An adventure years in the making

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Markus Pukonen is rated by Canadian Geographic as one of Canada’s top explorers, thanks in part to his plan to travel the globe without using a motor.

What does that mean? Rowing, swimming, kayaking, standup paddle-boarding, sailing, running, biking, skiing, skateboarding, velomobiling, walking backwards, or pogo-sticking 80,000 kilometres in roughly five years.

“Change is inevitable and unavoidable, so we might as well embrace it and share ways that we can better adapt to a new way of sustainable life on earth,” Pukonen said towards his journey. Through his Routes of Change organization his goal is to raise $10 million for leaders of positive change. By partnering with local social and/or environmental organizations along his route he hopes to build Routes of Change into a powerful force of change for a better future on a wiser earth.

Since leaving Toronto, Markus has been in motion, more or less, for 119 days of cycling, canoeing and even pogo sticking for 10km outside Winnipeg. When the opportunity arises, Pukonen visits schools sharing stories of his previous epic adventures and his current 80,000-km journey. His main message – “There is no challenge that is too big to overcome, we simply need to take that first step.”

Pukonen is in Canmore for several days resting before tackling the Rockies by ski and snowshoe.

“I’m going to tour through Assiniboine and then over to the Kootenay River,” Pukonen said. It will be a good change of pace after travelling on a recumbent tricycle since Winnipeg.

“It was painful actually, just physically. It was great, as painful as it was; I still had an amazing time. It was pretty interesting travelling through the prairies; even though everyone thinks it’s boring I found it quite interesting.”

Luckily, he only encountered one snow day during the two weeks to Calgary.

He started the journey in Toronto on July 13 in a canoe, heading up through the Trent Severn Waterway, portaged into Lake Muskoka and then down the Moon River.

“I had friends with me for the first week and a half, and I took the canoe into the North Channels of Lake Huron where I met a doctor who convinced me to take his Hobie trimaran through Lake Superior,” Pukonen said.

He took the trimaran to Blind River and most of the way across Lake Superior, about 400km.

“Then a friend came out from the west coast and met me and we canoed for the last week from Lake Superior to Thunder Bay, and then I got on a recumbent hand bike,” Pukonen said. “I don’t know why anyone who can use their legs would choose to get on one because they’re designed for paraplegic people, but it was fun.

“I had met someone on Manitoulin Island who was paraplegic and had one of these bikes and he offered it to me and I said ‘yes’ right away, and I ended up getting on that in Thunder Bay and took it the 700km to Winnipeg.”

He started the journey July 13, the day he was born, a deadline he wanted to put on himself, worrying if he didn’t start this trip by the time he reached 33 he might never do it.

“I came up with the idea six years ago, when I was on my way to see my dad who was just diagnosed with leukemia, and I was questioning how I could combine all of my passions into one project that would feel comfortable,” Pukonen said.

“If I found out I was going to die, I would want to feel comfortable doing exactly what I wanted to do on the planet. I had no idea how I was going to do something like this, but I started working towards it and went to film school, documentary filmmaking and production at Capilano University.”

His original plan was to make the journey strictly human-powered, but he’s opened up to using some sails now. It’s going to be more or less a five-year journey for the adventurer; could be less, could be more.

“I’m not taking the shortest route around the planet, I’m sort of doubling the circumference with this trip. I’m covering 80,000km if I stick to the route, but it’s likely going to change due to weather and political situations from where I’m going.”

Pukonen says unforeseen situations are just part of the trip. The unknown is going to change no matter, whether we like it or not. “You might as well try and take control of part of that change and put it in the direction you want to go,” Pukonen said.

Having already used a small sail on the canoe, he no longer feels guilty about sailing across the Pacific.

“I have a friend with a boat waiting for me in San Francisco, and we will sail to Hawaii, the Caroline Islands, Marshall Islands, Palau and eventually to China,” Pukonen said. “I think eventually I’ll get on a bike in Southeast Asia … and depending on the situation in Myanmar, it’s looking better every day, I’d really like to go through Myanmar. But if I can’t do that, then I’ll have to go back up through China and skirt around through India.”

His goal is to partner up with what will likely be hundreds of different organizations, and has goals toward helping to raise local support, whether through monetary or media attention and get what each individual group is doing out into the public.

“I also want to create short documentaries with each organization and use the documentaries as a way to get them more support – they’re all on the website. If you go to the leader’s page you can see all of the organizations I’ve added so far,” Pukonen said.

“It’s not necessarily all environmental organizations, there’s going to be social organizations and a wide array of basically people who are doing awesome things and could use some support – I’ve pretty much created my dream job.”

To follow Pukonen’s journey, visit www.routesofchange.org where you can also see organizations he’s helping along the way.

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