The Travelling Student – 4:30am

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 ten in the story of how Athabasca University has allowed me to create my own study abroad program.

In the first nine parts my childhood friend Matt and I left London, Ontario on a journey to Northern Quebec. Our contact in Quebec, whom Matt had met tree planting that summer in BC assured us we would have jobs when we arrived. After several surprises, a hitchhiker, and hours of crazy driving we arrived at camp in Longue- Rive. We were welcomed into the camp by friendly faces despite being the only English Canadians at the camp. We hit the sack early knowing our day would start at 4:30am the next morning.
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“Wake up you guys, its 4:40am” was the first thing I heard that morning. I struggled out of bed, took a five-minute shower, and headed over to the kitchen with Matt. Breakfast was already being served and eaten by several people. The food, like the meal the night before, was carb heavy and I was amazed at the amount some of the other workers were eating. Breakfast consisted of grits, pancakes, omelets, cereal, and fruit. One worker had a small mountain of grits on his plate measuring thirty centimeters high. I ate as much as I could knowing I would need much more energy than on an average day. Being a web developer and communications student I was definitely out of my element. I must say though, the pancakes were excellent, and Matt had brought a bottle of real maple syrup that made them even better.

While we ate, several people prepared their own lunches with the ingredients provided by the camp. My lunch consisted of two baloney sandwiches, three boiled eggs, an orange, and an apple. I would regret not bringing more just a few hours into the day.

After eating, we grabbed our equipment that we had prepared the night before and waited out front for our ride to be ready. A half hour of standing around was required before the van was ready. Several saws were being strapped to the roof of the large extended van. Always ready to help, Matt jumped onto the roof of the van as another worker handed him saw after saw. Once the equipment was packed several of us jumped into the back of the van.

Matt and another worker who had travelled to the work site from Vancouver talked about tree planting in BC. The main focus of their discussion was high ballers. A ?high baller? is a widely used term in tree planting, fruit picking, brush cutting, and any profession which pays by piece. A ?high baller? is someone who makes extraordinary amounts of money in a single day. While an average tree planter might expect to make $90-$150 a day, high-ballers will make $300-$700 in a single day. Legend has it that some high ballers have made up to $1000 in a single day. Of course being a high-baller has its downsides as many push their bodies to the limit and beyond.

They talked of different high ballers each with their own styles and tricks. For example one high-baller was described as going into ?demonic mode?. In which he zoned out and looked as if he had become possessed moving with intense speed striking the ground with his shovel repeatedly and quickly planting a tree over and over for the full day. A French Canadian girl described was said to eat pounds upon pounds of cottage cheese daily to fuel her intensity. Yet another high baller was said to wear even the most expensive pair of boots out in only a few weeks, because of this he would go to second hand stores and literally buy every shoe in the store which was his size.

As I listened to Matt and the other workers talk I looked outside to notice we were no longer on pavement. Instead, we were on a logging road going deeper into the forest?into a place only hunters and forestry workers would ever see. I checked Google Maps only to find that according to the map the road didn’t exist, and soon after I lost connection completely. The further we went into the forest the more nervous I grew. Would I have what it takes to do brush cutting? Would I even make fifty bucks that day? Would I learn the secrets of the brush cutting high ballers? Nothing was certain but I would soon find out.

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