Main Event" Charity Burger, the world's largest commercially available hamburger, as certified by the Guinness Book of World Records and featured on the Food Network.
Denny's has not a menu, but a catalog of burgers, including the 50-pound, two-deck Belly Bruiser, its signature 15-pound Belly Buster and Ye Olde 96er, weighing in at a demure six pounds.
Upon entering, we saw a gentleman served something called "The Pub Challenger," a 2-pound cheeseburger served with lettuce, tomatoes, ketchup, mayo, banana peppers and onions.
I don't think I'd ever been more awed and intimidated by a plate of food in my entire life.
The thing was huge, bigger than my head. And I could only wish I hadn't topped off my groundhog festivities at the Sons of Italy Hall with a Burger King Whopper only hours before.
I figured I'd settle for the quarter-pound bacon cheeseburger and vow to return with an empty stomach.
The waitress had completed our order when Jacque told her she'd changed her mind and would order the Challenger. We were incredulous. Are you sure?
"I know I'm not going to finish it," she reasoned, "but I don't want to be kicking myself when we're two hours down the road for not even trying."Although she hadn't meant to, the gauntlet had been thrown. The burger lover in me had to rise to the occasion.
I took an Alka-Seltzer to settle my sleep-deprived, road-tripped belly and waited. Then my appetizer arrived. Couldn't waste lobster bisque, could I?
I was perusing the gift counter when I heard the call that I'd better hurry up because the burger was on its way and I'd be on the clock. Yes, the clock.