NL Explorer: Getting off the Grid

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When Justin Barbour and his dog Saku trekked from Robinson to Cape Broyle in 2017 on a 68 day wilderness adventure, he decided to record it along the way.

“I had footage and I didn’t know where I was going with it and I had some interest. Some media found out and got in contact with me but they wanted to put the drama twist on it,” said the adventurer. “ I wanted it to be real and just about me out there. Not dramatizing things so I went with youtube and it’s been going well.”

The YouTube series, Man and Dog: Through Newfoundland Wild follows Barbour and Saku as they take on the elements for a 700km expedition across the island. The footage is taken with a GoPro and Barbour remains as disconnected as possible. He brings a satellite phone for small amounts of communication, and emergencies and he posts his coordinates on social media through an inreach.

“There is no cell service. That’s what I like about it, I like getting off the grid,” he said. “In the evening I send a private message to my girlfriend and my parents and let them know I am ok. If not, they would be worried to death. I am sure they are worried anyways but it helps lighten the load a bit for them.”

Big Lake on McPhayden
Submitted photo: Big Lake on McPhayden

On a later trip across Labrador, Barbour did find himself using his satellite phone for a rescue helicopter. What started off as a 1700km voyage from North West River to Hudson Bay ended prematurely after 1000 kms.

“I went with Saku again because I can’t find anyone foolish enough to go. I don’t wait around for anyone, I just go when I got to. I don’t mind going anywhere on my own. It was my first time in a helicopter actually. My body was worn down, I was out there for 83 days,” recalls the explorer. “That’s it, the lake froze up and it was no good for my canoe, I came to solid ice. It was getting cold but it’s still good fun.”

There have been risks along the way – some storms or rough patches, but  a capsize stands out in Barbour’s mind as one of the scariest moments throughout his many expeditions.

“There have been some situations, some hair raisers that were too close for comfort. I had an inflatable packraft. I been on river in rapids before but nothing had ever happened to me. I got through a couple rough sections but I got pushed off track and went the completely wrong way and I capsized the raft with a lot of gear in there. I blacked out and when I came up Saku was not there,” he remembers. “I had been pushed out quite a ways and I had to swim to shore while holding my raft. I got to land and still no sign of Saku. It was twenty minutes of looking for him and eventually I went to the end of the woods and he was there in the bushes. It was by far the scariest moment, the longest moment of my life. I love these trips but I hope to never be in a situation like that again. It’s a part of being out there and nature is not to be messed with.”

Submitted Photo: Behind Burnt Pond

Saku is a Cape Broyle water dog, a breed specific to the island who is made for swimming.

“He is living the dog’s dream, not every breed is cut out for this. He can move through the woods like a bullet. He’s a quick, agile dog. When I told the breeders about the trip and they said he will live one of the best lives that these dogs will live. He’s an outdoor dog and half the time, I am trying to keep up with him.”

A substitute teacher by day, Barbour’s interest peaked during his Phys Ed Degree that featured a course with canoeing.

“I was hooked. I had hiked and camped, but never canoed. It got me thinking, you can go in a canoe for a long ways if you want to carry it in between lakes and do portages. I like the challenges that are out there, everyday, it’s something new. Whether it’s to go up a river or carry my canoe up a crazy territory or having to paddle on a rough lake and you get that knot in your stomach and you don’t know how it’s going to turn out and you always hope it’s going go well and so far it’s been good.”

Screen Shot 2018-11-07 at 4.46.25 PM

Before Barbour took the woods, he researched and watched a lot of  real life survival series.  For those considering taking on the wild, Barbour suggests staying close to home in the beginning and starting off small to see how it goes.

“Be confident with basic skills. Be able to start a fire, pitch a tent and cut wood. If you don’t know how to do those, you won’t have a good experience. I started small and made sure I had basic skills. That’s all people need to do. Leave the phone in the bag, have a hike or paddle or snowshoe.”

If Barbour could only bring one tool, it would be an axe but he suggests also bringing along government issued maps, compasses, and waterproof matches or flint.

Once you get started, enjoying the simple parts of life can be more fulfilling than expected.

“It’s a great feeling of euphoria after you have been through something and you have a campsite in the evening with a beautiful sunset. It’s all good stuff. A really simple lifestyle can bring great satisfaction,” said Barbour. “If I were trying to prove anything, it’s that you have to put your mind to it. You can go after your wildest dreams, whatever it might be. If you put time and step outside your comfort zone. That is my motivation.”

Watch Barbour and Saku’s series Man and Dog 

Check out Barbour’s instagram @nlexplorer88

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