Thirty-three days in a canoe from Labrador's Churchill Falls to Quebec's George River. It is about a 600-kilometre straight line, but Rod Cole and Ken Holloway clocked many more kilometres on their canoe by the time the pair navigated the winding river route through the north of Labrador and Quebec.

What started out as two-canoe teams of four ended up being cut in half.

Having been with Cole and Holloway for the majority of their trip, two other boaters —Gary Paul and Gerry Robinson— ran into trouble just days from their finish mark.

The four were attempting to retrace the historic tracks of past explorers Dillon Wallace and Leonidas Hubbard, who made a ill-fated journey in 1903 to try and map Labrador's interior. [Hubbard starved to death during the journey, which Wallace later recounted in the best-seller The Lure of the Labrador Wild.] 

Just days from finishing, Paul and Robinson had flipped their canoe and were in trouble.

Churchill Falls to George River

Rod Cole and Ken Holloway where the only two of the four initial paddlers to finish the 33 day canoe voyage from Churchill Falls, Labrador to George River, Quebec. Friends Gary Paul and Gerry Robinson had to be helicoptered out just days before the finish mark. (CBC)

"They were supposed to take the Naskopi but they took the wrong path. That's how they ended up in so much trouble," recalled Holloway.

But all four where in fact in trouble, the river giving them a run for their money.

Cole said once him and Holloway secured themselves on the river, they realized that although Paul and Robinson had been taken further down stream, they were otherwise alright.

Pushing on

During the tense moments Paul and Robinson had lost the supplies they needed to continue on, so they radioed a helicopter to get them out.

Once a helicopter arrived, Cole and Holloway were faced with the same question of whether or not they should continue.

"My mind was screaming, 'get on the helicopter,'" said Cole.

"It was sad in a sense spend[ing] 27 days with these guys and now they [were] gone," said Cole.

"So close, yet so far. [Paul and Robinson] were two days from the finish but unfortunately they couldn't continue," he said.

But Cole and Holloway decided that they would continue.

"We had the big dilemma of whether we were going to or not. Family wanted us out, but two or three days from the finish we said we [would] go on," Holloway said.

By this point, however, Cole and Holloway also had to deal with a loss of supplies. Though better off than their two buddies who had to be helicoptered out, Holloway was only able to retrieve from the water his tent and sleeping gear.

Holloway said he even lost about $12,000 worth of camera gear into the river.

"I mean, I carried that [camera] everywhere," said Holloway

"I carried it up the side of a mountain. Everywhere we went, I was lugging a suitcase, which is very hard to carry in the woods."

The end finally in sight

Thirty-three days after they started, having decided to muster on Cole and Holloway were finally nearing their finish mark.

'Once we got there we had a little celebration, had a cigar' - Rod Cole

"We had to beat the tides," said Holloway. "We were paddling like mad men to get across, and the wind is blowing in our face and we were actually laughing at the point that [the wind] was going to blow in our face right to the beach."

"Once we got there we had a little celebration, had a cigar," Cole laughed.

"Then we look around and there is nobody in eyesight," said Holloway.

Having reached their finish mark, Cole and Holloway next walked until they said they ran into some people who then gave them a ride to a nearby hotel.

As for the canoe that got them as far as it did. Cole and Holloway said they traded it for some fish.

With files from Chris Ensing