The Travelling Student – Cliffs and Kippers

My name is Philip Kirkbride. I’m a college graduate from Ontario studying at AU. I’ve always wanted to do an exchange program or study abroad but never found the right time to do so. This is part eight in the story of how Athabasca University has allowed me to create my own study abroad program. In part seven we drove along Route 138 connecting Quebec City to the Cote du Nord region of Quebec . Matt’s crazy driving almost gave me a heart attack but in the end ensured we were ahead of schedule. After having a homemade beer outside the car we approached the ferry guard.

The guard walked up to the car as Matt rolled down his window.


Matt replied with a “Bonjour” with enough of an English accent that the guard simply smiled, realizing we knew almost no French, and waved us along saying “straight ahead.”

Within minutes the ferry was packed with transport trucks and cars. Many of the cars seemed to be travelers like us, though I think most of them were from other parts of Quebec heading north for vacation. We saw other travelers getting out of their cars and standing along the rail. We did the same. The view was incredible, we went up to the second level of the ferry where a Quebec flag proudly blew in the wind. The water looked clean, and on the other side of the river there was a strip of rocky cliffs. It looked like the next segment of our ride would be hilly, to say the least.

After about ten minutes we were nearly across. We got back into our car and, as the gates of the ferry opened, we drove off when it was our turn. We expected to pay a toll or fee to cross so we were happy when we drove off without having to pay.

After about an hour of uneventful driving Matt’s stomach started to growl. I mentioned in the last article that I have a rule for myself where I try to limit each meal to under ten dollars. Well, this can be challenging enough in itself, but it’s even more challenging with Matt. Matt, unlike me, will simply go into the first restaurant he sees and order whatever he feels like without ever considering price. Often this leads to bills of fifty dollars or more.

This has always been Matt’s style. He works extremely hard and makes good money but will spend that money just as quickly as he earns it. In grade nine he already had a job making twenty dollars an hour roofing. While most of my classmates were scraping together change to make value menu purchases, Matt went all out, ordering mammoth style meals of amazing quality and leaving everyone else in awe.

Not much had changed since then. Knowing this I suggested we stop at a General Store that was coming up before he could suggest a restaurant. He agreed, not surprisingly, saying he was hungry. The general store was a combination of variety store and grocery store. I imagine it was one of the few, if not the only, stores in the small town of a thousand or two.

As we walked in I got the impression that we were the only English people to have walked into this store in months. Matt and I talked about what we should get, other customers looked at us like we were rare specimens that they would surely mention to their families that night over dinner. We loaded up on a few loaves of bread, peanut butter, and kipper. I’d never had kipper before but Matt explained it was amazingly good canned fish. At $2.20 a can I couldn’t complain and threw ten cans into our cart.

Given that we already got odd looks going into the General Store, I imagine they must have thought we were something special when, before getting into our car that was packed completely full with saws and equipment, we each popped open a can of kipper and ate it with our hands. I enjoyed it, though it’s a flavour I don’t think many would appreciate. I happily got into the car knowing I’d far exceeded the budget expectations. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, “student life can be sad,” but we really did enjoy those kippers.

With only two hours to go until we reached camp we sped up the steep cliffs. They were probably the steepest roads I’ve ever driven on. At certain points the car sounded like it was going to fail and start rolling backwards down the hill. It took an hour of going uphill before we were finally on flat ground again. Or so I thought. Then we turned a corner and started going down a hill just as steep. The hill was so steep and long that had Matt not pressed on the brake I’m sure we would have hit speeds of 200km per hour.

As it was, Matt let the car get up to 150km per hour before we approached another car in front of us and he was forced to slow down. This was a huge relief for me, as I wasn’t in the mood to be severely injured in a car crash. There were several small turns as we went down the hill that led to rows upon rows of barrels filled with water (about ten by twenty five). These were for transport trucks or cars who might lose control or have their brakes fail to gracefully crash into. And by gracefully, I mean sustaining only minor injuries instead of sure death.

After a few minutes Matt pulled around the car in front of us and proceeded to speed down the hill. We approached a huge turn, still downhill. There were several warning signs cautioning us to slow down. Matt slowed down slightly but we were still speeding. “Slow down!” I yelled at him. He laughed and I leaned my body in the opposite direction of the turn and braced myself for a crash.