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Chicago was the only one left.  All the other major metropolises, and a couple of the major suburbs (Los Angeles, Indianapolis), have had riders complete IBA-certified thousand mile days within their limits.

My standards for a major city aren’t easily met.  They are, of course, highly subjective, and are loosely based on population density, as well as historical, financial, and cultural significance.  Chicago’s establishment as a hub for trade and development of the west, its growth into the nation’s second largest city by the mid 20th century, site of the first controlled nuclear reaction with the University of Chicago-based Manhattan project, and its reputation for organized crime, corruption, and horrible traffic all made a thousand mile day appealing.  Also, the Iron Butt Association has long been rumored to have its base at Mike Kneebone’s Chicago home, so the city would complete the set of urban rides for me.
It had been the longest winter I can remember.  A friend for whom I am health care proxy had two lengthy recoveries from surgery, starting in the summer of 2010, and I had been living with him since.  The first snow fell by November 1st, and we didn’t see the ground, except where it had been cleared by a plow, until April.  The record snow and ice storms were followed by record rainfall for another month, and history’s most prolific tornado outbreak thereafter.  Too many 4+ wheelers on the road have angered Mother Nature, and rightfully so.  Perhaps, I could soothe her nerves a bit, with a Chicago Bun Burner Gold.  It would be my meager contribution to environmental fanaticism, and to society as a whole.

Every city Bun Burner Gold attempted so far had been a failure.  Sixty-two miles short in Washington, D.C.  Two hundred eighty-four miles away, barely 80% of the goal,  in New York.  Despite semi-legal lane splitting, San Francisco would still cheat me out of seventy-four miles.  Chicago was my last hope for redemption, if I could manage a respectable total.


I began to explore the possibility at the IBA Bike Week gathering in Jacksonville, with Chicago native David E.B. Smith.  Before long, he had devised and emailed a 37.1 mile route, which I studied skeptically.  It had an average speed limit of about 52 miles per hour, stayed entirely within the city limits, and included I-94, a short stretch on I-55, and South Lake Shore Drive.  Three stop signs, no traffic lights.  Things certainly looked promising on paper.

I usually prefer to ride alone, but Sean Gallagher had joined us for the San Francisco 1000, and did very well, despite little urban riding experience, and no experience whatsoever splitting lanes.


“Wanna ride Chicago?”
“C’mon, man.  It’s the only good city left, and I need to do something to keep in shape.  I’ve been sitting around, driving my buddy around in his car, cursing the car, snow, and ice since last summer.”

“Two weeks, Sunday.  Start by 0400.”

“I’ll let you know, but I’m trying to put this deal together with the Chinese.”

“You work too much.”

“Somebody’s gotta pay your bills for this, and you can’t do it.”

“It’ll be close, but if I find a $30 motel south of town, I should have enough left for gas.”

“I’ll put a check in the mail today. You’ll stay at the Holiday Inn near O’Hare, there’ll be a reservation under Sean Gallagher with your name on it.  But, if you start charging hookers and Cristal to room service, you’re on your own.”

“That sounds fair.  I can survive without them for a few days.”

After arriving in Chicago on the following Thursday, I do some grocery shopping to stock the refrigerator.  Lots of protein, a case of water, skim milk and Raisin Bran, a bulk package of pre-peeled, pitted grapefruit, and hummus.  Craig Bennett gave me a pound of homemade, corn syrup-free beef jerky, which I’ll save for the ride, filling the tankbag with that and dried pineapple.  There is some method to this – when mixed with water, these things will provide sodium and potassium to help compose electrolytes, keeping muscles working well to prevent muscle cramps, soreness, and fatigue.  The jerky will stave off hunger without raising blood glucose, reducing my need for insulin injections.

A couple of laps between two and four A.M. on Friday allay any suspicions I may have had about the route.  David’s plan is simply excellent, requiring good lean angles in rain-grooved and sometimes slick exit ramps, decisions about express or local lanes, and proper positioning to keep from running off-course when the freeways split at  least four different times.  Lake Shore Drive adds a bit of waterfront scenery, and cool breezes that will help when the afternoon gets a little too warm.  There will be plenty to keep the riders engaged and amused, before even considering the heavy traffic.  I’m able to finish laps in about thirty-two minutes without attracting the attention of law enforcement, while traveling  just a bit faster than traffic, which is both safer and most productive.  The state police and Chicago locals patrol the interstate portion, nearly 90% of the route, while Chicago covers Lake Shore Drive.  They find plenty of customers.  For this ride, discretion will be as much a requirement as persistence.

Friday evening rush hour would offer the opposite view – the slowest and most aggravating laps we’d be likely to face.  If the course could be completed in 55 minutes, the slowest pace required for a thousand mile day, there would be reasonable cause for hope.  So, I left the hotel at 1630, and paddled through three laps, averaging 47 minutes.  Not bad, even though I still had to put a foot down a few times.  Drivers seemed less distracted than New York, and aggressive, which helps keep them moving.

Saturday morning, I see Sean’s name on the caller ID.  “Dave McQueeney is riding 2000 miles to be here, and he’s gonna kick your ass for not showing up.”

“That’s why I’m here.”

“Yeah, right.  You were still working when I talked to you last night.”

“I was already on the road, and called you from the bike.  I’m downstairs in the parking lot.  Let’s get something to eat, and then I need a nap.”  I’m already in the elevator, and Sean’s starting to sound like he isn’t kidding.  Sure enough, he’s standing next to his battered R1150GS, equipped with a pair of Motolights, four Soltek HIDs, an eleven gallon Touratech gas tank, and a four gallon auxiliary fuel cell.  I envy all those lumens, and the fuel capacity.

“What the….  Why are you jerkin’ me around like that?  I gave up on you a few days ago.”

