Around the world in 1,800 days

Markus Pukonen is travelling around the world over five years by any means except motorized to raise awareness for non-profits.

Markus Pukonen

Markus Pukonen

Arne Petryshen

Markus Pukonen is on a journey around the world and he’s doing it in the most environmentally conscious way he can.

“I am trying to circumnavigate the entire planet without using a motor and raise support for local non-profit organizations as I do so,” Pukonen said. “Everywhere from environmental to social justice organizations — basically people who are doing good to help create a healthier planet for all of us.”

Pukonen lives in Tofino, but spent a number of years in Cranbrook fighting forest fires. He grew up in Toronto.

Many of the organizations he is raising support for are local ones he gets in touch with along the way. He is also a filmmaker and creates short documentaries on each organization and is also documenting his journey around the world.

Pukonen began his journey by canoe with a lot more gear and even a quadcopter drone to film, but as his trip has progressed, he’s been shedding gear in favour of travelling light. Now his camera is his iPhone with multiple lenses.

He began his journey in Toronto on July 13, 2015. 158 days later he made a stop in Cranbrook where he spoke to the Townsman, as well as to students at local schools.

He is forecasting that the trip will take about five years.

“I don’t have any real deadlines, I’m not going to rush to make it in five years — it could be longer, it could be shorter,” he said. “Five years seems like a comfortable amount of time to cover the amount of ground that I need to cover, because I’m not doing necessarily the most direct route around the planet.”

The route he’s taking will take him across 80,000 km of terrain, whereas if he just went around the equator it would be about 40,000 km.

The only deadline he does have at the moment is the limited weather window for sailing across the Pacific ocean. He will be taking a 30 foot sail boat from San Francisco in late April or May, along with a friend. They will first sail to Hawaii, then to some of the smaller island chains before the Philippines.

Pukonen said his trip has been amazing so far.

“I’ve been planning this trip since I left Cranbrook pretty much, so it’s been about six years since I was here fighting forest fires,” he said. He left Cranbrook after three years of fire fighting, when he found out his dad had been diagnosed with leukaemia.

“That was part of the inspiration behind the trip as well, seeing his situation was making me think about what I would do if I knew life was short. This is what I came up with. It combines all my passions into one project.”

He started the trip with little funding and at first wasn’t sure if he’d even be able to do it.

“Let alone the goal that I had to raise $10 million,” he said.

But as he’s pushed on, the stress of finances have subsided.

“It’s been obviously really challenging at times, but stuff has been coming together really smoothly,” he said. He has six organizations that he has partnered and is raising support for.

Along the way, he’s been lent boats, bicycles and other forms of transportation to get him this far. As the school year began, he’s been stopping to give presentations about his journey to students of all ages.

When he got to Winnipeg he rode a Pogo stick for 10 km through the city.

“I thought it was going to be painful and one of the stupidest things I did on the trip, but it was actually fine. I felt good after and I felt like I could have gone longer.”

As a backup, he has a bike back in Toronto ready to ship out if he runs into trouble with transportation.

“I haven’t had to do that yet, because people keep lending me other vehicles,” he said. He rode a recumbent tricycle through the prairies, then planned his ski portion in Canmore.

He borrowed a bike to get to the Spray Lakes, then continued the journey by ski.

“I skied up over the continental divide, down into Nipika resort, which is an amazing place. That was extremely challenging — long, hard days of breaking trail and trying to find the trail.”

In Nipika, he met up with a friend who had brought a raft and they rafted down the Kootenay River, from the White River confluence to Canal Flats, where his friend disembarked.

Pukonen kept going but ran into two ice dams.

The raft was loaded up heavy and for the first dam he managed to pull the raft around, but the second he had to unload everything, deflate and disassemble the heavy raft and bring it around to get across a small bit of river. Then he dragged it again up a slope to the highway, where someone met him with a bike.

“Then I biked the 80 km to Kimberley that night,” he said. “That day was epic.”

On Friday he biked down from Kimberley to speak at two schools in Cranbrook.

“I guess a big reason why I’m doing this is that it’s really easy for us to live in denial about what’s going on on the planet, and to think that what we’re doing is not affecting it,” he said. “I think we really need to change our attitudes and we need to become more active in creating the planet we want to see.”

You can follow along with Pukonen at routesofchange.org