Sunday, May 24, 2009

Moving to Saskatoon

After I accepted the job offer from Steve, I started planning my move across the country to Saskatoon. I’d never lived in Saskatoon before, but a couple of my friends had been there for a year or two, and were happy to extol the virtues of the northern prairies. Kamil Juices was quite understanding when I discussed everything with them; they were unhappy that I was quitting, but knew why and when I’d be leaving.

I started planning the move by looking into various possessions-transport options. This took a few days, at the end of which I had discovered two very important facts. 1. It is illegal to transport alcohol between Canadian provinces, for any reason, including personal consumption. Yes, I know, pretty much everyone has done it, but this is why Canada Post, UPS, FedEx, and all of the moving companies will not carry booze between provinces. So I couldn’t use a mover, because I owned a large amount of wine that I wanted to take with me. 2. While there are a number of moving-truck rental companies, only one will rent a truck for a one-way move between Ontario and Saskatchewan. Several companies would do it within Ontario, or within half of the country (East or West), but only U-Haul would willingly allow me to drive a truck from Guelph to Saskatoon. There’s my plan, then.

I was figuring this stuff out in November, with a planned move date either just before or just after Christmas. Plans and schedules were discussed with various people for a while, and eventually I settled on leaving Guelph about a week before Christmas, driving all the way to Calgary but stopping to unload in Saskatoon, returning the truck, and having Christmas with my family in Calgary. This plan was partly based on the fact that my father was able to accompany me for the entire drive. He had some work in Ottawa just before my planned Guelph departure, and was able to fly to Toronto and catch a shuttle to Guelph the night before.

A map of my route, from Google Maps. The first suggestion from Google was the American route, crossing the border at Sarnia, driving straight through Chicago and Minneapolis/St. Paul, and entering Canada again south of Winnipeg. Foolishness, for at least 2 obvious reasons.

The day before my departure, a good friend of mine, who had been crucial in the High Arctic part of my summer of fieldwork, helped me pack up the truck. We got about ¾ of my stuff loaded in about an hour, including the all-important wine packing. I had about 160 bottles, most of it home-made (or made at Kamil Juices – did I mention the awesome employee discount?), but about ¼ of that was either commercial wine (most bottles destined for special occasions) or what I pretentiously call my “Proprietor’s Reserve”: 2 bottles out of each home batch set aside for posterity.

Packing the truck centred (and centered) on the Freezer of Irony. My freezer, a little chest model acquired from my sister by way of my aunt-and-uncle’s garage, was thoroughly defrosted and placed in the middle of the truck just behind the cabin. Into it was placed 3 cases (including socks around individual bottles) of my most precious wine, and then the remaining wine (14 cases total, 12 bottles per case) packed around that. Books and other bulky, heavy, insulating items were packed around the wine to provide further insurance against the upcoming freezing trip.

My father helped me pack up the last few things and clean my apartment, which was great, (thanks dad!) then we set off. We’d planned to be on the road by 10, and made it out of town by about 10:30, so not too bad. Highway conditions were clear and cold, and the traffic on the 401 was not horrible. It’s the 401, so of course we hit a few slow patches, but compared to some days I’ve driven that highway, nothing out of the ordinary.

Dad and I both enjoy driving, but get tired after several hours, so the workload was fine and evenly shared. I drove for a bit, we’d stop for a snack or gas or a meal, then he’d drive for a bit. The U-Haul truck we had was sporting Florida license plates (well, just the rear one – Florida requires only one plate per vehicle), but maintained a decent internal temperature and handled the blowing snow well. I really wish there was more leg room, more room in general in the cab, and cruise control, but oh well, at least the truck wasn’t very old.

Driving along Highway 17 along the north shore of Lake Superior.

The second night we stayed at Ignace, Ontario, the same town I had spent a night in during my summer of fieldwork. Not the same motel, though. That evening, after dinner just outside Thunder Bay, we decided to push on to the next small town, about an hour away. We didn’t realize until later, but the headlights were covered in frozen road grime, and once the sun went down I had great difficulty seeing the road ahead. Other cars would pass us and I would be jealous of their apparently brilliant lights, while I struggled along in the dark, mistakenly blaming Ford and U-Haul for the dim bulbs.

