Photos courtesy Markus Pukonen

Markus Pukonen has always had a taste for adventure. The former Capilano University documentary film student has fought forest fires in B.C., backpacked around Latin America, paddle-boarded across the Georgia Strait and navigated the Atlantic in a rowboat—but his most ambitious undertaking has only just begun.

On July 13 this year, Markus loaded up a canoe and pushed off from the bank of Lake Ontario to begin a five-year journey that will take him around the world without a motor.

That’s right, using whatever means available to him—be it a bike, boat or pogo stick—he is circumnavigating the globe to raise $10 million (or more) for grassroots organizations on an expedition aptly named Routes of Change.

“I am basically using my adventures as a way to market people and organizations who are doing amazing things and could use more support,” says Markus.

An idea takes “route”

The idea came to him on a plane. It was 2008 and he was on his way home to Toronto to spend time with his father who had just been diagnosed with leukemia. The difficult news inspired him to reexamine his life and think seriously about what he wanted to accomplish.


Markus had come to B.C. nine years earlier for university. But after one year in a general arts degree, he realized he wasn’t ready to be a student and went out to see the world instead. Over the next eight years, Markus spent his summers fighting fires and planting trees in the Canadian Rockies and then spent his winter months travelling. He reckons he has visited nearly every Latin America country.

But at that moment, flying home to be with his family, he found himself wanting to do more.

“Life can be short and I was feeling that I wasn’t living up to my potential,” says Markus. “I thought I could do a lot more for me, for my family and for the planet.”

So when he returned to Vancouver, Markus committed himself to his new project. His goal was to cross the globe for a good cause and create a documentary about his experiences along the way. To get started, he enrolled in Capilano U’s one-year documentary certificate program. The intensive, hands-on curriculum was exactly what he was looking for.

Testing the waters

Although he was confident about his idea, there was still a lot standing in the way of making it a reality. Pulling off Routes of Change would be no small feat. “I basically didn’t know where to begin,” says Markus. “I didn’t have a lot of experience with filmmaking or expeditions.”

So to test his project, Markus decided to paddle board across the Georgia Strait. He partnered with the Georgia Strait Alliance and used the journey to bring attention to the environmental issues threatening B.C.’s coastal ecosystems.

The expedition was a success and Markus became the first person to cross the Strait on a stand-up paddleboard.

Photo: Sarah Dombrose

From there, he began researching other methods of human-powered transportation and came across Oar Northwest—a Seattle-based rowing team who use adventure expeditions to educate communities about the environment and conduct scientific research.

Markus participated in three adventures with Oar Northwest, each more extraordinary than the one before. First, he joined a four-man crew to circumnavigate Vancouver Island. Next, he and three others rowed across the Atlantic on a 73-day voyage from Senegal to Miami. His last trip, in 2014, took him all the way down the Mississippi River from source to sea.

Markus filmed each expedition, at the same time gaining invaluable experience in oceanography, navigation and emergency preparedness—especially important since he plans to sail across the ocean during his Routes of Change expedition.

The adventure begins  

With these experiences under his belt, it was time to set his sights on his own goal. “I gave myself four months and decided I’m going to do it this summer no matter what,” says Markus.

And that’s exactly what he did.

Now two months into his journey, he has already crossed Lake Superior and is currently speeding towards Winnipeg on a recumbent hand-bike borrowed from a man he met on his travels.

Day 80: Markus visited Mine Centre School, Ontario on his recumbent bike this week.

If all goes according to plan, the 80,000 km route will take him across six continents, two oceans and countless countries using everything from a hand-glider in the Himalayas to a pogo stick in Winnipeg.

And with each day comes a new experience. Markus has already canoed alongside a herd of caribou, looked a black bear in the eye and steered his way through a thunderstorm. Guided by only two rules—no deadlines and no motors—Markus is eager to embrace all the opportunities that come his way.

“I want to be flexible with the way that I travel, because I don’t know how it’s going to unfold or who I am going to meet, says Markus. “I want to be open to work with organizations and do school presentations.”

But while education and awareness are at the heart of this wild adventure, his biggest message is one of hope. “There’s no problem or challenge too big facing the human race,” says Markus. “It’s just a matter of taking that first step.”

Day 15: Presenting at Camp Kawartha near Peterborough, Ontario.

And with each step he takes, he hopes to inspire another to find their passion and sense of purpose. In fact, he says that his long days of travel are filled with thoughts of gratitude.

“It’s amazing—I can’t believe I’m finally doing exactly what I want to be doing,” Markus says. “I’m living my dream.”

Submitted by Marketing & Communications, written by Natalie Walters

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Helping students reach their fullest potential as agents of change and lifelong, active global citizens is a fundamental goal at Capilano U. That’s why Capilano University is proud to be the exclusive post-secondary education partner of We Day Vancouver. This partnership is one example of the university’s commitment to educating, engaging and empowering students. The energy and great work of We Day doesn’t have to end at high school graduation. The culture of changemaking is fostered and built into many Capilano programs and initiatives.

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