Island adventurer hopes little steps (and hops) add up to big change

Since leaving Toronto 257 days ago, Markus Pukonen has propelled himself across the country by canoe, trimaran, recumbent tricycle, skis, raft, kayak, fat bike, stand-up paddle board, bicycle and, for one joyful 10-kilometre stretch through Winnipeg, pogo stick.

The 33-year-old Tofino resident — named one of Canada’s Top 100 modern-day explorers — plans to encircle the globe on a five-year odyssey without ever using a motor.

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He is slated to leave Victoria on Monday by crossing Juan de Fuca Strait in a row boat from the Whitehall Spirit Rowing Club. Diana Lesieur, club manager, will join him on the 35-kilometre trip to Port Angeles, Washington.

From there, Pukonen plans to cycle to San Francisco before grabbing a 30-foot sailboat to Hawaii.

Initially, he considered rowing across the ocean, too, but he’s been there, done that — albeit on the Atlantic side.

In 2013, Pukonen was part of a four-man team, including Olympic gold medallist Adam Kreek of Victoria, that nearly made it from Senegal to Miami. They were 73 days at sea when their boat capsized in a storm.

This time, Pukonen said, he’s fine with using a sail.

“I think the wind is a wonderful resource,” he said. “I don’t feel the need to row across another ocean, although I may. I don’t know how I’m getting across the Atlantic Ocean yet. That’s still three to four years away.”

Pukonen attributes his passion for adventure, in part, to the pain of losing his parents at a young age. His mother died from breast cancer when he was just five. Seven years ago, his father called from Toronto to say he was dying of leukemia.

On the flight back home, Pukonen reflected on life’s brevity. He resolved to find a way to live without regrets by melding his love of adventure with his desire to celebrate and protect the natural environment.

“I combined everything into one project and that’s Routes of Change,” he said.

The registered non-profit society, based in Tofino, aims to use adventure to support people who are working to create a more sustainable future for the planet.

To that end, Pukonen hopes to raise $10 million on his 82,000-kilometre round-the-world trek and, along the way, partner with other small non-profit agencies that are working to build a healthy planet. He also intends to make a film or TV series about his adventures.

The entire project took six years to plan.

“It seemed really overwhelming,” he said. “It seemed like this insurmountable task, and then I realized that I just had to take that first step and start doing it.

“It really relates to, I think, the way people look at the planet right now. It seems like the little actions they do have no influence on the rest of the planet, but I’m proving that little actions can make a difference, and little steps can get you all the way around the planet.”

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