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HomeEvent CoverageMeet The River Shiver—Fall’s Last Gasp In The Heartland

Meet The River Shiver—Fall’s Last Gasp In The Heartland

Knowing fall becomes winter in an eye-blink in the Upper Midwest, as well as how long winter can cling, diehard performance-boat lovers in the region don’t surrender easily to the change of season. That is how the River Shiver Fun Run, which happened last weekend, began some 20-plus years ago on the Fox River in Northern Illinois.

Big Thunder Marine’s Chad Franzen had one of the newest boats in the 2023 River Shiver Fun Run mix.

And yet despite a record-setting 175 boats, this year’s event didn’t live up to its chilly name.

“It was 80 degrees and sunny, so it really wasn’t a ‘shiver,’” said Steve Rihacek, who co-organized this year’s event—originally founded by Northern Illinois Offshore Club—with his brother, John, and other volunteers for the first time. “But it’s the Midwest. We usually have all four seasons in a week.”

The Rihacek brothers, who appropriately live in the town of Fox Lake, ran their Fountain Powerboats 27 Fever in the event. Though larger boats are allowed in the run, most are older V-bottoms in 22- to 30-foot range.

A popular figure and longtime devotee of the River Shiver who lives in the Fox Lake and owns a powerboat storage facility, Gary Strykow ran his well-known Scarab V-bottom in the event.

Representing the smaller side of things, Chad Franzen, who lives at the Lake of the Ozarks in Central Missouri and works in sales there for Big Thunder Marine, brought a Donzi Marine 22 Classic sportboat powered by a Mercury Racing 565 engine. A 2023 model-year creation, the 22-footer likely was the newest boat in the mix.

Franzen grew up in the nearby town of Crystal Lake. In 2021, he ran a Donzi 41 GT in the event. The following year, he brought a Fountain 34 Thunder Cat. This time around, he downsized again.

“The 22 Classic was a whole lot easier to haul here,” Franzen said, then laughed. “I think every 25- to 27-foot Baja in the world was there last weekend.

“The River Shiver is not your typical performance-boat fun run,” he continued. “Some of the guys are just getting into performance boating, others are just the boats they have and can afford. It’s definitely a ‘working man’s’ event.”

With weather in the 80-degree range, the River Shiver didn’t quite live up to its well-earned name.

Regardless of fleet value, the run is a priceless happening for its longtime fans, as well as relatively new ones such as the Rihacek brothers who enjoyed their first River Shiver in 2018.

“My brother didn’t even have a boat back then,” Steve Rihacek recalled. “I had a Checkmate 216 Convincor V-bottom.

“It was the most dangerous boat I’ve ever been in,” he added, then laughed. “But traveling to poker runs can be really expensive. The River Shiver is in my backyard. All I had to do was put gas in it and head out.”

The run starts at Famous Freddie’s on the shores of Pitaskee Lake and then heads down-river to McHenry, where most of the group stops for lunch and refreshments. From there, the fleet heads to McHenry Dam and then runs up river to Fox Lake for a River Shiver tradition known as “The Big Donut,” where the boats in the mix form a low-speed circle.

In past years, the River Shiver began with a sketchy, shotgun-style start—a practice the organizers wisely abandoned this time around.

“It was super-unsafe and disorganized and it made us all look like lunatics,” Steve Rihacek said. “It made us look like a bunch of jamokes running down the river at full speed.

“This year, we set it up like the Big Thunder BFD Fun Run where we left in waves,” he continued. “It was much, much better and much, much safer.”

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Enjoy more images from the 2023 event.

Far from seeking praise for the first-year success, Rihacek credits the organizers who came before him and his brother, such as River Shiver “founding father” and fellow Fountain owner Mike Lovergine and the board of the Northern Illinois Offshore Club.

“Everyone worked worked hard as a team to make this event as safe and professional as possible,” he said. “I don’t want to take credit for all of it and I don’t leave anyone behind. Our success is directly owed to the people who helped us get here.

“We have simply brought a new way or style to the event to make it safer and maybe help inspire to help others to take up powerboating,” he added.

Just one week later, fall descended with intention on the Upper Midwest. Gone are the 80-degree highs, replaced by daytime temperatures creeping into the low 60s. Nights are 20 degrees cooler. Winter, as the saying goes, is coming.

First-year organizers Steve and John Rihacek credited their teammates for the event’s success.

But the River Shiver ended the heartland boating season in fine fashion.

“It was amazing,” said Steve Rihacek. “We doubled participation from last year. Who knows what will happen next year?”

One thing, however, is certain. The River Shiver will return.

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