Nfld. & Labrador

'It was a wild ride': St. John's man and his dog complete 700-km wilderness trek

It's still a bit of a blur for Justin Barbour — returning to all the comforts of home after roughing it on a 700-kilometre trek through the rugged wilderness of Newfoundland — a journey that tested his willpower more than once.

Justin Barbour lost 20 pounds, dog Saku helped him through tough moments

Justin Barbour is all smiles greeting girlfriend Heather Oakley and their older dog Bear at the finish line in Cape Broyle. (Steph Malone/Facebook)

It's still a bit of a blur for Justin Barbour — returning to all the comforts of home after roughing it on a 700-kilometre trek through the rugged wilderness of Newfoundland — a journey that tested his willpower more than once. 

The adventure-loving teacher, who readily admits to having trouble sitting still, paddled up to the wharf in Cape Broyle on the Avalon Peninsula's southern shore on Sunday, 68 days after leaving Robinson's on the west coast of Newfoundland.

The beginning: about one kilometre into the trek in Robinson's. (Heather Oakley)

"It was an experience of a lifetime … I'm just back now and trying to take it all in, you know. It's a little overwhelming and I find myself doing a lot of reflecting on my trip," said Barbour.

The logistics

Starting April 19 meant dealing with full-on winter conditions for the first part of the journey, strapping on snowshoes while pulling a sled full of gear. 

Barbour decided to take along a sled to pull gear about a week before the trip because of all the snow on the west coast. (Justin Barbour)

"It turned out to be my favourite part of the trip. I know it was cold but I don't mind winter camping," he said. "I've camped out in Labrador in –30 C temperatures in a tent and sleeping bag, so I mean the  –15 or 20 out there didn't feel too bad to me."

Changing weather conditions presented some challenges. There were points where it was too mild to snowshoe without sinking, but still too icy to raft. And whenever safety became an issue, he stuck to walking on woods roads or transmission lines.

"I did 150 kilometres of trails and roads of the 700 because some lakes weren't frozen enough to walk on, but too icy to paddle. The 550 others were off trail, and I had four checkpoints for supplies."

Barbour and Saku navigating a large marshy area in a remote part of central Newfoundland. (Justin Barbour)

The winter gear was finally ditched at Conne River, where he abandoned the worn-out sled for a raft. The game plan from there included bushwhacking and finding animal trails to make the going a bit easier whenever possible.

Canine companion

By his side for every step of the trek was the energetic Saku, who pulled his own weight along the way and then some. The young Cape Shore water dog often carried his own backpack filled with a collapsible bowl and food. 

Saku lounging in the Long Range Mountains. (Justin Barbour)
"He got a bit of a sore paw at the first checkpoint around the Burgeo Highway, nothing serious. I had cream, I had all the right medications. Once we left Burgeo he was fine and never had a problem for the remaining 600 kilometres as a 10-month-old dog carrying 15 pounds at some times."
I had to dig pretty deep in the tank, and Saku was there, he was great for morale and I got through some of the tough moments.- Justin Barbour

While snowshoeing and sledding through mountains was the "most unbelievable part," there were some low points along the way where he considered packing it in.

"There was a half a dozen moments where I was like, 'I'm done with it, this is enough, I'm out of here,' but to me that was part of the appeal of the trip: in those situations, how am I going to motivate myself to continue on and get out of that rut that I was in?" said Barbour.

Barbour says nothing comes easy in the bush, from starting the fire to inflating the raft in the morning, but it suits him to be constantly moving. (Justin Barbour)

"It's difficult once you're out there and you don't have the power of the internet or music or someone else to motivate you; it comes from within.

"I had to dig pretty deep in the tank, and Saku was there. He was great for morale, and I got through some of the tough moments."

Justin Barbour caught 61 trout over the course of the 68 day trek. (Justin Barbour)

Barbour caught 61 trout along the way to supplement the dried food he carried, such as beef jerky and granola, but still lost almost 20 pounds on the trip.

Before and after shots of Barbour and Saku at CBC in St. John's. He's 20 pounds lighter, but the beard is bigger. (Maggie Gillis/CBC)

Paddling up to the wharf in Cape Broyle on June 25, Barbour was greeted by a cheering group of family and friends.

Both Barbour and Saku wore GoPro cameras during the expedition, and he's planning to make a documentary about the experience.

With files from the St. John's and Corner Brook morning shows