We stopped at a motel with a nice bright sign that suggested it was open. There was a note on the door, asking us to phone for the night-manager; no cars were present. We could see that there was somebody upstairs from the flickering lights (probably a television), but nobody answered when we knocked, and the phone number lead to an answering machine. Uh, OK, back on the road, I guess. In this part of the world, facilities are widely separated, we would not see another electric light (except on other vehicles) for more than an hour. I managed to clean off the headlights, though, which made a huge difference.

We encountered a similar situation at the first motel in Ignace – lights on, nobody home. Across the street was another motel, though, so we went there. This motel is also apparently the Greyhound Bus depot for Ignace, as there were 3 men standing just outside the front door, smoking. As my father went inside to book a room, they told us we should plug the truck in tonight, as it’s -31C. They didn’t say the minus, or the C; in these parts in winter, those are unnecessary, simply saying “it’s 31” is sufficient. Sadly, this Florida-registered truck lacked a block heater, we would have to take our chances.

Early the next morning, Dad sent me outside to see if the truck would start, he didn’t want to go through the trouble (and cold) of loading our suitcases only to have to wait for a tow-truck or something for a boost. Fortunately, the truck started, though not without protest. A strange high-pitched whining sound came out of the engine for the first 5 minutes or so, but it did start, so congratulations to the engineers at Ford. When we loaded our suitcases in the back, I could smell wine, but there was nothing we could do about it at this point so we continued on our way.

The only really nasty weather we met was when we were refuelling just outside Winnipeg. The temperature was somewhere below -30, and the wind howled between the pumps and parked cars at the highway-side station. The truck had an enormous fuel tank, probably 90 litres or something, so I was standing there getting sand-blasted by gritty snow for long enough to be unhappy about it. Fortunately, while it was very cold the entire trip, that was the only stop with so much wind. Only a few times in my life have I shivered inside every piece of warm clothing I own.

Highway 1 a few dozen kilometres east of Winnipeg. Not pictured: any altitude change or terrain relief of any kind at all.

We got in to Saskatoon just before noon, and found my friends’ house without major difficulty. They had thoughtfully left some refreshing beverages for us. Unloading the truck directly into the garage took less than an hour, after we’d found a grocery store and bought some food. Some of the wine boxes were stained, though everything was frozen solid so there were no drips. While my dad relaxed in the very pleasant sun-room upstairs, I set about dealing with my wine.

Of 160 bottles, approximately half had frozen solid and pushed out their corks. In most cases, the resulting wine spill was quite small; as the wine was forced out of the bottles by expansion, it froze solid itself, so only a little liquid actually escaped. Red wine is really messy, though, and I wanted to find out how much damage had been done. I wanted to thaw the frozen open bottles (still-closed bottles were not a concern), clean up the slush, and put them away somewhere I wouldn’t have to worry about them. I started by thawing them in the kitchen sink, but that filled up fairly rapidly. I moved to the bathtub, upstairs.

Allow me to repeat myself: these bottles were frozen solid. Not slushy, not a little ice, FROZEN SOLID. We’d had about 72 continuous hours of -30 C temperatures, and I think the wine had reached thermal equilibrium. Because of the alcohol content, wine freezes at around -9 C; at -30 it’s rock-hard. There’s so much negative thermal mass there that defrosting takes an injection of huge amounts of heat. At one point, I had placed around 60 bottles in the bathtub, and filled the tub with warm water to a depth of about 15 centimetres. I went away for a bit, and when I returned, rather than melting the contents of the bottles, the top 2 cm of the bathwater had frozen solid. Solid enough that by gripping a single bottle I could move the entire collection. I showed my father, and he laughed and said he didn’t think that was possible. I managed to free the bottles from their ice, and clean them up, but it took hours and hours, though of course most of that was just time spend waiting for heat to move around. I only lost 6 bottles to breakage, which was pretty amazing. Stupidly, I neglected to take any pictures. Sorry.

To accompany our pizza dinner, I thawed (in the sink, under running water) one bottle of Malbec, which is the ideal wine to go with pizza, according to Wine Spectator magazine. Despite having been frozen, the wine tasted fine. I now have a collection of iced wine (not ice wine).

The wine packed inside the freezer was undamaged. Hence the name for my freezer: the Freezer of Irony. The irony is my freezer prevented freezing. Yes, obvious I know, but I find it amusing.

The next day, we put our luggage into the back of the empty truck and drove to Calgary. The landscape between Saskatoon and Calgary is very flat, and during the depths of December, the best word to describe some parts was “bleak”.

