Nfld. & Labrador

Extreme outdoorsman steps out of the wilderness to put pen to paper

Never the type to shy away from a challenge, Newfoundland adventurer Justin Barbour is putting the finishing touches on a book about his provincial expeditions.

You may know Justin Barbour from his cross-province expeditions

Justin Barbour and his dog, Saku, along Labrador's Naskaupi River. (The Newfoundland Explorer/Facebook)

Never the type to shy away from a challenge, Newfoundland adventurer Justin Barbour is putting the finishing touches on a book about his provincial expeditions.

I've never found anything that I enjoyed enough to write about.- Justin Barbour

Home from an 83-day voyage in Labrador, Barbour is now finishing a manuscript for Flanker Press about his trans-Newfoundland journey in 2017. He says his canine companion, Saku, is also getting in on the action, publishing a children's book — with a little human help.

Both are set to publish next year, according to Flanker Press.

"I've never found anything that I enjoyed enough to write about," he said. "But since I've started doing this stuff, it's something that even as I write, I feel like I'm back out there on the trip." 

Barbour's expedition this year — which had him canoe and hike west from North West River in Labrador — was his second major trip in two years. He took a trip across Newfoundland in 2017, totalling 700 kilometres.

Barbour made it as far as Réservoir de Caniapiscau, in Quebec, before arranging for a helicopter to pick him up. Barbour said it was difficult to quit the journey, as he felt fine physically, but with winter setting in, it was becoming impossible to navigate the rivers and lakes. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Though he had to cut his most recent journey short, before reaching his intended destination, Barbour said he's proud of what he's accomplished.

I can't capture it all by camera.- Justin Barbour

He's maintained followers on his social media accounts by posting updates on his trips, and now he's putting pen to paper to create a fuller account.

"For me, to get it all out there, and to have something to always remember that I can look back on, I kinda wanted to put it down on paper," he said in an interview in his home. "And really, you know, describe how I felt at certain moments, how I thought Saku felt, to reveal more about what happened."

"I document these trips by camera … but I think, with the book — a lot of things happened on that trip last year that I can't describe it, I can't capture it all by camera."

Life to its fullest

Barbour said he hopes people who read his book, or who hear his journey, are inspired to push themselves in their own lives.

That feeling of uncertainty and excitement is what makes the outdoor expeditions worthwhile, he said.

"When times get tough, sometimes I get a knot in my stomach, you know? I don't know how it's going to turn out," he said. "But when I end up doing, or getting through that challenge, it's a great feeling of excitement. It's kind of hard for me to describe."

"I think it's — we grow as people."

The adventurer has slowly built up his tolerance and experience, moving from shorter trips — like an Avalon Peninsula expedition in 2015 — to longer ones, and he still gets that jolt of excitement at the beginning of each expedition.

"When I left North West River, I wasn't — you know, there was question marks about how I felt about throwing myself out there and going to the situation."

Man's best friend

Saku, Barbour's Cape Shore water dog, will be the subject of Saku's Great Newfoundland Adventure, which will be written by Marie-Beth Wright

It's fitting that both man and dog are publishing books, Barbour says, as they've become inseparable since their journey in Labrador. Saku also followed Barbour through the trip across Newfoundland.

"He's been there for the two big ones, and I think it would have been a lot different without him," Barbour said. "Can't manage to go to far in the house without him following me around." 

Now back in his home in Grand Falls-Windsor, Barbour has turned his attention to writing a book on his 2017 expedition, and making a video series about his most recent trip to Labrador. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

In his other life — though Barbour says he sometimes feels like the wilderness is closer to the "real world" — Barbour is a substitute teacher.

He said he got turned onto the wilderness, and wilderness expeditions, after taking a canoe trip as part of his physical education degree program.

When times get tough, sometimes I get a knot in my stomach, you know?- Justin Barbour

"I was kinda hooked after I got back," he said. "I got into just watching documentaries, and reading books on people, you know, going across the Amazon jungle. A Norwegian who went across Canada by dog sled and canoe, and just a lot of crazy trips like that. And just inspired me to go out and do my own."

His teaching career, and the summers off, give him a little more flexibility to plan and take such long trips.

He says planning is the biggest challenge. And while he's hoping to some day return to Labrador to finish what he started, right now he's got his eye on getting back into a routine.

"It's a little more dull in the house. You know, you don't wake up and you're not hearing the rush of the river, or the crash of the waves, or the wind, or the birds in the morning," he said.

"Felt almost bored there for a bit. It's different when you can wake up and open your door, and see the sun rise, and, you know, just see an untouched landscape for miles and miles. But now that I've been back I make a pretty easy transition." 

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About the Author

Garrett Barry


Garrett Barry is a CBC reporter based in Gander.


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