Minnesota paddler Mike Stout is confident he’ll be holding a couple of records for paddling across Lake Michigan by the end of the summer, if weather allows.
There’s no central authority on who holds records for paddles across Lake Michigan. But based on his research, Stout is pretty sure he’s already the only one to have done it twice.
This summer, he aims to solidify that record — and set a new one — by paddling his “brilliant red,” 17-foot kayak across the lake three times in a single season.
He’s been paddling for as long as 15 hours a day, often upriver, to prepare for it.
“It’s a wonderful way to spend the day,” he said.
Stout plans to embark on the first trip today, he said Wednesday. He’ll be launching from Wisconsin’s Rawley Point Lighthouse around sunrise, aiming to land at Ludington’s Big Sable Point Lighthouse about 15 hours later.
He’ll launch on the other two trips when he finds three-day windows of calm winds and waves. In addition to traditional weather reports, he monitors data from government buoys near Ludington.
The biggest challenge he expects to encounter isn’t the physical strain. The recent months of rigorous conditioning have assured him he’s capable. Instead, what concerns him is the heat he’ll be feeling in his wetsuit.
Since the water temperature remains in the high 50s Fahrenheit, he’ll need the wetsuit to keep warm if he falls into the lake, but the sun’s heat will demand he drinks water frequently to keep his muscles from cramping.
He’s adding electrolytes to his water to replenish his energy. For food, he’s bringing protein bars, bananas, apples and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
If he does fall into the water, getting back into the kayak could be difficult due to a tear in his left shoulder’s rotator cuff. In the case of an emergency, he’ll be able to contact the Coast Guard using his ship-to-shore radio.
But he tries not to dwell on that possibility. He compared it to golfing: If you focus too much on the sand traps, that’s where your ball is going to go.
“You have to block out any sense of doubt or fear,” he said. “I just compartmentalize it because I know I can paddle the distance.”
Stout has paddled over 5,000 miles in the five years he’s been doing the sport. He’s crossed Lake Superior and Lake Huron, completed a round-trip of the Straits of Mackinac and has raced in four states.
He thought he’d retire from the hobby last year with a round-trip across Lake Michigan, but “wicked” weather made the trip from Wisconsin too difficult to recover from. He rode the SS Badger back the next day.
The incomplete round-trip left him feeling “shorted.” He felt he had to paddle another season to end his career “on a note that has been unmatched by anybody else,” he said.
About three hours after launching from the edge of Wisconsin, Stout will be alone on the water without a shoreline in sight.
If all goes well, after the sun sets he’ll reach Big Sable Point Lighthouse, symbolic to him of “safe passages for those mariners going up and down Lake Michigan’s coast.”
“With good luck and the grace of God it should be an amazing journey,” he said.