Man and dog walking from NWR to Hudson Bay
As Justin Barbour was paddling and hiking the 700 kilometres across Newfoundland last spring — sating his wanderlust and passion for the less-than-ordinary adventure in the process — the next adventure was already taking shape in the back of his mind.
On July 27, the 30-year-old from Bauline and his faithful Cape Shore waterdog, Saku, set off on their next adventure: a roughly 1,700-kilometre trek across the Labrador Peninsula from North West River all the way to the shores of Hudson Bay in northern Quebec.
“For me now, it’s almost like an artist painting a picture,” says Barbour, a teacher by trade.
“Someone who starts painting, they paint one, they paint another, then they paint another and usually they want a bigger picture, a better picture. I just wanted to step it up. Something bigger to get that fulfilment and to get out there and see more untouched areas.”
That fulfilment, he says, comes not only from his own experiences in the wild, but also from inspiring others to seek out adventure in the natural world and seeing them reap the rewards the same way he has.
Since last year’s 68-day expedition from Robinsons on the west coast all the way to Cape Broyle on the Avalon Peninsula, Barbour has offered public presentations on his trip and says his inbox is always flooded with emails from those he’s inspired, either seeking advice for their own trip or just to let him know how his story inspired them to write their own.
“We’re unstoppable if we want to put the time in and do these things. We really are,” Barbour insists. “It does take a lot of hard work, but once you realize that, start putting it in and see results, it’s like a little drip feed of fulfilment and inspiration to keep you going.”
Go west, young man
Barbour originally thought about taking the route from the west heading east, but he quickly realized that it would be nearly impossible to tackle Great Whale River — Canada’s 36th largest river at 724 kilometres — which feeds into Hudson Bay.
Instead, he’ll leave North West River and head up Grand Lake, connect with the Naskaupi River, followed by the Red Wine River, before hitting Smallwood Reservoir, the 10th largest body of water in Canada. (This part of the route is similar to the one Leonidas Hubbard intended to take during his 1903 attempt to find a new route into Labrador to find Lake Michikamau, now part of the reservoir.)
“I’ll be able to paddle a lot, but I’m also going to have to watch the winds because they can pick up on a lake like that in no time and it can be like a raging storm and maybe only 20- to 30-kilometre-per-hour winds,” he says.
After about 180 kilometres across Smallwood, Barbour will head northwest on the Ashuanipi River toward Menihek Lake. From there, he’ll head up McPhayden River into Quebec and toward the Caniapiscau Reservoir, which eventually connects with the Great Whale and will lead Barbour to the Cree and Inuit villages of Kuujjuarapik and Whapmagootsui in Quebec.
At an average pace of about 19 1/2 kilometres per day, Barbour estimates he’ll be able to cover the route in 86 days, which will see him finish on Oct. 20.
“If I go down Smallwood and the winds are good, I can cover 50 kilometres a day in the canoe, but there could be days I’m going down a river where I may only do four or five.”
Given that he’ll finish his trip at a latitude and time of year that tends to welcome winter earlier than most parts of Canada, the biggest risk is a freezeup. That said, he’s not overly concerned, as the Great Whale River is unlikely to freeze over and it represents the last 20 to 25 days of his trip.
“With regards to physical and mental preparation and being on the land, I think last year was the perfect warm-up. I faced most things that I’ll deal with up there. The flies might be a little thicker, but that’s just a part of it. I don’t think anyone has ever died from a fly attack.”
As for threats from other fauna in the Labrador wild, Barbour will again bring along a shotgun and bear bangers (a type of noise flare), but his greatest safety measure is Saku, who will have marked his territory around their campsites and will be aware of any unwanted visitors long before Barbour is aware of them.
But not all visitors are necessarily unwanted.
“I’d like to see wolves, I’d like to see bears — it’s fun, it’s part of the experience of being out there and just living in the wild.”
And once again, Barbour will bring along a GPS and satellite phone, allowing him to send his co-ordinates to Twitter and Facebook every day. Meanwhile, friends and family back home will update his Instagram account.
“They’ll be able to click on a link and see exactly where I’m to, and I have a pilot who I have lined up and if anything happens he can help me out.”
Last year’s odyssey also served to educate Barbour’s choices when it came to gear and supplies for this year.
You might think that a 1,700-kilometre journey would require more than double what was needed for a 700- kilometre journey, but with the exception of food, he has actually lightened his load.
He’s pared down the electronic devices used to document the adventure, opted for a lighter-weight axe and saw, and even reduced the amount of clothing. Even underwear.
“Really, a pair of underwear can last you a few weeks when you rinse them off in the river,” he says. “I don’t need to have a full wardrobe with me.”
As for food, 2017’s passage taught him that he needed to be cognizant of the balance between calories ingested and calories burned. As such, this year’s food — both his and Saku’s, the latter generously supplied by a New Brunswick company called Inukshuk Professional Dog Food — offers more calories for less weight.
On top of 25 pounds worth of food he’ll take at the outset, Barbour will have three stages set up along the way with varying amounts of food and supplies to see him through to the end.
“I’m going to catch lots of fish, and once hunting opens up in September, I’ll be able to get small game and ducks and geese. I’m probably going to end up having more food than I need.”
And while Barbour was able to complete last year’s voyage using a durable inflatable raft, he needed something a little more robust this time around, so he’s opted for a 15-foot, 56pound canoe. First, because Saku is much bigger this year, and second, because there will be more time and distance between supply drops, so he will carry more food and gear.
“Third reason would be, I’m on a lake like Smallwood Reservoir, having a fully loaded rubber dingy, which is like a bobber, I’m not going to make great time paddling.”
Solo but well supported
The costs for a trip of this nature add up quickly when you factor in gear, food and transportation. Thankfully, Barbour’s heightened profile following last year’s successful quest helped him earn some sponsorship money.
Chief among them was a sizable chunk of change and equipment through the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s Expeditions Program, a partnership with Mountain Equipment Co-Op.
“Their big mandate is making Canada better known to Canadians and the rest of the world, and it fits perfectly with my thing of making Newfoundland and Labrador better known to the rest of Canada and the world, as well as inspiring other people to get outside, appreciate the outdoors, and respect it.”
As one of only a handful of expeditions to receive funding this year, Barbour will carry a Royal Canadian Geographical Society flag with him along the way and share his story with the organization on his return.
“That’s a big honour,” he says. “They’ve done a lot of expeditions and taken that flag to a lot of places that very few people have been.”
Locally, Capital Subaru came on board with a sizable donation, and St. John’s-based Seaformatics System Inc. supplied him with one of their portable Waterlily hydroelectric turbines.
That’ll come in handy when it comes to charging devices used to document the trip like he did with the cross-Newfoundland pilgrimage. Barbour is working with a production company in Ontario, but says it will likely end up being made it into a four- to six-part YouTube series and hopefully be shown at a film festival.
Over the winter, in between his day job as a teacher and planning for this trip, he also wrote a book about the first trek and recently submitted a manuscript. Moreover, a local author has penned a children’s books entitled “Saku’s Great Adventure,” which will tell the story from the canine perspective. Both books are expected to be released in 2019.
For those keen to track man and dog’s upcoming adventure, follow Barbour and Saku on Twitter and Instagram at @ NLExplorer 88 and at facebook. com/NLExplorer.
“It does take a lot of hard work, but once you realize that, start putting it in and see results, it’s like a little drip feed of fulfilment and inspiration to keep you going.”
Having already conquered the interior of Newfoundland in the spring of 2017, Justin Barbour and Saku, his Cape Shore waterdog, are ready for their next big adventure: a nearly 1,700-kilometre trek across the Labrador Peninsula that starts today.