Epic trek

Man and dog walk­ing from NWR to Hud­son Bay

The Labradorian - - Front Page - BY KENN OLIVER kenn.oliver@thetele­gram.com Twit­ter: ken­no­liver79

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.”

Kit wis­dom

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.”

Justin Barbour


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.

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