Congratulations to Phil Fox for his new WUCA World Record
Lake Michigan Circumnavigation:
Report Narrative by Phil Fox
On Thursday June 17 2021 Phil Fox and a team of five crew members set out from Buckingham Fountain in Chicago, IL in an attempt to set the world record Circumnavigating Lake Michigan in support of Bike MS. The ‘Circle Tour’ route is traditionally completed clockwise starting and ending in Chicago, the largest city on Lake Michigan.
From Chicago, we would head north through Wisconsin, over Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, across the Mackinac Straight, down the western coast of Michigan, clip NW Indiana and head back into Chicago, IL.
Our route would involve large population centers including:
- Chicago, IL
- Milwaukee, WI
- Green Bay, WI
- Gary, IN
Despite the low population density of long stretches of the route; high traffic highways would be the only viable ways to complete the attempt. These included long stretches along:
- US Route 2 (140 miles from Escanaba to St. Ignace, MI)
- US Route 12 (30 miles from Beverly Shores to Whiting, IN)
While many have completed this route, no one has attempted to see just how fast it can be accomplished. Accompanied by a set of two rotating support crews / vehicles, we planned on following a RAAM-support / strategy to keep our wheels moving.
With a crowd of supporters, onlookers and media at the starting line, we set out at 12:00pm central time on Thursday, Jun 17 on the Lakefront Trail directly east of Buckingham Fountain and Grant Park in downtown Chicago.
Conditions at the start were favorable with a 7mph tailwind, a temperature of 79°F and partly sunny skies. However, less than 10 miles into the record attempt – the primary race bike’s bottom bracket had come loose. The team car quickly switched to the back-up while addressing the issue. This would become an on-and-off again issue throughout the record attempt.
The countless training rides through Chicago’s north shore and previous experiences riding to Milwaukee allowed us to establish a fast pace right out of the gate. Despite encroaching on the evening rush, we were able to get through Milkwaukee quickly and without incident.
With the first crew change scheduled near Sheboygan Falls, skies were starting to darken as the winds picked up. With the race radio down for charging, we continued with a back-up helmet and no comms. Heavy rain fell and quickly caused issues with errant prompts on the Garmin’s settings menu. Cross-winds also became an issue as we turned NW towards Green Bay.
In Green Bay, we were well ahead of our originally intended pace pulling off back-to-back 5.5 hour centuries. We took this opportunity to do our first kit change but within minutes, we were soaked again on account of the poor drainage on the concrete tarmac.
Michigan, Upper Peninsula
Once past the storm system, we continued at a brisk pace throughout the night and overshot the planned crew change near the Michigan border in Menominee. At this point, the night crew decided to continue on towards Escanaba.
Once again, a favorable wind kicks up as day breaks. We complete the crew and kit change near mile 300 after another sub-6 hour century. We take advantage of a Starbucks and continue on. The next ~167 miles would be limited to highways M-35 and US-2 across the entirety of Michigan’s UP. During this stretch, there would be no bottle handoffs due to the high speed of traffic. Temperatures peaked at 81°F but the lack of tree cover (and swarms of black flies) made for a long day in the saddle.
Arriving at St. Ignace at 2:30pm, our pace continued well ahead of the planned itinerary. The original intention was to get a crew change in before the Mackinac Bridge but the distance covered that day proved difficult for the shuttle crew to cover in time. The day crew commits to stretching until the planned sleep break in Traverse City, MI.
The Mackinac Bridge is closed to bicycles and pedestrian traffic alike. So we quickly prepared for the mandatory shuttle at the Shell fuel station (W98 US-2 W, St. Ignace) across from the on-ramp to I-75S. The shuttle consisted of the entirety of the Mackinac Bridge for a total of 5.4 miles ending at another Shell fuel station (101 W Jamet Street, Mackinaw City).
Michigan, Lower Peninsula
While winds have been favorable for effort thus far, as we turned South / Southwest, we would face headwinds for the remainder of the day. Time splits begin to slow accordingly. This was further complicated with detours and more mechanical issues due to the short punchy climbs in-and-out of the myriad of lake features in the area. It would not be until the next day that the crew could find some Loctite to fix the bottom bracket issue permanently.
We persevere into the second night on fumes and pull into Traverse City near 10:30pm to find limited food options after 582 miles in the saddle. We clean out the remaining Tornados and the last hot dog at Speedway, before a shower and the only collective sleep break during the attempt.
Shortly after 3am (central time), we’re back on the road with a fresh crew. Despite three hours in bed, Phil reported approximately 90 minutes of continuous sleep. Average moving speeds normalized around 15mph but weather conditions would necessitate more stops throughout the day. The overnight lows were coldest at 6am at 56°F and another rain system moved across the route. Knee warmers, multiple layers and an insulated cap was required to keep moving.
