STREETERVILLE — Navy Pier Park Operations Manager Clinton Shepherd is attempting to break the world record for the longest Ferris wheel ride this weekend.
That's good news for him, great news for Navy Pier and fantastic news for anyone that's ever wanted to ride the landmark wheel in the middle of the night.
Usually in operation from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays, the Ferris wheel will run continuously from the time Shepherd steps aboard at 2:30 p.m. Friday until — if things go according to plan — his record-breaking 48-hour-ride ends at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
It's the first time the Ferris wheel has ever been open outside of operating hours, according to Sue Kessler, special events coordinator at Navy Pier. Public rides, however, will be restricted if weather conditions make riding unsafe.
As a bonus, rides outside normal operating hours will be free, though riders are encouraged to donate to the USO in honor of Armed Forces Day Saturday, which will be celebrated at the pier with a ceremony at noon.
Shepherd, 32, a staff member at Navy Pier since 2005, says he was inspired to challenge the existing record — 30 hours and 35 seconds, achieved by Robbie "The Intern" Gibson in Alberta, Canada, last July — because he "felt that Chicago was the home of the first Ferris wheel, and we should have that title."
But Shepherd, who describes himself as "competitive," wasn't content to break the record by a mere hour or two.
"During the history of [the 'longest marathon on a theme park attraction' record], it's been tossed back and forth between a couple people, and everybody does a couple hours or minutes to beat the last record," Shepherd said. "I want to make the next individual have to really sit down and think about whether they want to try to beat my record."
Shepherd's forbidden from sleeping during the 48-hour effort, so he hopes to have plenty of guests to keep him awake and busy. Relatives from as far as Atlanta and Los Angeles are flying in to see the spectacle, and the public is invited to ride along with him in exchange for a $25 donation to the USO.
He'll be taking the 48-hour ride in style, in a seat custom-designed by HGTV host Frank Fontana, whose wife used to be Shepherd's boss at the pier. His setup includes cushioned seats, a 32-inch TV, an XBOX hooked up to XBOX Live, which he'll be playing throughout the ride with the username FWRecord, and a chandelier, which will come in handy when he and his girlfriend Deanne Davis celebrate their four-year anniversary on board Saturday.
"We've got a nice candlelight dinner that's gonna be delivered to us," he said. "She'll have an evening gown on, I'll have a suit and tie on, we'll have linen on the table, a few electric candlelights, some soft music. ... It will definitely be memorable."
Shepherd will slip into his suit just before the dinner on one of his bathroom breaks: he's allowed five minutes off the wheel every hour, per Guinness rules. But he likely won't change his shoes.
An admitted sneakerhead with about 20 pairs of "classic" gym shoes, "like Air Jordans and LeBrons," the Wrightwood native had custom kicks made at the Nike store on Michigan Avenue.
They're blue with red and yellow accents, an homage to his love of Superman.
"They call me 'Superman Shep' around the pier," he said.
And Shepherd sprung for an extra detail before picking up his shoes Thursday: "I have 'Ferris wheel 48 hours' etched on the back of them as well," he said. "I'm definitely enjoying this."