Pogo stick, Winnipeg.
To most people, it sounds like a bouncy part of Manitoba.
To Markus Pukonen, it’s a game plan – one leg of a motor-free trek around the world.
Over five years and 82,000 km, Pukonen plans to circle the globe by paddling, running, cycling, sailing, skateboarding, scootering and whatever other motor-free means he and his supporters can dream of.
Along the way, the Beach-born adventurer hopes to raise some $10 million for environmental causes through his own non-profit, Routes of Change.
“The goal is to use as many different modes as possible,” says Pukonen, speaking from his latest home in Tofino, B.C., where his most recent training included surfing every day.
After rowing around Vancouver Island, becoming the first person to paddleboard across the Georgia Strait, and joining a four-man attempt to row from Senegal to Florida, Pukonen has been building to this journey for years.
When he finally launched it on July 13, his 33rd birthday, Pukonen chose to start by walking the steps of the Silver Birch Avenue house where he was born.
Met by 50 friends and family down the street at Balmy Beach, Pukonen then stopped to say a few words by a memorial tree that was planted for his mother, who died of breast cancer when Pukonen was five. Six years ago, his family held a Viking-inspired ceremony at the same spot to honour his father, who died of acute myeloid leukemia.
“I could do this by myself, but that wouldn’t be very much fun,” said Pukonen by the tree, before leading everyone on a short walk and a dance down the boardwalk to Daft Punk’s Around the World and jumping into an eastbound canoe.
Speaking before the launch, Pukonen said it was actually a phone call from his dad that sparked the idea for Routes of Change. His dad had just learned about the leukemia, and doctors told him he had two weeks to live.
“It really made me focus on what my life priorities were,” said Pukonen, who was then working as a wildfire fighter in B.C.
In the coming years, he studied documentary film at Capilano University, and did the rowing and paddleboarding adventures that put him on Canadian Geographic’s top 100 explorers list – all with the idea of a bigger trek to support the environment.
Routes of Change has already pledged support for groups such as Clayoquot Action, the Pine Project, and Prevent Cancer Now, and Pukonen expects the list to grow. He is filming a daily video blog as he travels, and will also produce videos for the groups he supports.
“I feel like there’s so much at risk on this planet if we don’t start making changes right now,” said Pukonen, who has long been concerned about climate change.
“I don’t think it’s going to happen instantly – I hope not, because that would mean we’ve come to that tipping point where we have no other option.”
Joining Pukonen in a canoe for the first three weeks and for more stints in the summers ahead is Rein Tammemagi, a high school environmental science teacher who grew up with Pukonen in the Beach.
Besides paddling up the Trent-Severn waterway to Lake Huron this summer, Tammemagi said he looks forward to learning more about the groups Pukonen is working with, and passing on what he learns to his students at the YMCA Academy.
“I like to lead by example,” he said, smiling with a canoe paddle and sun hat on the beach.
“When you show you’re passionate about something, it does rub off.”
Whether his next jaunt with Pukonen is in Southeast Asia, north Africa, or the Argentina coast, Tammemagi is sure that he and anyone else who takes up Pukonen’s offer to join him is in for a memorable time.
“If anybody is out there who wants to go for a crazy adventure, believe me, Markus will take you on a crazy adventure,” he said, laughing. “There’s no question about that.”
To find out more about Routes of Change, including where in the world Pukonen is today, visit routesofchange.org.