A 60-year-old Canadian man arrived at the port of Piraeus in Greece on Tuesday after having kayaked alone from Oslo, Norway in order to promote a campaign that rewards acts of peace, kindness and humanity.
Mark Fuhrmann, a hobby kayaker from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and who now lives in Norway, paddled for 183 days through seas, rivers and the channels of 15 European countries on a 5,400 kilometre journey that began in April.
“I thought about quitting every day, and – because every day I did not know what was around the corner,” said Fuhrmann. “The challenges are the personal, which are physical and mental, and every morning when I started to paddle I did not know what was going to happen that day.”
The father of three adult children, who said he is now 15 kilograms lighter than when he started, said he passed through many perils, including battling harsh winds and waves, and getting lost.
At one point he was taken to hospital after suffering hypothermia when his kayak capsized and he had to be rescued by the Swedish coast guard.
Sometimes, he said, he needed assistance to proceed, and there were pauses along the way.
“I saw a wave, and I said, ‘I can handle that wave,’ and I paddled a bit more and now I am like a rubber duck in a washing machine,” said Fuhrmann. “I paddled further and it was a big wave and I decided I maybe should retreat, but it was too late – a wave of around three or four metres hit me, and I capsized and I could not get back into my kayak. That was the first time since kayaking that I could not get back in.”
Most of the time he slept alone in a pitched tent, unless locals welcomed him into their homes, or even boats, to sleep.
He battled with loneliness, and said he thought about quitting every day.
“It was extremely lonely, often I was paddling through large centres, and I thought, does anybody see me? Does anybody care?” said Fuhrmann. “And I thought isn’t that what it is like in society? There are so many silent people who are doing great things for other people and no one sees them, they get no recognition.”
Fuhrmann travelled to countries including Denmark, Germany, France, Italy, Albania, Croatia, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
He chose Athens to end his journey in recognition of Greece’s efforts to help tens of thousands of migrants.
As founder of the humanitarian project, “Piece Prize”, Fuhrmann found ‘silent heroes’ in various cities – citizens who carried out acts of kindness towards others in their community.
He found them through local schools and organizations and handed out a monetary prize provided by himself and private donors.
Fuhrmann, who lost his wife to cancer six years ago, said he felt society has lost its sense of family and he wanted to send a message that small acts of kindness can go a long way.