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Apryle Craig and Phil Magistro on kayaking to Alaska

Gunshots,” says Apryle Craig, “it sounded like gunshots.

“And then we paddled into this bay and a humpback whale breached in front us 16 times in a row. It sounded like gunshots out of the water. It was unbelievable.”

Craig is reminiscing about her do-it-yourself kayak trip through the Pacific Northwest’s Inside Passage. The 111-day journey started in Washington’s Gig Harbor before traveling more than 1,200 miles to Alaska. Along the way, Craig and her husband Phil Magistro traversed the wave- and windswept coasts of British Columbia and Alaska, encountering more than just hump backs.

The environment, says Craig, was “incredibly rich in wildlife.”

Watery expeditions complete with whales, waves and endless paddling seem remote from land-locked Boulder. Indeed, Craig and Magistro, who live in the mountains northwest of Boulder, didn’t set out to be oceangoing adventurers. They met while being active in the University of Pittsburgh’s outdoor club. Upon graduation, Craig decided to hit the road.

“My family had taken a trip when I was 12,” Craig says and laughs. “It was the kind of trip where everyone piles into a car and you hit as many national parks as possible. Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park made a big impression on me. It was a beautiful place and I felt at home. It wasn’t as crowded as Yellowstone and it wasn’t as hot as Bryce. I told Phil, I’m moving to Colorado, and you’re welcome to come!” Craig continues, “That move started us down the track that we weren’t going to become complacent, that we’d seize opportunities. It’s so easy to settle into a groove, and there are so many opportunities. There is no need to be unsatisfied in life, you can change your mind about what you want to do with your life, and it is OK to do something that’s not the norm, to learn and grow and try something new.”

For the couple, trying something new quickly meant testing themselves, not only on Colorado’s peaks but farther afield. In 2008, their sights turned to Mt. Rainier.

“We decided that we’d try to do a hike which circumnavigated the mountain and then we’d try to summit it,” says Craig.

But the mountain had other ideas. “It was a really big snow year, and the amount of water coming off the mountain was intense,” recalls Craig. “A lot of the bridges were out and you could hear huge boulders being swept along the streambeds. We had to abandon the trip, and decided to try kayaking in the Puget Sound.”

Craig and Magistro’s flexible approach resulted in a “plan B” circumnavigation of Orcas Island, a trip that whetted their appetite for more ocean voyages via sea kayak.

“It inspired our trip,” says Craig of her first sea kayaking adventure. “Phil had some kayaking experience, and once we paddled in the San Juans we decided to do more of it.”

But while the San Juans are, according to Craig, “super accessible,” the Inside Passage is longer, more challenging and poses real risks from storms, tides, equipment malfunctions and other unknown dangers.

The duo’s 2009 “Go Wild Expedition” covered a total of 1,251 miles over approximately four months. The trip was supported by brands like Kokatat, Werner Paddles, Current Designs and others, and benefited the Living Oceans Society, an organization that helps protect wild salmon fisheries along the West Coast.

“I like to get my hands into as many different things as I have time for,” says Craig, who calls herself an ordinary, hard-working person. “A trip for the sake of just going on a trip isn’t enough. I need something different, and the more we both learned about the wild salmon runs, the more we got into it. Seeing them in person was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

The Living Oceans Society is campaigning to eliminate open-net salmon farms, which often hold up to half a million fish and release waste, chemicals, disease and parasites into the surrounding water. There are more than 100 open net-cage farms growing salmon in sheltered bays along the British Columbia coast alone. The parasites spreading from open-net farms into the ocean include sea lice, which attach to wild juvenile salmon during their migration and can kill young salmon.

“It’s an incredible resource,” Craig says of Living Oceans. In addition to progress on the ground in the Northwest, she says, consumer attitudes are changing, and with them, chain stores have started to catch on.

While the salmon punctuate the memories of the expedition for Craig, they’re not the only highlight. Spending time with the same person, counting on that person constantly, was a powerful experience, too, she says.

“It didn’t matter what happened, we knew we’d have to be eating the same dinner together and crawling into the tent together at night,” Craig says.

And of course there are other memories. The sunrises and sunsets and empty stretches of water and rocky beaches and some not so rocky.

And there was the solitude. “We’ve reached Sointula and are getting ourselves back on track after figuratively losing ourselves in the wild upper reaches of Vancouver Island for a week. Lost track of days, and camps are blurring together in our minds. Port Hardy seems like an apparition,” Magistro wrote in one expedition blog post.

Another post captures the emotional impact of the journey, with Magistro penning that, “In many ways we are letting go of old expectations and accepting where we are and where we can go from here.”

If the journey taught her one thing, Craig says, it’s the fact that people can step out of their comfort zone and experience their own adventure.

“It’s never an easy choice to leave somewhere you are comfortable,” Craig says. “The easy choice is always status quo. But when you challenge yourself, no matter if it is a three-month expedition or a hike to the highest lake in Rocky Mountain Park, you will push yourself and grow.”

She advises people who want to do big things to start with simple challenges, then start thinking bigger.

“Formulate a plan,” she says. “Try to grow and challenge yourself every day.”

Apryle Craig and Phil Magistro will discuss the Go Wild Expedition at 7 p.m. Friday, April 20, at the Boulder REI store. Maps, photos, blog posts and information about wild salmon and salmon farming can be found on their website: www.elevatedattitude.com.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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