'They're my family': New Brunswick man starts dog sled trek from Churchill to East Coast

When he moved to Churchill six years ago Justin Allen fell head over heels for dog sledding and now that he’s moving back home to New Brunswick, there was only one way he wanted make the trip. He’s going by dog sled.

Justin Allen and his 12 Alaskan huskies left Churchill Monday

Justin Allen has started a 3,000 kilometre journey home to New Brunswick from northern Manitoba by dog sled. (Submitted by Justin Allen)

When he moved to Churchill six years ago Justin Allen fell head over heels for dog sledding and now that he's moving back home to New Brunswick, there was only one way he wanted make the trip.

He's going by dog sled.

Allen and his team of 12 Alaskan huskies left Churchill on the first leg of their epic 3,000-kilometre trek Monday afternoon.

"I've always been a person who likes new experiences, I like to try new things and see what's out there in the world, and this was just one of those things," Allen told CBC News over the phone Saturday from Fox Lake Cree Nation, Man., where he and the dogs had stopped for a rest after travelling just over 250 km.

"It's beautiful, I mean, oh my goodness, we had two nights under the Northern Lights and it's just crisp, beautiful air, and the quiet of being in the bush, I mean, it was absolutely beautiful.

"It's a lot of work and, you know, and we're a little tired, but it's just been great so far."

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

Allen, who worked for a business that runs dog sledding tours while he lived in Churchill, started mushing himself just over five years ago. He says his passion for the dogs and the history and culture of dog sledding led him to decide to make the trip.

He also says the sport sometimes gets a bad rap, a perception he wants to help change through his journey.

"It's been under attack with some saying that dog mushers abuse their dogs and that the whole dog sledding culture is cruel to the animals," he said. "This is an opportunity and I want to showcase this from a positive perspective… and give people the chance to witness firsthand something that the dogs love to do."

'They're my best friends'

Allen says the dogs — which he has raised from pups — will get massages twice a day and he'll also be inspecting their feet, bones and joints daily to make sure they're doing well.

"As well I'm regulating the amount of work that I'm asking them to do, we're keeping our runs short and fun — we're not overworking them," he said. "These dogs, you know they're my family, they're my best friends."

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

Allen hopes for snow the whole trip but has a sled with wheels just in case. (Submitted by Justin Allen)

He's hoping for snow but is prepared for anything — he's got a sled with wheels just in case.

There's also a three-person support crew following along behind Allen and the dogs in a truck equipped with a trailer for sleeping, food, supplies and individual boxes for the dogs.

And those dogs have "top-of-the-line dog jackets" to stay warm during the trip and Allen says he's brought along "a ridiculous amount" of booties to protect their feet.

"Basically what I carry in my sled is 90 per cent for the dogs and 10 per cent for me," he said.

Spreading his love of mushing

Allen expects the trip to take eight to 10 weeks.

"A lot of that we've included time for weather, we've included some down time for complications — you know things come up, we get a little behind — and I also want to make sure that I've got lots of days of rest," he said. "It's important for those dogs … I'm not just driving my dogs the whole way here as fast as I can.

"We're taking our sweet time and we're making it fun."

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

Once he arrives in New Brunswick Allen plans on starting a business with his team of dogs to let others from his home province experience dog sledding.

"You build such a great bond with your dogs when you're working and you're being physically active together," he said. "I think that that's a working relationship a lot of people and their dogs could really benefit from."

With files from Cameron MacLean and Sarah Trainor