Congratulations to Phil Fox for setting a new WUCA world record for the CW Circumnavigation of Lake Erie Attempt on June 3-4 2023
Phil did this amazing feat non-stop!
On June 3, 2023, Phil Fox and a team of six crew members set out from the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ontario in an attempt to set the world record Circumnavigating Lake Erie in support of Bike MS. The ‘Circle Tour’ route is traditionally completed clockwise starting and ending at the Ambassador Bridge, the longest span bridging the United States and Canada.
From Windsor, we would go northeast through Ontario, crossing back into the United States at the Niagara River, then down the Lake Erie coastlines of New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio before cutting back Northeast in Michigan to complete the course in Detroit, MI.
Our route would involve large population centers including:
- Windsor, ON
- Buffalo, NY
- Erie, PA
- Cleveland, OH
- Toledo, OH
- Detroit, MI
While many have completed this route, no one has attempted to see just how fast it can be accomplished nor in one-shot, no sleep. Accompanied by a set of two rotating support crews / vehicles, we planned on following a RAAM-support / strategy to keep our wheels moving.
With no fanfare, we set out at 6:00 am Eastern time on Saturday, Jun 3 at the terminus of the Riverfront Trail near Assumption Park under the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ontario.
Conditions at the start were favorable with a 6 mph breeze from the NNE, a temperature of 66°F and partly sunny skies.
Knowing that we would be going into the teeth of a bad headwind on Day One – I kept the pace up. Running hot at 190 watts and a heart rate in the 150-160 range, we put down our first 50 miles in approximately 2 hours, 45 minutes. However – it did not take long for the wind to pick up. Farmland with little tree cover meant we would be exposed for long stretches. By late morning winds were consistently averaging 15-20 mph and would not let up for the totality of the Ontario leg.
In Simcoe, we quickly completed a wardrobe change and our first crew switch but found that the route file for the next leg did not successfully load onto the Garmin. Without time to troubleshoot – we took off with an understanding that I would be flying blind The crew would need to call out navigation instructions for the next 170+ miles until the next exchange in Erie, PA.
At Port Colborne – we had the option between a four-lane highway or the Friendship Trail Bike Path. We opted for the latter as a direct route to the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie to take me over the Niagara River and re-enter the United States.
The crew were able to intercept me on several cross streets to get me a jacket, exchange bottles, and provide some fresh headlights. I was also given my wallet and Passport Card before we would split again – only for me to find the Peace Bridge Pedestrian Path unexpectedly locked and closed. Without cell phone reception – the crew was already with a customs agent before we reconnected over comms. Thankfully they were able to explain the situation so there would be no further surprises as I crossed.
New York / Pennsylvania
From the Peace Bridge, we found ourselves in Buffalo, NY, the largest city of the route so far. Hitting nearly every stoplight – progress was slow before splitting off onto the Fuhrmann Greenway Nature Trail (5 miles) between the lake and the Buffalo Skyway.
At this point – two critical changes would take place as compared to the first 250+ miles in Canada. First – we turned out of the wind. While it had died down late into the night – our pace was able to pick up. Second – the route would be much more straightforward as we would hug the lake on Highway 5 for all of New York and then Pennsylvania.The only trade off would be the hilly nature of the bluffs on this part of the course compared to the relatively flat terrain in Ontario.
While the next shift exchange was scheduled for Erie, PA – our pace took us nearly to the Ohio border before the day crew was able to catch on. It also helped to have the next course available on the Garmin to deftly navigate the residential squares in Erie and other towns on the route. A Bluetooth speaker in my bottle cages also provided some extra juice.
One critical junction was near Ashtabula, OH where a road closure would have required a significant detour. We came across this when doing the recon drive back in April but hoped the road would re-open. The sign indicated the road would be closed 4.2 miles ahead meaning if it was unpassable, that would be 8.4 miles of riding before I even got on the detour. Over 24 hours into the ride – I make the call to risk it. Turns out this stretch of road had no residents and was closed due to erosion with the bluffs overlooking Lake Erie. With evidence that folks were already passing through – I was able to get through without issue and reconnect with the follow vehicle shortly after.
As learned with the Lake Michigan World Record in 2021, large cities always provide potential for confusion with the follow vehicle and traffic patterns less conducive for keeping your speed up. Having already seen this in Buffalo (even late at night), Cleveland was a true highlight. The Coastal Ohio Trail provided a scenic byway from the PA/OH border all the way to the town of Huron. Passing through ‘Mansion Row’ east of downtown the route took us past the Cleveland Harbor, Burke Airport (which reminded me of Chicago’s old Meigs Field), the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, Great Lakes Science Center and the Cleveland Browns Stadium. Like a Frontage Road next to I-90, it was smooth sailing for this entire stretch.
