Salisbury man paddles 340 miles in kayak competiton

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There were times John Kilian nearly capsized in the kayak he rowed for 75 hours, as he competed in the 11th annual MR340, a race on the Missouri River from Kansas City to St. Louis.

“They have barges on the Missouri River and they are unlike the barges we have here,” the 58-year-old Salisbury resident explained.

“When the barges there are going up river, because of the 3-mile current, they put out huge wakes. One time, around 4 o’clock in the morning, I encountered a barge. That was the most scared I was because of the big waves. There was some danger out there when you’re paddling. There are rocks and things. If you’re not watching where you’re going the current can push you into rocks. But I never capsized,” he said.

Kilian, a financial planner at Merrill Lynch, participated in the 340-mile race July 19 to 22 after reading about it and becoming interested.

“I have always done endurance things. I used to do a lot of running and track but my knees have gotten bad so this was sort of a new thing. It’s kind of a perseverance thing. There are different categories in the race. I chose kayaking,” he said.

Contestants must finish within 88 hours. It took Kilian 75 hours.

During the race, he stopped a few times to nap, probably six hours total, but the heat made him miserable.

“Every day it was more than 100 degrees. It was very difficult to get a nap. I had a tent I tried to use at night to keep the mosquitoes off me,” he said.

Driving from checkpoint to checkpoint, to be sure supplies were ready for him when he arrived, were his wife, Phyllis, and their 26-year-old son Josh, his support team.

“I was in contact with them through cell phone. I told them what I needed so they were ready for me. At one point I was trying to paddle to the next check point in the middle of the night and I knew I would be getting there at 4 or 4:30 in morning, so they set up the tent for me,” Kilian said.

“When I stopped to meet my support crew, they would restock my liquids, usually Gatorade, water, protein drinks and V-8 juice. I was going through a lot of liquids due to the 100 plus degree temps all three days. I tried to constantly eat small amounts to keep my energy up. I ate a variety of fruit, beef jerky, nuts and a sandwich now and then,” he said.

“Since I sometimes wouldn’t see my crew for six to eight hours, it was important to have everything I needed but it was also important to not carry extra weight,” he said.

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Among fellow competitors was an 11-year-old boy, teaming with his father, and an 81-year-old man.

“You sure are alone out there, especially at night. It’s very scary out there in the dark with just the moon and stars. It’s kind of crazy,” he said.

The kayak was equipped with navigational lights and Kilian wore a headlamp and kept a spotlight close.

To train for the race, he lifted weights and kayaked on the Wicomico River 15 months, taking to the water every day, for more than two hours on weekdays and eight hours a day each weekend.

“I always liked endurance sports. I did a lot of endurance races, but nothing I’ve ever done was like this. The mental part of it was never ending, knowing you would paddle all day in 100 degrees, take a quick rest and then you’re going to go back out and paddle again. It wears you down,” he said.

Several times, he thought about quitting, but his wife and son encouraged him to continue – and continuing wasn’t easy.

“This ain’t no mama boy’s float trip,” the informational website, www.rivermiles.com states.

“This race promises to test your mettle from the first stroke in Kansas City to the last gasp in St. Charles. Just entering it will impress your friends. Finishing it will astound them… and winning it? Well, you always thought you were sort of a legend anyway, didn’t you? It’s time to prove it.”

When he talks about the experience, Kilian is low-key and modest.

“You really do have time to think. It really clears your head. You’re under the stars. It makes you feel small,” he said.

“I’ve tried some crazy things but this is probably at the top of the list.”

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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