The Lake Michigan 1000

On October 9th, 2015 at 3:00am, three men set out early in the morning with the goal of riding counter-clockwise around Lake Michigan in less than 24 hours.Prior to this trip I had never done more than 650 miles in a day. What the hell was I doing?

I don’t remember how I stumbled on to the Iron Butt Association, but I was immediately hooked. Not only was this going to fill up my vest with patches, but the next time one of my “Harley is the only bike” friends said something I could just point to proof of my awesome endurance (both man and machine) to shut them up. Bragging rights. I liked the idea of belonging to a group calling themselves “The World’s Toughest Riders”.

I encourage you to go read about them on their site, but essentially you have to follow their rules and document your ride.The documenting mostly consists of:

  • Getting a start and end witness to sign a form saying they saw you there at that time
  • Keeping gas receipts and a log of your stops and odometer reading
  • Ideally, having a GPS record of the trip. I use Bubbler GPS on my phone and have a free Spotwalla account.
  • Some of the more extreme rides have additional witness requirements.

Spotwalla is also a great way to let your family keep tabs on you. My kids like to look at it to see where Dad is at, and I have a feeling my wife would want a lot more calls/TXTs without the map.

I didn’t have heated gear at the time and I knew it would be cold.Two pairs of socks, two pairs of thermal underwear, three long sleeve shirts, a leather jacket I almost never wear, and a full face helmet I almost never wear (I’m a half helmet guy), rain proof gloves, and a balaclava.

I was riding with two other guys: a Harley guy I ride with from time to time and a Wingnut. Word of advice to the Wingnuts: the Iron Butt website calls out the Goldwing specifically for not having accurate odometers. Plan ahead and don’t rely on it to make sure you’ve got enough miles.

With Lake Michigan right next door, Milwaukeeans don’t have a lot of options to get places that don’t involve a brush with Chicago. Chicago traffic is  nearly always a shitshow. If you ride through Chicago more than once a year it’s worth getting an iPass – no stopping and dicking around with money for tolls. While many of us enjoy country rides on two-lane roads, the freeway offers the best way maintain enough average speed to successfully complete a timed ride like this.

The sun came up as we started heading North. Around 10am as we left Grand Rapids, MI in the rear view, I couldn’t believe how beautiful Michigan can be in the fall. I’ve lived next door for 20 years and have never gone to Michigan on purpose. The Mackinac Bridge connects Michigan to the Upper Peninsula. We stopped in Mackinaw City for some food before going across. I was cold and tired: I hand’t slept much the night before because I was excited for this trip. A little food is what I needed and we crossed into the U.P. for what was to be the best part of the trip. Highway 2 is a great stretch of road: tree tunnels and glimpses of Lake Michigan on your left, what a sunset. I really wish I would have taken pictures, but at the time I hadn’t thought of writing about it.

Late at night in the U.P., it got colder. At one point my bike thermometer showed 40 degrees. I wound up throwing on my rain gear since it’s not permeable and would be a little more wind protection. We told so many “assless chaps” jokes back in the day I’ll probably never be able to own a pair of chaps.

So there I was with 4 pairs of pants on basically, riding South towards home and on the lookout for deer. South of Fond du Lac we started peeling off for our respective homes. My wife witnessed my return to the same gas station where I started, and I went home and had a beer.

Anyway, here’s the GPS record of the trip. Since the GPS drains the phone battery, I have taken to traveling with this extra battery to keep my phone charged. This is far from the fastest route, so if you just want to get it done, veer further East into Michigan and stay on the freeway.


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