Markus Pukonen is a man on a mission. What type of mission? Well, it’s simple really, Pukonen is attempting to raise $10 million while circumnavigating the planet – and he’s doing with without a motorized method of transportation.
Born in Toronto and based out of Tofino, B.C., Pukonen is the founder and leader of the non-profit organization, Routes to Change. He’s undertaken this pilgrimage to help raise money through the non-profit in support of what Pukonen calls “positive change” be it environmental or social. Pukonen plans to travel throughout North and South America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East on his trip, during which he’ll make use of every form on non-motorized travel, from canoeing and sailing, to skiing to pogo’ing (he plans to pogo his way through Winnipeg).
With his journey spanning 80,000 kilometres and expected to last an astounding five years, Pukonen is currently on day 23 of his hike and has spent the last few days in Muskoka where he paddled Lake Muskoka alongside Algonquin Outfitters’ Randy Mitson. Algonquin Outfitters has served as the sponsor for the first leg of his tour that spans from Toronto to Thunder Bay.
“Originally, I wasn’t planning on coming through Muskoka, but looking at the map it seemed like I could do a portage through Muskoka and it’s proven to be really beautiful and wonderful,” Pukonen said, adding that the people of the region had been friendly, offering him couches (and in some cases docks) to sleep on.
Pukonen’s motivations for undertaking such a enormous trip are altogether altruistic. As a young man living in British Columbia, Pukonen fought wildfires and travelled in the off-season – he had it good – but he had a nagging feeling that he wasn’t living up to his full potential, that he needed to be a part of making this world a better place.
“The idea sprouted from my desire to be more involved in environmental and social justice movements, but in a way that would combine my passions as well as benefitting others,” he said.
Those feelings were reinforced when, six years ago, Pukonen’s father was diagnosed with Leukemia.
“It was a big shock to me and it made me re-evaluate my own life and think about what my priorities are. Life can be so short and I shouldn’t waste my time doing anything I’m not truly passionate about,” he added.
If the idea of travelling the world by man-power alone seems a little extreme, it’s because it is extreme. But extreme situations are nothing new for Pukonen, he’s spent years fighting forest fires in British Columbia, paddle boarded from Vancouver to Victoria (around 115 kilometres), rowed around Vancouver Island and across the Atlantic ocean.
“I spent 73 days on a rowboat crossing the Atlantic with three other guys. In shifts of one, two and four hours, we rowed 24 hours a day,” Pukonen said. But his inaugural trip across the Atlantic did not end as planned.
“It was looking pretty good… but then we had some bad luck. Some waves caught us off guard and broke over the back of our boat, flipping out boat over,” he said. “We were swimming in the ocean for about 12 hours until we were finally rescued.” At the time of their rescue they were 400 miles from Puerto Rico.
Situations like the one above would often be enough to scare most people away from a trip like Pukonen’s but he says he’s not nervous about the journey.
“If there is any anxiety, it’s from the desire to be successful in what I’m doing… I took a big risk jumping into this but it feels good and really right. In terms of the adventuring and exploring, I feel really comfortable doing this – it’s what I love.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Pukonen says he is excited to visit some of the world’s most heralded places during his trip.
“I’m really excited about sailing on the Pacific Ocean and the Polynesian Islands. I’m also excited to spend time in the Himalayan Mountains,” he said adding he hopes to paraglide through the Himalayans.
Pukonen isn’t sure where money is going to come from on this trip, both to help finance the journey and support the groups he wants to aid. Despite this, he remains hopeful that if he just keeps on keepin’ on, he’ll find a way.
“I don’t know how it’s going to be funded yet, there is a bit of anxiety there, but I also feel that if I just keep doing it, I’ll find people to work with and the trip will continue to happen.”
If you’d like to learn more about Pukonen, his journey and his cause or want to make a donation visit www.routestochange.org