A quick jaunt on 3rd Street and onto Detroit Avenue would get us out of downtown, over the Cuyahoga River and through a variety of residential neighborhoods. After pre-riding this stretch from Cleveland to Detroit – I was happy to find myself on familiar terrain.
Approximately 500 miles into the effort, we’d cut south away from the coastline to get around Sandusky and find more bike friendly roads. Winds were picking up and approaching the 15-20mph range we saw the previous day when I got my first and only flat on the course. We do a wheel swap and I inhale a double-cheeseburger from McDonald’s.
We’d ultimately get on the N Coast Inland Trail for two stretches. 10 miles from Clyde to Fremont and another 15 miles from Fremont to Genoa. On one of these turns, my crew chief alerts me that my sister had her baby a week early and that I was now an uncle.
One last crew change takes place right as we approach the bridge over the Maumee River in Toledo. From here the route would present challenge after challenge. We would zig-zag across train crossings repeatedly. Our unofficial count came to ~30 sets of tracks as foot discomfort was really starting to take its toll.
Roads would swing from super smooth to particularly rough as we got closer to the finish. The recon ride back in May had three bridge closures that were known unknowns heading into the final stretch. Nearing 40 hours into the effort, some roads were unfamiliar due to last minute routing changes resulting in some anxiety. Hot foot (particularly in my left foot) was continuing to get worse. Tooth sensitivity was also becoming an issue.
We traversed through the rough roads of Jefferson Avenue, and the construction staging areas for the Gordie Howe Bridge slated to open (with a bike lane!) in 2025. As we headed into the West-Side Industrial part of town, we received word that a police escort would take us in for a sprint finish. The officers found a few family members waiting in Riverside Park at closing time. Having a personal connection to MS, they blasted some Eye of the Tiger over the PA system as we turned onto M-85.
In the end, we passed under the Ambassador Bridge on Fort Street at 10:36pm (Eastern) on Sunday June 4, 2023.
We completed the full 626.47 mile route in an elapsed time of 40 hours, 36 minutes and were able to raise over $11,270 (and counting) in support of the National MS Society.
Thank you to 81 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 the World UltraCyling Association, Ohio RAAM Show, CBS Detroit and Erie News Now.
Special thank you to Team Paniagua, Infinity Bike Seats, Infinit Nutrition, Specialized Chicago, Rapha Chicago, Lakeshore Bikes, Garmin and all of my colleagues at Numerator for supporting this record attempt. It cannot be overstated the impact your encouragement and generosity has.
The dedication from the team of Will, Tony, Chuck, Morgan, Emily and Michelle. The rotating cast of crew and officials kept me safe and supported around-the-clock for every inch (millimeter) 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 seven of us. I cannot imagine a better group to take on a challenge like this and look forward to the next one.
Ultra efforts take a village and involve the countless sacrifices of my immediate family. Support on all the recon. The training. The recovery. The coordination. The distractions. Thank you to Suzanne, Stacey 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. Now let’s go to Disney World.
- 2019 Roubaix Pro (Primary)
- Infinity Saddle E3
- Zipp Speed Weaponry Aero Bars
- FLO 64 AS Disc Wheels
- Vittoria Rubino Pro Control 28mm (Tubed)
- Assioma Duo Power Pedals
- 2022 Roubaix Expert DI2 (Back-up)
- Infinity Saddle E1X
- Roval CL 32 Disc Wheels
- Vittoria Rubino Pro Control 28mm (Tubed)
- Garmin Vector 3 Pedals
- Garmin 1030 + Charge Power Pack
- Lake CX241 Shoes
- 23x bottles of Infinit (Custom Mix)
- 7x bottles of Ensure Plus
…and don’t judge me
- 4x Home-baked Cookies (Thanks Mom)
- 3x McDonald’s Double Cheeseburger
- 3x San Pellegrino Blood Orange
- 3x McDonald’s Apple Pie
- 2x Handfuls Sour Patch Kids
- 1x McDonald’s Sausage McGriddle
- 1x Tim Hortons Bacon, Egg + Cheese
World Record Crew
- William Edwards, Crew Chief
- Tony Moguel, Videographer
- Chuck Judy, Driver / Mechanic
- Brian Morgan, Night Driver
- Emily Gunnels, Night Crew
- Michelle Hartman, Night Crew