Most people see retirement as a time to take it easy, but 65-year-old Mark Fuhrmann opted to take on the biggest trip of his life: a 10,500-kilometre kayak journey spanning the eastern portion of Canada and the United States.
Fuhrmann, a retired businessman and a writer known by the pen name Mark Ervin, was born in Atikokan, Ontario, but he’s spent much of his life living in Norway. He returned to Canada in June to start his trip in Halifax before travelling through the St. Lawrence Seaway and into the Rideau and Trent Severn canals. He’s about a third of the way into the “Greater Loop,” which will bring him down to the Gulf of Mexico and back up to Halifax. He plans to complete his trip next June, a year from when he started, with the goal of kayaking 40 kilometres a day.
“This trip has been extremely challenging, more challenging than any kayak trip I’ve had,” Fuhrmann said. “The east coast of Nova Scotia was treacherous, the St. Lawrence, that was very, very demanding, and the Rideau Canal and the Trent Severn Waterway, they were just easy and nice.”
However, the respite was short-lived. After passing through Port Severn and Honey Harbour, Fuhrmann now faces the winds and shoals of Georgian Bay and the North Channel. Even with his experience travelling 5,900 kilometres by kayak on a 2018 trip from Oslo to Athens, the conditions on his North American excursion have proven to be some of the toughest he’s ever experienced.
Fuhrmann feels hopeful about the rest of his trip despite the growing physical and psychological pressure. Along with finishing a route never before completed on a kayak, he hopes to raise 100,000 euros for Captains Without Borders and Doctors Without Borders.
After working in communications for the maritime industry, Fuhrmann chose Captains Without Borders in order to support their goal of improving diversity in shipping and seafaring. He chose Doctors Without Borders in honour of his late wife, his soulmate, who worked as a physician. With those causes as part of his motivation, he’s been able to persevere.
“The best part of the trip is knowing that you can actually go further than you thought,” he said. “That’s the number one thing for me is that I’ve been able to go forward despite my fears, despite not knowing what’s ahead of me, despite not knowing what tomorrow is going to be like. I can still move forward.”
In addition to raising money, Fuhrmann hopes to spread his message of “reversing the bad.” He encourages people to take whatever setbacks and hardships they’ve faced and do what they can to create something positive out of it.
Whether it’s connecting with others who have faced the same pain or creating some good to counteract the bad, the people he’s met have shared their stories of reversing the bad, and that’s not all they’ve shared. Supporters have made signs, showed up for selfies, and offered supplies and sustenance.
He’s shared many meals as well as a beer here and there with the folks he’s met during long days on the water. Some people have let him pitch a tent on their lawns while others have offered their own homes and beds. He’s been able to reconnect with long-lost cousins and even celebrated his 65th birthday with a group in Fenelon Falls.
“I’ve met people from all walks of life,” Fuhrmann said. “I’ve stayed in a trailer park. I’ve stayed in what we would call mansions. People open up their homes, and we’re all the same.”
He’s a firm believer in small acts of kindness and the impact they can have, and the people he’s encountered along the way have exemplified that belief. He hopes to continue making those connections as he heads toward the colder months ahead.
The only place he’s been able to explore so far on the trip was Quebec City, so even though he’s not even halfway through his journey, he’s already making plans to return.
“I would like to come back to Ontario and visit some of the places I’ve been to and possibly some of the people I’ve met along the way,” he said.
He’s “overdosed on the beauty of Ontario,” especially Georgian Bay. The spectacular views remind him of his home in Norway, so when he makes his way back for a visit, Muskoka is undoubtedly on the list. Next time, though, he may forego the kayak and opt for a car.