The gradual decline in temperatures would have been hint enough. But autumn really wanted to let me know it had arrived in Québec. Upon waking up each morning and then again upon returning from class each day this past week I've found a few fallen leaves scattered about the floor of my room. I finally shut the window for good a few days ago--not to keep the leaves out but rather because it's now too cold to let the outside air blow in.
The seasons have been temperamental about passing. Walking to class wearing a T-shirt early one morning a few days ago was no problem. But stepping outside when afternoon sessions finished that same day I found it too chilly to be outdoors without a coat on. It was raining steadily, too.
The unanticpated lousy weather that day led me into something massive and unexpected. The cold and wet were my final impetus to explore a layer of campus I'd casually wondered about before. Over the months I've been roaming the Université Laval schoolgrounds I'd seen covered stairwells leading down to no obvious place set in several locations. Initially I'd presumed they were underpasses connecting one side of a roadway to the other but also suspected that some might lead directly into campus buildings as well. Could there be a way to get out of the building that afternoon without getting rained on? I stepped back inside the hall where my classes are held and took the stairs down. I went down from the first floor to a level 0. I continued down another flight to find a level 00.
The area looked just how I'd expect the sub-basement of some university building to look. There were exposed pipes, disused lockers, and storage cages filled with chairs and academic bric-a-brac. After turning into a couple dead-ends I finally found what I guessed might exist underneath. A yellow stripe painted along the cement floor of the building's lowest level gave subtle guidance toward a greater direction. Following the yellow stripe and occasional signs with arrows next to the sole word "couloir" led me out of the building sub-basement and into a greater series of passageways. Here, the signs and arrows were coupled with the names of all the other university buildings. I realized this wasn't just a way for me to make it across the road without getting wet that afternoon. This was an extensive subterranean network beneath the entire university that could have me pop up in any building across campus without stepping outside.
Among the signs posted along the walls were several directing me to my destination, PEPS, the university gym. Despite the foul weather that afternoon not many other people were alongside me walking through the underground corridors. These tunnels were clearly far from abandoned, though. Every so often an electric cart driven by a maintenance employee would overtake me on my left. Colorful murals created by students of various departments covered more walls than not. The majority were painted recently--dated sometime over the past couple years. There were even illuminated advertisements posted at some of the more central junctions.
I made it all the way across campus from my classroom to PEPS without stepping outside. By the time my swim was over the rain had let up enough that I didn't mind walking back home above ground. I'd rather be outside in the fresh air whenever possible. But, I know that as autumn gives way to winter I'll be making more of my daily commute through this couloir system.
I'm sure that if I had been previously aware of their existence from some campus map or brochure I wouldn't find these tunnels so compelling. But, stumbling into a colossal set of passageways running just beneath my feet that I'd never known about makes me feel like a kid on a treasure hunt.
I've already mapped out enough of the network to know that I can cover half the distance between my home and my class entirely underground. But, just how far do these corridors run? The kid in me would like to believe that I'll find some trap door set in front of a secret route leading straight into my home if I explore extensively enough.