“This is payback for you and McQueeney in San Francisco.”  We both laughed.  After Sean rode across the country for the San Francisco 1000, Dave told him that he couldn’t ride, since his bike was unsafe because of a fuel leak (which had been repaired the day before).  Sean was nearly apoplectic before Dave told him, “Just kidding…..”

We have breakfast, discuss the route and ride, and Sean gets a few hours of sleep before taking some practice laps in the afternoon.

We’re both “on the clock” by 0326  Sunday.  The first few and last few hours will be the easiest to make time, while most of the world sleeps.  Even now, though, the road has enough traffic that there is no opportunity to relax.  There’s a radar trap on Lake Shore, a half mile above the U-turn.  Weather is cool and partly cloudy, though the Weather Channel talks about the possibility of thunderstorms moving through later.  I take comfort in the belief that their job isn’t meteorology, it’s making viewers worry about the weather enough to tune in so the station can sell more advertising.  By the first gas stop, I remove a layer from beneath the Aerostich.  By the second, I open the vents.

Jim Fousek, Dave McQueeney, and David E.B. Smith have all signed on as eyewitnesses for 24 hours at the checkpoint, a Shell station with qualified receipts showing the exact time, location, and gallons of fuel purchased.  It’s about two hundred yards from the exit ramp, and they wave a flag during the day and a bright flashlight at night to acknowledge that they’ve seen us and recorded our progress.  We keep a thumb on the horn button all the way up the exit ramp to make sure we’ve gotten their attention, though it never seems necessary. I pass Sean once, when traffic is at its heaviest in the afternoon, but he seems to be maintaining a quick and steady pace.  The temperature has risen enough that the cool air near Lake Michigan has become a reward for each completion of the circuit.  Traffic creeps through most of the route from late morning until early evening, demanding constant shifting, braking,  and swerving, while providing a good workout for the neck muscles.  My goal is to never put a foot down.  Every nine laps, about 337-8 miles, we stop to refuel.  Dave reports that my laps have ranged from 31 to 42 minutes, and that I am still on a BBG pace, just barely.

Sean finishes the 27 lap minimum about an hour after I do, and has had enough.  He completes his paperwork, and leaves a taunting message with the witness crew – “I’m the first certified finisher of the Chicago 1000″.  I grumble to Dave McQueeney, “That’s just paperwork.  He knows I completed it before him.  He was supposed to ride the BBG with me – what a slacker!”  We spar constantly, and both laugh about it.  I could never hope for a more devoted friend, and many of the rides I’ve completed wouldn’t be possible without his help.

At the last gas stop, it looks like chances for a BBG are about even.  Traffic has subsided, and I need five more laps.  I tell Dave, David, and Jim that, if it looks possible, I may try to squeeze in one more, for insurance.  “Don’t take a chance on stopping the clock before 24 hours”, Dave warns.  “Forty-one laps will give you 1521 GPS-verified miles.”

“Okay.  I’ll keep a close eye on the clock.  My official start time was 0326, correct?”


The thunderstorms sensationalized by the Weather Channel really did happen, but waited an extra eight or ten hours to show up, hoping to most effectively interfere with my last push.  After a slide through the exit ramp to southbound I-94, I back off a bit in the curves, while trying to make up for it on the straightaways.  Four laps to go.  A Chicago cop appears in an SUV, sitting and watching, opposite the left turn for the ramp to Lake Shore Drive northbound.  The next lap, I see him in the middle of the bridge, and am careful to stay at the speed limit.  I offer a friendly wave while passing.  He ignores me, which is probably better than having him notice.  If he’s still there in roughly a half hour, I’m screwed.  There’s no way to pass him again without raising suspicions, and no time to afford that sort of conversation with a mileage log of about 1480, and less time remaining  than I’d care to contemplate.  On the next pass, he’s gone.  I scan every possible hiding spot on Lake Shore, and the length of Oakwood Boulevard as I cross the bridge, but there’s no sign of him.  Throttle up.

I reach the checkpoint for the forty-first time with about high-thirties minutes to spare, and don’t even think about stopping.  I may have seen Dave McQueeney cringe and shake his head from 200 yards way, in the dark.  I know, Dave,  it’s gluttony, but I can’t help it.  Sorry.

Arriving with about six minutes to spare,  everything feels good except my debit card, which fails to produce for the second consecutive time.  The bank promised that they wouldn’t shut the card down for security.  Maybe I’ve run out of money, but I don’t think so.  Dave steps in quickly, with his card.  “Use mine.  Get a quick gallon to stop the clock, and then fill up, to log fuel use for the verification algorithm.”

Done.  It should be about 1558 miles, pending certification.  Jim, David, and Dave congratulate me and shake my hand.

Quite a few people deserve those congratulations, though.
Jim Shaw, the man who introduced me to the Iron Butt Association, bought a badly needed rear tire for the K75.  Sean Gallagher put a roof over my head in Chicago, fed me, and paid for fuel.  David E.B. Smith devised a brilliant route.  Dave McQueeney rode from El Segundo, California and back, more than 4000 miles, for the sole purpose of witnessing and recording every lap.  I still owe him about $80 for my last two tanks of gas.  Jim Fousek rearranged his schedule to spend twenty four hours in a gas station parking lot with David and Dave, and diligently reminded me to test blood glucose at every stop.  Craig Bennett kept me well-fed while riding.  Mike Kneebone will contend with another time/distance total that is likely beyond what he can publicly acknowledge.
After writing a quick note describing the ride to my legal and spiritual counsel, Bob Higdon, he offered:
I’ve always suspected that this endurance riding was a team sport.
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One Comment

  1. Wonderful story, John. Congrats to you and even Sean — that slacker :-) — for another remarkable achievement. I stand in awe…

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