Leo and I made the big move to New Brunswick this week, finally joining Claire in the Sackville rental house. I can’t believe the week’s almost over; it’s been a whirlwind.

Thanks to the help of friends and family, Leo and I left Toronto on Monday morning, right on schedule, with a trailerful of belongings. We learned a few things on the way:

  • In-car DVD players are the best thing for kids since… Hm. To be honest, I can’t think of anything legal or ethical that keeps a 3-year-old as quiet in the car during long trips.
  • Don’t tow a trailer heavier than your vehicle’s maximum specified rating. Really.
  • Give your kid cheap, easy-to-put-on headphones to use while watching DVDs. Not your expensive audiophile-grade ones.
  • Stop for gas and bathroom breaks more often than you feel like.
  • Though waterproof windbreaker pants are a pretty clever way of keeping your kid dry after he’s peed on his seat, they also do a surprisingly good job of channeling all of the pee from the next accident into his shoes and onto the DVD collection sitting on the floor.

Overall, I have to say it was a good trip, as long as it was. Leo was a trooper. In fairness to him, he only had the two aforementioned pee issues on the whole trip.

DVD Player = Godsend

Our Monday night stop was in Ste-Foy, just west of Quebec City, near the bridge to the south shore. We stayed at the Hôtel Gouverneurs, which had a very reasonable CAA room rate, and a decent restaurant. It also had thin walls. Thankfully Leo was asleep by the time our neighbors –ahem– “soared into an infinity of delight”.

Tuesday was spent on the road again. The terrain gets hilly once you head south from Rivière du Loup, and driving becomes a challenge when you’ve got a manual-transmission car that’s too small for the trailer it’s towing. (It’s not my fault; I reserved a smaller trailer, but U-Haul messed up and could only get the next size up after making me wait in their store for over two hours with Leo.)

We couldn’t go over 100 km/h lest the trailer start to wag, which, an owner’s manual might say, adversely affects the vehicle’s handling. Put a bit less euphemistically, at 101 km/h and up, you’re finding religion again as the rig picks new and exciting places to explore on its own. This makes the use of cruise control essential so that you don’t inadvertently exceed the evil 100K mark. Trouble is, on uphill stretches, the car can’t hold top gear and you have to reset your cruise control every time you downshift. On descending inclines, cruise control doesn’t do anything to slow the car, so you still have to downshift and feather the brakes to manage your speed. It was an extremely engaging driving experience, despite the fact that we were the slowest vehicle on the road.

At one point, an 18-wheeler passed us on an uphill stretch after my attention had lapsed a moment and I didn’t downshift in time to keep our little rig from slowing to 80 km/h. Normally, if I dropped it down to third gear, there wasn’t a hill we encountered where we couldn’t hold the 98 km/h I had the cruise set for. Anyway, I passed the truck on the next uphill stretch, and he passed me once more on the other side of the hill. I figured out that his truck had a governor set for 100 km/h. On level stretches, we were equal. But while he could go faster going down hills without losing control (as I would), his truck didn’t have the horsepower to pull his load up the hills and hold 100. Ultimately, our average speed was very close, so we leapfrogged back and forth several times as I passed him going up hills, and then he passed me going down. He eventually pulled away as we approached sea level. It was kinda like that early Spielberg movie, “The Duel”, except thankfully the trucker seemed to hold no ill will towards us.

We arrived in Sackville late in the evening, and promptly fell asleep. Poor Claire was suffering from a bad cold, so she hit the sack early too.


With the dawning Wednesday sun, I awoke to a gorgeous view of the Tantramar marshes out the master bedroom. The house is on a hill, and the sunrise is simply spectacular. Claire, regrettably, was feeling miserable, so stayed in bed and called in sick.

I went out to begin backing the heavy trailer up the narrow driveway. A bit of a “How It Works” overview is necessary to appreciate the next couple hours of my day:

The U-Haul surge brake system works by applying the trailer brakes when there’s pressure between the trailer tongue and the towing vehicle. When you’re driving forward and hit the brakes, the trailer’s momentum creates that pressure, and applies its brakes. It’s a simple, yet effective way of keeping your car out of the ditch when you need to stop. But when you’re backing the trailer up a hill, the resulting pressure on the tongue also applies the brakes. This isn’t a serious problem when you have a low-geared full-sized pickup truck with a torquey V8, but it’s a show stopper with a little 4-cylinder city SUV with a tall reverse gear. When pungent clutch smoke began blowing into the car through the air vents, I had had enough of this idiotic engineering oversight.

I pulled out my toolkit and set upon mechanically altering the surge brake mechanism to disable it while I finished maneuvering the trailer into place. (Don’t worry, U-Haul, I put it back together when I was done. I’ll send you the bill for the clutch and my time.)

The rest of the day was spent unloading the trailer and schlepping boxes up stairs. Our kind landlady, who lives in the basement apartment of the house we rent, offered to entertain Leo while I worked. She’s apparently much better at it than I am, but this was perfect as Claire continued to sleep her cold off and I got the boxes in from outside. When Leo’s naptime arrived, we put him to bed, and I crashed on a futon mattress that I had dropped on the living room floor.

A couple of hours later, we got Leo’s lion costume onto him and went trick-or-treating. Although we only got to about 15 houses, his little bucket overflowed early and Claire was stuffing my pockets with those little chip bags that get handed out at Hallowe’en. The neighbors all seemed nice, but relatively indifferent to the newly-arrived Torontonian family.

Trick or treat!

We got home, cleared the candy for anything weird. (Nothing. Not even those hard sticky little malt candies that extract your teeth.) Leo picked a favorite, got hyper from it, went to bed. Sleep came after a while for all of us.

Today, Claire went to work and I played Mr. Mom. More unpacking, cooking, cleaning, entertaining Leo. No dishwasher at the new place. I politely declined to talk religion with some nice Bible-toting folks who rang the doorbell. Frankly, I don’t know yet if they’re the majority around here, so I took more time with them than I may have with their Etobicokian counterparts.

Leo and I then drove to Amherst, NS, which has the nearest shopping mall, and bought a present for the landlady’s grandson’s birthday party. Then, we made our way to the Sackville Co-Op grocery and stocked up on food. More schlepping and unpacking, then we had to go to the party. It was nice to meet all the people. Riley, the birthday boy, seemed to have a great time. His dad, David, showed me his giant fish tank and his cool Traxxas Revo remote-controlled truck. I’m no so much into the aquarium hobby, fascinating as it is, but I may start dropping pre-Christmas hints to Claire about the R/C truck.

And so here I am, “tip-tapping”, as Claire calls it, on the couch in front of the TV and next to my lovely wife. I should point out that she also has a notebook computer on her lap right now. Every now and then she takes a break to phone someone. Our friend Colin arrives tomorrow and will forever hold the distinction of being our first Ontarian visitor in NB.

The New Brunswick adventure is just beginning, and I’ll keep you posted.