Previous month:
August 2011
Next month:
November 2011

Interview with Phoxx Ekcs Part 1: Living Primitively

Interview with Phoxx Ekcs Part 1: Living Primitively from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.

Part 1 of my 4 part interview with Phoxx deals primarily with the daily life on his expedition: where he went, what he wore, what he ate, and the kind of gear he used.

North coast map copy

Phoxx began his trip in Port Hardy and paddled 30 miles west as far as Cape Sutil. His goal was to make it to Cape Scott on the northwestern tip of Vancouver Island. Because of rough sea conditions west of Cape Sutil he decided to hike the remaining 30 miles from Cape Sutil to Cape Scott along the North Coast Trail.

Only about half of my interview with Phoxx ended up in the final cut. In one of the deleted scenes we talked in more detail about the risk acquiring paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) from eating foraged mussels and clams. (Surprisingly, he did not find any oysters.)

“PSP was in the back of my head the whole time," he said. "I’m going to wake up and I not going to be able to move. And the next thing I know the paralytic toxin attacks is my heart. And I’m going to die slowly.”

If Phoxx had had a radio he would have called in every night to see if the shellfish area he was in was safe but instead he relied on simple field tests. Supposedly one way to detect PSP is to rub the raw flesh of the animal on your lips and mouth and wait for a few minutes to see if you feel any tingling or numbness. Kiliii Fish described a technique where he would take a small bite and hold it in his mouth for 5 minutes while avoiding swallowing any saliva. If you start feeling any numbness or tingling then you can assume the organism is contaminated.

Phoxx says that he always used the rub test, but thought it was highly subjective and nonspecific. His mind tended to wander and he sometimes imagined that his lips were tingling when they really weren’t. As far as he knows, there is no scientific evidence to validate the test. On day 6 or 7 he experienced burning in his throat after eating a batch of mussels, but didn’t get sick. Sometimes he just ignored the tingling sensations because he simply had to eat something: “When you are hungry you are hungry! Sometimes you just have to eat.”

DSC_0465

Even if the shellfish are contaminated, Phoxx said if you eat only one it is not likely to kill you. You could eat one and wait 12 hours and if you don’t get sick you could assume it is safe to eat the rest. I might add that I thought of even safer method: if you happen to be traveling with a friend, you could do what I did while paddling in the Broken Group and let your friend eat a bunch of oysters first. If he’s still alive the next day, then you know they are safe to eat.

Phoxx did very little fishing and caught only one fish, a salmon, which lasted 3-4 days after drying. Foraging on the beach at low tide was simply easier. It was also more risky to be on the water without a lifejacket or wetsuit. When it was windy and raining he would be risking hypothermia.

DSC_0796

DSC_0664

Phoxx early on abandoned the idea of going entirely primitive, but the “modern gear” he acquired was basically trash he found along the way: a plastic bottle for water, some string, and a tarp. For hiking along the North Coast trail he fashioned a backpack, which was basically his gear wrapped up in his blanket, wrapped up in the plastic tarp, and tied together with salvaged cord. These few items added a little more comfort to the trip. Although he doesn't mention it in the interview, he also said that the move away from an exercise in primitive living also came about from the realization that he was facing a problem of simple survival.

The handful of other modern items he carried included a DSLR camera with 14 batteries in a drybag and SPOT satellite messenger. Apparently there were several days where the messages he attempted to send to indicate his location were not received.

DSC_0350


Surviving Vancouver Island’s North Coast: An Interview with Phoxx Ekcs

Phoxx Ekcs- Trailer from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.

Surviving Vancouver Island’s North Coast: An Interview with Phoxx Ekcs (Trailer) from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.

Although I had spoken with Phoxx Ekcs through Skype in June, I hadn't actually met him in person until after he completed his 28 day expedition along Vancouver Island’s north coast. He called me soon after his trip and said he would be in Seattle for a couple days. I was very happy to hear that he was in town. If you know anything about his trip, you know what a crazy idea it was −− a “primitive living” expedition in a skin−on−frame kayak with no modern gear. No tent or sleeping bag. No drysuit, and, I would later learn, not even a PFD. He didn’t bring any food or water with him from the moment he left Port Hardy, and fished and foraged for food along the way. No one has ever done anything like this before (as far as 21st century North Americans go). So by “happy to hear from him” I meant that I knew there was a real chance that he might not come back from Vancouver Island at all −− alive, anyway.

IMG_6333

We decided to meet over lunch and after slogging through Seattle traffic and finding parking, I found Phoxx standing next to the back of his truck talking to my friend Katya. To my surprise, he had already given her his kayak! I guess he had grown tired of it and was done with kayaking for a while. Katya, a photographer and graphic artist, had already made plans to use the kayak as a canvas and paint designs on it.

Picture 249

IMG_6377

Phoxx’s SUV was stuffed with gear −− a large hand−felted wool blanket, baskets, wooden bowls, bark tan paddling vest, bone fish hooks, a gaff made from antler, obsidian knives in leather bags. Both he and his gear smelled strongly of a dozen campfires.

Phoxx was still dressed in brain tan buckskins. He said he had to catch a photography shoot later that day. A commercial photographer was going to take pictures of him and his gear, so he needed to keep his beard on and look the part. He was looking forward to shaving afterwards.

IMG_6375

IMG_6360

The three of us talked over sandwiches in a busy Capitol Hill café. I took notes but it was hard to keep up with him. He had so much to tell and the stories were rich in detail. It was hard enough to keep everything straight without a map to follow where he went. Fortunately, the voice recorder of my iPhone picked up our conversation over the din of the café.

I remembered that I happened to have a map of Vancouver Island in my car and excused myself to grab it. He pointed out how he had covered over 120 miles round trip from Port Hardy to Cape Scott, half of it sea kayaking and half hiking along the new and challenging North Coast trail.

I had intended to write an article about his trip for this blog, but Phoxx had another idea. Why don’t we just shoot another interview? After all, it’s far better to hear about his journey in his own words. It worked for me too, because personally I prefer cutting video than writing.

We shot the interview the next evening at my place in downtown Tacoma. Phoxx is an intense and engaging speaker, and just flowed with story after incredible story, about making deals with bears, going days at a time without food and very little water, paddling into 8 foot waves and 60 mph winds, and barely surviving hypothermia. Even though I cut out a lot for length, there was so much to tell in this epic journey that the final cut came to almost an hour. I divided it into four parts to make it easier to digest. I will start releasing the interview parts one at a time every few days.

Picture 251