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A Metro ride to Montreal; Students blag their way across Atlantic.

Byline: Alastair Craig

FOR these North East students, a Metro ride into the unknown would end 3,000 miles away across the Atlantic.

Clare Atkinson and Soph Ryan were star performers in the annual jailbreak challenge, a mission to make it as far from Newcastle University as possible without paying a penny on transport.

Teams had 36 hours to travel on planes trains, buses and taxis anywhere in the world - as long as it cost absolutely nothing.

Clare, 20, and Soph, 19, began their epic fundraising feat by hopping on a Metro train from the city's Haymarket to Newcastle International Airport.

Hours earlier, a "friend of a friend" who has contacts at British Airways secured them free flights to London Heathrow. The girls had no idea what they would do next - until they charmed their way onto a flight to Montreal in Canada.

Armed with a letter from the university outlining the nature of the challenge, incredibly, they managed to put the Atlantic Ocean between them and their lecture halls. Clare, who is studying pharmacology, said: "It was a superb adventure.

"It's amazing how far you can get with a bit of sweet talking. It's often about who you know in these things and we've had some tremendous help.

"When we got on that Metro we never dreamed we'd make it to Canada. It's incredible."

They even managed to travel in style by winning an upgrade to BA business class, and after an eight-hour flight and virtually no luggage they walked through the exit of Montreal International Airport into a snowstorm. A waiting taxi took the pair into the city centre, thanks to a fellow passenger who agreed to share his cab. Soph, from Lanchester, County Durham, who is studying History of Art and English, said: "I was amazed by how generous people were along the trip. The cabin crew on our first flight from Newcastle allowed us to tell the passengers about the challenge, and they had a whip-round to collect pounds 86 for us in 15 minutes.

"Never in a million years did we think we'd make it so far. Some teams don't even make it out of the UK."

In this year's event, students collectively managed to travel more than 20,000 miles. And the 19 teams collected more than pounds 70,000 in sponsorship, which will be handed to the children's cancer charity Kidscan.

Clare and Soph had just hours to spare in Canada's second largest city before catching their return flight.

If they'd had more time to sight-see, they would have toured "the city of a hundred bell towers", as Montreal is renowned for its churches.

The Oratory is the largest church in Canada, with the second widest copper dome in the world after Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.

DESTINATION IS A MYSTERY - EVEN TO THOSE TAKING PART THE annual "jailbreak" challenge sees students attempt to travel as far away from Newcastle University as possible without paying a penny on transport.

Teams have 36 hours to reach their destination, and most students head off without any clue to where they may end up.

They must not spend their own money, but can hitch lifts and persuade companies to give them free accommodation, bus, train and plane tickets.

Teams send a picture back from a landmark at their end-point as proof of their arrival.

In September, Durham University's Tom Cox and Dave Binns hitchhiked all the way to Sydney after the billionaire tycoon Sir Richard Branson stepped in to help.

The 19-year-olds had signed up to travel as far away from Durham Prison as they could with no budget.

Tom and Dave wrote to businesses asking for donations, quietly expecting to end up at least as far as London. But then an email from Sir Richard's personal assistant arrived, informing them that the famous entrepreneur had bought them flights Down Under.

And less than two days later the pair were posing for pictures by Sydney Harbour.


THERE Soph Ryan in Montreal HITCHING A RIDE Clare Atkinson, left, and Soph Ryan from Newcastle University, who hitchhiked from Newcastle to Montreal in Canada to raise money for charity
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Feb 22, 2011
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