New Brunswick

Saint John musher plans epic journey home

Justin Allen plans 3,000-kilometre trek by dog sled, from northern Manitoba to New Brunswick

Justin Allen

Justin Allen is preparing to take a 3,000 kilometre journey home to Saint John from northern Manitoba by dog sled. (submitted by Justin Allen)

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A Saint John man who fell in love with dog sledding while living in northern Manitoba is ready to come home — and he plans to take the scenic route.

After spending the past five years training and racing sled dogs in Churchill, Justin Allen is planning his return to New Brunswick in January to start a business with his team of dogs.

But with no rail lines going into the small Manitoba community, Allen has to find a creative way to get his 12 dogs out of Churchill.

"You can't put them on the train, and you can't fly them out of here — it would cost a fortune — so in that spirit of adventure I thought, 'If I'm going out of here by dog team, I may as well go all the way.'"

A 3,000-kilometre journey home to New Brunswick by dog sled started as a lark, but the idea resonated with Allen.

churchill sled dogs

The dogs will be outfitted with jackets, booties and leggings to protect them from the elements. (Submitted by Justin Allen)

"It stuck with me, I felt this was something that was meant to happen," he said.

"It's not going to be a cheap trip, it's not going to be an easy trip, but I'm looking at it one day at a time, one run at a time and we will slowly make our way across."

The first half of the trip will follow winter roads in communities along Hudson Bay to the bottom of James Bay, where the team will cross into Quebec.

They will hit more populated areas as they venture farther south, where Allen will rely on snowmobile trails to get to New Brunswick.

Allen is hoping for snow but will be prepared for anything.

dog musher justin allen

Allen estimates it will cost $60,000 to run across the country with his dogs, from Churchill, Man., to New Brunswick. (Submitted by Justin Allen)

"If we run out of snow I'm going to switch off my sled and move to a wheeled rig, so they'll have a sled on wheels. We'll go over the land that way," he said.

"I have all the necessary safety equipment for the dogs. I'll take all precautions to keep them healthy and make sure they have a warm place to sleep.

"They have booties, I have lots of medical gear for them [so] if anything does happen, I'm well prepared to look after them."

Allen said the journey "far exceeds anything I've ever done," but he will have support in place. A truck will follow behind,  equipped with a trailer for sleeping, food, supplies and boxes for the dogs.

"So we can cuddle in and have a warm space to sleep," Allen said.

mushing map

Allen mapped out the journey he will take with his team of dogs, starting in January. (Submitted by Justin Allen)

They will also have a team with a snow machine to carve paths over some of the more rugged terrain and be there if the dogs run into trouble.

But Allen said the dogs are more than capable of handling the trek.

"These dogs are born to run. It's in their DNA. They come from a long line of Arctic breeds that are designed to live and travel in cold climates," Allen said.

"I have jackets and booties and leggings to help protect them … I pride myself on providing the best care and nurturing their love of running. They trust me to give them what they need to continue doing what they love to do."

Costly journey

The feat comes at a great expense. Allen launched a crowdfunding campaign and is looking for sponsorships to cover costs, which are estimated at around $60,000.

The money will go toward food for the team, footwear, bedding and fuel.

"It seems like a high number until you look into the fine detail of things," said Allen, who predicts the trip will take about 75 days.

"If you break it down, it's not a lot of money per day."

He also plans to stop in northern towns and small communities along the way to learn stories and traditions of dog sledding, and the role it has played over the years in people's lives.

"Today it's just a sport or hobby, but back in this country people used to use dogs as their livelihood and rely on them," Allen said.

"So we'll reach out and see if we can get people to come and share their stories, and with their permission, share it with the rest of Canada."

Allen plans to open a kennel and dog sledding business in Hatfield Point on Belleisle Bay. He hopes to arrive in New Brunswick by mid-April.

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