Intermittent showers would follow us for ~50 miles from Onekama through Luddington, MI. A quick crew change was accompanied by another Starbucks run and more bottom bracket maintenance. As we pushed through the final remnants of the storm system, we get on more familiar terrain. Recon’d just a few weeks earlier, we follow US Bike Route 35 along the Blue Star and Red Arrow highways knocking off one shoreline community after another.
With both teams leapfrogging around mid-day, Demian (chief mechanic) took the opportunity to pull the bottom bracket apart and rebuild the Roubaix. While the Diverge kept us moving, the different body positioning and set-up was taking a toll on the average speed. While that should have been the last of the mechanical issues, one last curve ball was thrown our way when the mount to the GPS snapped and sent the unit tumbling to the tarmac. Some creative ziptie work got us back on the road.
At Saugatuck, the day crew finished their final shift and began heading to the finish line. Going into the nighttime hours of the third day on the bike, the finish line was starting to loom. We rotated through three different sets of bibs trying to find a combination that could withstand the rougher road conditions on the Red Arrow highway around Sawyer to New Buffalo, MI. The night crew continued in constant contact over the race radio to keep everyone engaged and focused. On fumes, the moving speed began dipping below 15mph while looking for any excuse to stop.
Unaware of the time of day we might be returning on the final stretch, the team aligned on the most direct route via the Dunes Highway and using the arterial streets through Gary and back into South Chicago.
With some small detours around road construction, traffic was almost non-existent on the 4-6 lane roads that might cause heartburn at different points of the day. The nighttime glow of industry crossing over into Illinois was almost beautiful.
Not wanting to risk an inopportune flat, the crew kept as close as possible as we moved up the south shore and onto the Lakefront Trail for the final approach back to downtown Chicago. While on familiar ground, we took each corner gingerly and gave extra attention as we counted down the distance to the finish.
Coming up from the museum campus and to the straightaway, a small crowd of friends, family and crew greeted me for one final sprint across the line.
In the end, we passed Buckingham Fountain on Sunday June 20, 2021 with first light on the horizon at 4:35am (Central) for an early start to a very special Father’s Day.
We successfully completed the full 921 mile route in an elapsed time of 64 hours, 35 minutes and were able to raise over $25,500 in support of the National MS Society.
Thank you to 223 donors who contributed to the cause. These funds support groundbreaking research and life-changing services for people living with MS. While we aren’t there yet, we’ve never been closer to a world free of MS.
Thank you to everyone amplifying the story here including our friends at ABC7 Chicago, Spectrum News 1 Wisconsin, WGN Radio and 101.9FM.
Special thank you to the World Ultracycling Association, Team Paniagua, Infinity Bike Seats, Lakeshore Bikes, Infinit Nutrition, Garmin and all of my colleagues at Numerator for supporting this record attempt. It cannot be overstated the impact your encouragement and generosity has.
I’m incredibly fortunate to have had Tony, Demian, Will, Brian and Doug in support. The rotating cast of crew and officials kept me safe and supported around-the-clock for every inch of the course. They managed through countless trials and tribulations on little rest while determined to keep us moving. The success of this effort is shared between the six of us. I could not imagine a better group to take on a challenge like this.
Ultra efforts also involve the countless sacrifices of my immediate family. Support on all the reconnaissance rides. The training. Trips to the shop. The distractions. Thank you to Suzanne and both of my parents. You’ve always been in my corner.
Extra special acknowledgment to Leanne and our boys. You are my inspiration and the north star that guides me home. None of this is possible without you.
- 2019 Roubaix Pro (Primary)
- Infinity Saddle E1X
- Zipp Speed Weaponry Aero Bars
- Shimano Dura-Ace Aero Wheels
- Roval CL 32 Disc Wheels
- Vittoria Rubino Pro Control 28mm (Tubed)
- 2021 Diverge Carbon Comp (Back-up)
- Infinity Saddle E1X
- Enve AG28 Wheels
- Specialized Pathfinder Pro 38mm (Tubeless)
- 30x bottles of Infinit (Custom Mix)
- 17x SiS gels
- 15x bottles of Ensure Plus
…and don’t judge me
- 2x bags of Sour Patch Kids
- 2x Starbucks Triple Espressos
- 2x Starbucks Breakfast Sandwiches
- 2x Snickers bars
- 4x Cans of Sparkling Water (Aha, Sparkling Ice)
- 1x 7-Eleven Sausage + Egg Sandwich
- 4x Speedway Taquitos
- 2x Bananas
- 1x Cookie
World Record Crew
- Tony Moguel, Crew Chief
- Demian March, Driver / Mechanic
- Brian Morgan, Driver
- William Edwards, Record Official
- Doug McLerran, Record Official