A 57-year-old Prior Lake man this summer is celebrating 3,000 miles, 775 hours and three near-death experiences paddled in his kayak.
Mike Stout is just coming off a 70-some-mile race, the Seventy48, up the Puget Sound River from Tacoma to Port Townsend in Washington. He hit the milestone during the trip early last month.
What led to river racing began as a hobby on Prior Lake; after some encouraging words from a business consulting client, Stout bought an open-sea kayak to paddle his first mile.
“Every time I went out, I got a bit better, more adventurous, and I enjoyed the personal challenge and the serenity,” Stout said. “We’re blessed around here with all these incredible lakes and rivers.”
The new adventure came with some obvious dangers. Stout said he’s not likely to ever take on Lake Superior again after having to out-paddle a thunderstorm. One of the near-death experiences happened this past Easter as he challenged the Minnesota River after flood-inducing rains. It started as a training session as he took off from LeSueur.
“I’m checking out these farmsteads, going through the woods, and the trees are getting thicker,” Stout said. “As I’m getting near the Belle Plaine bridge, the water is coming together and flooding the area.”
Approaching a hazardous debris field, Stout slipped out of his kayak, thinking the riverbank was close to the surface. It wasn’t. When he couldn’t kick off from the riverbed and emerge in time, he snagged his arm on a branch in the debris field.
“My kayak is flooded, the river is about to push me under the debris field, so I try to manage my way out,” he said.
Farther down the river, past the Belle Plaine river bridge, bystanders witnessed his struggle to re-enter his kayak. Emergency services were called, and a water rescue team pulled him ashore.
“It really shook me up,” he said. “When I’m paddling long distances, I like the challenge and I like to push the envelope. But nobody knew where I was.”
His girlfriend Michon Jenkin said despite the close calls, she generally doesn’t worry about the burgeoning kayaker.
“I support him because I know regardless of what I think, he’s going to do it,” she said. “I was relieved, to say the least, when I saw him coming in on Lake Superior. It was amazing.”
Stout told himself he’d put away the kayak for a while after having an Easter meal with his family. Spending time with his daughters just after the incident put things into perspective, as his family would have only known about the incident if he hadn’t shown up for the get-together. They would’ve found an empty car where he’d been set to land.
But Seventy48 was pulling at him, he said. Stout needed to take on the Puget Sound.
“Every year I’ve done a big excursion,” he said. “So I wanted to do this. I had an absolute ball.”
Open-water kayaking brings the risk of hypothermia, dangerous waves or currents and changing weather, according to OceanKayak.com and other vendors and sport news outlets. Ocean Kayak recommends having appropriate clothing like wet suits or long sleeves, sharing plans with others and wearing flotation devices and helmets.
“He’s pretty safe, although he does get a bit risky sometimes,” Jenkin said. “He’s goal-driven. He says he’s going to do something, and he does it. He doesn’t procrastinate. He knocks it out.”
Hoping to inspire adventure in others, Stout said he writes about his experiences on social media and on his business website. He wrote at length about his race along the Puget Sound, where he paddled 70 miles in 19 hours alongside the U.S. and Canadian kayaking elite, like former Olympians.
“Although I am a rogue racer, my first race is an event of a lifetime,” Stout wrote, finishing a detailed account of the race and noting he was not an official entrant.
Stout prefers the serenity of a river to smaller bodies of water. Being immersed in a natural environment offers something well-tread areas don’t.
“When you’re on the lake, you have to deal with crowds and wake, and the scenery is mostly houses,” he said. “On the river, you can go continuously for hours or days at a time. There’s something exciting or new around every bend, every trip.”