Hail Mary, full of grace… this was the prayer that was running through my mind at times during our trip up to Petawawa, Ontario on a summer night. It was a Friday night and we were heading out east on Highway 401 and then up Highway 41 in dim light and then pitch dark.
This route is not so scary when the sun is setting and you are dodging crazy drivers on Highway 401 in between Greater Napanee. However, once you hit the unlit stretch of Highway 41, that’s then you get some white-knuckle turns, curves and complete darkness.
South of Eganville, there are curvy, winding roads. The highway passes through the beautiful Bonnechere Valley and Madawska River areas. It was through this region that we were constantly turning, going up hills and hitting huge blind curves in the dark.
We had pitch blackness with only the reflectors lighting up the guardrails, guiding us along. This area has few soft shoulders to use to stop. Opportunities to pass are few and far in between, due to the hilly and curvy roads. In addition to this, you get to drive for quite some time before you see any signs of civilization.
Watch Out For Animals And Drivers In A Rush
It’s not only the black night that keeps your eyes peeled to the road, but also the fear of deer or moose that may jump up and slam into your car. The signs warn you every few kilometres.
We saw a wolf that popped up from a ditch close to the highway and a red fox who tried to make a run across the road. He smartly changed his mind and most likely saved himself from certain death.
The worst you encounter on these country roads is the pesky tailgater that isn’t gutsy enough to pass you because it’s too dark. With their lights blinding you, this type of driver will drive up so close behind your car that you can see his/her license plate. But because they can’t see you giving them the middle finger all that well, there’s not much you can do.
As we preferred to arrive safely rather than quickly at our destination, we were driving the speed limit of 80 km/hour (see the above description of the road conditions to understand why!). However, the people behind us were definitely in a rush.
At one point we had a row of eight cars and trucks playing follow the leader. For them, it was beneficial to follow us, as we were the brave leader in the front dealing with the darkness and giving direction in terms of curves and hills.
Tips For A Safe Drive At Night
- Dark country roads on a Friday night are not the time for you to show off how fast you can get to the cottage. Take your time, go the speed limit and arrive safely to enjoy a beautiful Saturday morning.
- To get rid of the tailgater or a conga line of cars behind you, go the speed limit. There’s nothing more annoying than a car in front of you that follows the rules of the road when you are trying to get to that cottage of yours ASAP! So, if you have a tailgater, slow down and at the next safe spot to pass, he/she will finally get fed up with your slow but steady pace and pass you.
- Use small towns as an opportunity to let the tailgater/conga line pass you. Slow down when you start to see a town in the distance and pull into a driveway or store parking lot. You will at least get a reprieve for a little while before the next “must-get-to-the-cottage-ASAP!” driver starts tailgating you.
- If you haven’t had the opportunity to nap during the day and are driving at night, or have a tendency to be narcoleptic, do make sure to stop by a coffee shop to fuel up on caffeine. Pace yourself in drinking that coffee as a steady stream of caffeine into your system will keep you buzzing most of the route. As an alternate, make sure whoever is in the car with you is willing and able to drive in the dark as well. Switch half-way through the trip. Luckily in Canada we have so many Tim Horton’s coffee shops that it’s easy to get our coffee fix in almost every big town and service stop before hitting the coffee shop-deficient country roads and highways.
- Listen to music, but be careful of your genre selection. While relaxing music may help with your stress level on your white-knuckle drive, it may also put you to sleep. We were listening to mostly alternative and rock music with a catchy beat. The Canadian band, Sam Roberts Band and Australia’s The Cat Empire – each with many upbeat tunes – kept us going.
What are your tips for a safe drive to cottage country? Have you had any scary experiences during your trips?