Teacher, author and adventurer, Bauline native Justin Barbour talks navigating NL’s ruggedness with his loving canine companion, Saku the Cape Shore water dog
What do you need when you venture out into the rugged wilderness of Newfoundland and Labrador? Good footwear, surely. Provisions to keep ya’ from starvin’ sure! A solid backpack and a top-of-the-line tent, and in the case of teacher-turned-outdoorsman Justin Barbour, man’s best friend.
Bauline native Barbour has spent the better part of the past five years traversing across the majestic great outdoors of Newfoundland and Labrador. His trusty Cape Shore water dog Saku has been there every step of the way.
Bug for adventure
“I grew up in Bauline, just outside of St. John’s. Like a lot of people I was out in rural Newfoundland building cabins and trouting, riding bikes through the woods,” Barbour said of his upbringing.
A talented sports prospect, Barbour would play Junior A hockey in New Brunswick before moving back home to St. John’s to pursue a Physical Education degree from Memorial University. It was there that his bug for adventure truly took hold.
“We were taking a canoing course where we went out for two nights and learned canoing skills and some basic survival stuff. And that was it, that was the hook for me,” Barbour recalls.
“That was my first time in a canoe. I was twenty three years old in 2011. From there I started reading books on people who went on great expeditions to the Poles and through the Amazon Jungle and Cross Canada. I just wanted to plan my own.”
Barbour started small, embarking on half day expeditions, then full, three days and working his way up to more ambitious treks. In April 2017, Barbour and Saku would journey from Robinsons on the west coast to Cape Broyle, some 700 kilometres away. The excursion was the subject of Barbour’s adventure tell-all, Man and Dog Through the Newfoundland Wilderness and the illustrated companion Saku’s Great Newfoundland Adventure, which was written by Marie-Beth Wright with breathtaking illustrations from Corey Majeau.
Barbour admits lengthier quests present some unexpected challenges, both physical and emotional, though it can be said that’s part of the draw.
“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I did a trip before that about 120 kilometres, left Trepassey and went through the Avalon wilderness area and came out close to Holyrood. So that was 14 days on my own and it was a bit of hard going”. To do five times that distance with his nexy adventure?” Barbour says he had put himself in situations before, but never really quite knew what he’d be up against. Still, he always liked a challenge.
“There were certainly some question marks, but I liked that aspect, too,” he adds.
“Some of the route I had planned out, but other parts I wasn’t quite sure what way I was going to take when I got there, but I think for me part of it is I’m kind of outside my comfort zone. I don’t know what will happen next and there’s a lot of unknown question marks. And that’s a big driving factor for me on these trips.”
Barbour would follow up his 700 km trek with an even larger jaunt, traversing 1,000 km across Labrador by foot and canoe into Northern Quebec, documenting his movements every step of the way.
A devoted companion
In Saku, Barbour found himself a devoted companion that not only serves as a source of emotional comfort, but provides a source of inspiration to carry on when the going gets tough, which can be frequent in the oftentimes daunting Newfoundland wilderness.
“It’s a companion,” he said of his relationship with Saku. “It’s been human’s best friend for a long, long time. It’s hard to get people to sign up for these things, commitments, life, everything else. So once I figured it was just going to be me and this became an obsession of my own kind of thing, I said I’m going to take man’s best friend with me. And I got Saku. It’s contagious energy with a dog. I mean, they’re nonstop. They’re entertainment. You know how entertaining dogs are. Dogs have unconditional love. They show that compassion.
“There’s just times when I had a rough day the day before. Maybe I’m wearing down and there was times I was tired and didn’t necessarily want to hop out of the tent in the morning. But to see Saku hop up and shoot out like a bullet, that was seriously motivation for me to get up and be like, all right, if he can do it I can do it. It’s just like having a friend. I’m not there on my own. I never feel alone having Saku there. I wouldn’t do it without him.”
A teacher by trade, Barbour has found a second passion in logging and documenting his treks across the island, both in the written sense and on his growing social medias.
Barbour and his ever-loyal canine companion have inspired a new wave of would-be adventurers to get out and get active, embracing the very best of what Newfoundland and Labrador has to offer while pushing ourselves to new limits.
“Being a teacher teaching for four or five years, I mean, that was a joy of mine. Now with this it’s the same thing, inspiring someone to get out,” he said. “I’ve got people saying they’ve been depressed for many years and other mental health issues, too and watching the videos and seeing the hope I had and how happy I was out there and through the experience that it changed their life. So there’s so many different angles and so many messages that I get almost on a daily basis that it just continues to drive me to do this. It’s a really rewarding feeling.”
And he’s bitten good and proper by the adventure bug. We can expect the epic treks of he and the impossibly lovable Saku to continue in the future.
“I just love it now. I can’t stop,” he laughs. “It’s just about getting out there and putting myself in situations. One trip might be bigger then next year, it might be smaller. It’s just about getting out there and seeing as much as I can. I just like being challenged. I love the natural experiences and am really fascinated by it all. I’m just going to keep going now, man. And there’s no looking back.”
Justin Barbour’s Man and Dog and the companion Saku’s Great Newfoundland Adventure are available in stores and online now. Follow Barbour on Facebook at The Newfoundland Explorer and online at newfoundlandexplorer.com