We got to my parents’ home in the early evening, and we were able to return the truck that night so we wouldn’t have to worry about it. Driving it in Calgary was fun, actually. The driving culture in Calgary infamously includes “bigger is better” when it comes to interacting with other traffic. Merging in the U-Haul was enjoyable because I was in something bigger than all of the F350s and Dodge Ram Turbo Diesel pickups that infest the roads of Calgary. Drivers clearly used to intimidating other traffic were forced out of my way because I had several metres of length, about 1 metre of height, and perhaps 1000kg of dry weight advantage over them. The weird intersection to get into the U-Haul depot’s parking lot was less than fun, though.

The entire journey took 5 days. We reached Saskatoon on day 4, after about 36 hours on the road from Guelph. Calgary was 7 hours from Saskatoon, which seemed rather quick after the previous 1000-km days.


Wendy said...

I was looking around for some other small town bloggers and noticed you were talking about traveling and small towns. If you ever want to join us, there are a handful of us who do Small Town Snapshot Sunday. You might like it!

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Anonymous said...

Hey There!
I am moving to Saskatoon next month. I am driving just like yourself. Now- I am curious to know why you did not drive through the US?

TheBrummell said...

Hello Anonymous,

Welcome to Saskatoon!

I chose to avoid the US route because I was carrying alcohol, and I didn't want to worry about US customs deciding I was smuggling it into the 'States, nor Canadian customs deciding to remind me of the illegality of moving alcohol between provinces. There are no border checkpoints between Canadian provinces, so that wasn't a concern on the Canadian route.
The other reason was just that I had all of my stuff with me, and if somebody decided to search the truck it would have been a huge pain in the ass.

howardishere said...

Hi! Just finish reading your blog post on moving to Saskatoon! I believe your journey must had been fun. I am planning to moving from Toronto ON to Saskatoon next year, after I completed my degree at York! When my mom and me first came to Canada we actually landed on one of the villages in Saskatchewan: Climax. I kind of miss the atmosphere there.

How do you like Saskatoon so far? Is it similar to Guelph or Toronto?

For your trip how much money did you spend on gas? I have a 2001 Volvo S40 and I think I might just drive it over instead of shipping it.

Thank you so much for your time and I had a great time just by reading your blog post.

TheBrummell said...

Hi Howard,

It was a fun trip!

I can't remember how much was spent on fuel, but it was a lot - the moving truck was a thirsty beast. Your Volvo should do much better. It's about 3000km, almost all of that on reasonably level highways at cruising speeds, so whatever your normal highway fuel efficiency is will apply to the whole journey. The US Department of Energy says 29mgp for your car, or 12.3 km/L - over 3000 km that's around 240L of gasoline. I find my average fuel economy is higher than those estimates, so you might burn significantly less than that. Call it $300, very roughly, in fuel.

Saskatoon is not very similar to either Guelph or Toronto, at least as far as I'm concerned. It's the biggest city in Saskatchewan, but much smaller than actual big cities such as Toronto. It's bigger than Guelph - about 250 000 people compared to about 120 000, but more than that it's much more isolated than Guelph. And, the climate is different - we have proper winters here (most years).

I would definately recommend driving rather than shipping your car. Take your time and enjoy the trip, and welcome (pre-emptively) to Saskatoon!

Anonymous said...

hi if u didnt take any alcohol with u and u were not going for a scenic route... would u have gone the american route? I ask this because I will be doing the American route because its faster on google maps and I want to get to Saskatoon quickly. Thanks.

TheBrummell said...

Hi Anonymous,

If I wasn't carrying anything remotely legally challenging (alcohol, medicine, firearms/ammunition) then I would certainly consider the American route. Depending on where in Ontario you start from, going through Windsor/Detroit or Sault Ste. Marie can save 8 or 10 hours overall. Unless you're really unlucky, the border crossings should take no more than 1 hour each; if you get the timing right much less than that!

Newintoon said...

I just moved to Saskatoon last week from Whtby, Ontario because of my husbands job. How do you like it? I am not settled in yet but it seems like a nice city with more to offer than I thought. ( big small city)

TheBrummell said...

Hi Newintoon,

I like Saskatoon. It's either a small big city or a big small town, depending on your perspective. It's the biggest thing around, so it's got one-of-everything, but it's not very big in the grand scheme of things, so I haven't found problems with traffic jams or anything like that.

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I was looking around for some other small town bloggers and noticed you were talking about traveling and small towns. If you ever want to join us, there are a handful of us......

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