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August 16, 1999

Muskoka Driving Tips

Everybody is quick to brag that we are a driving culture, something that was ensured by Canada's big open spaces, its complete lack of urban planning, and virtually nonexistent public transit systems. But for all the driving that Canadians do, it is truly amazing how few of them do it well. And nowhere is that more apparent than right here in Muskoka.

With hundreds of thousands of vacation residences and retirement homes up the whazoo, Muskoka has more blue-hairs per capita in July and August than St. Petersburg, Florida. This can make driving pretty frustrating as Lincoln Town Cars, Cadillac Sedan de Villes and Ford Crown Victorias get piloted around at speeds best described as glacial. And I don't complain about that merely because I, personally, have somewhere I'd like to get to - TODAY. It's just that the only thing sadder than seeing a leopard in a cage or a whale in a tank is seeing a Cadillac STS used as a walker. Luckily the Anti-Destination League are easy to spot - look for the puffy hairdo, the fedora, or the lack of any sort of visible head in the car. And if I may offer these guys a little advice: you're probably driving a little too slowly if people pulling Airstream trailers are passing you.

This is not to imply that all of the bad drivers up here are old guys. Most of the people I curse at for Motor Incompetence are well this side of prostate malfunction. So in their case it's not that they've forgotten how to drive - these people never knew how to drive in the first place. To them, the car is just a mobile Barqu-o-lounger that magically gets them from Point A to Point B without much driver interference. The maneuvers these people are capable of are truly astounding:

  • jamming on the brakes is par for the course up here. The driver is looking for a cottage, or looking for a garage sale, or just noticed a red squirrel on a log in the woods beside the road and thinks their urban-weenie kid should get acquainted with nature. And guess who's at fault if you rear-end someone who's locked all four wheels to avoid hitting a chipmunk?
  • and what do you do if you happen to go past the road you're looking for? If you're vacationing in Muskoka the answer is easy - you pin the brakes at the moment you realize your mistake and attempt a three point turn on a blind corner at the top of a hill. Apparently it makes perfect sense if you're driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee.
  • it's not just the stopping part that people aren't good at in Muskoka, either. There's a good number of people around here who'll brake simply because there's a turn in the road ahead. Not a sharp corner, mind you - a banked sweeping arc that you could run a NASCAR event through. And if there's a hill... well... everyone knows it's reckless to attempt to coast down a hill without riding the brake the whole way down. Those of you familiar with the highways in and around Muskoka will be acquainted with both level straightaways in the area so that gives you some idea of the number of braking opportunities these people are able to exploit. Want to make a million dollars? Come to Bracebridge and open a Midas Brake Shop. You'll work 80 hour weeks.
  • in direct contrast to the Anti-Destination League are the hyperactive time-is-money types who absolutely positively have to be there NOW. So they're chomping at the bit to pass you even though you're doing 90 kph in an 80 kph zone and they're willing to risk their life and yours to get in front of you - even though there are ten other cars in front of you all doing the same speed you are. This means they end up spending 30 minutes leapfrogging people all the way from Port Carling to Bracebridge only to end up beside you at the stoplight heading into town but hey - it was worth the aggravation, right?
  • speaking of speed demons, do yourself a favour and stay away from all land-lines leading to the Brewer's Retail around closing time - frantic campers whipping the last few strokes of combustion out of early eighties Chevettes have been known to come very close to cracking the land-speed record when they suddenly realize they only have a couple of two-fours of Canadian to get them through Sunday.
  • and then there's the car from hell. Usually a minivan. Puttering along, wandering all over the road oblivious to the world and traffic around it. It's not that the guy's a bad driver. Not usually. But today the Astro stinks like urine, the back seat is full of screaming kids, and he's getting chewed out by his wife for not having the guts to pull over and ask for directions. So little wonder that the driver is a little off his game - he's not even in the car. He's on a beach in the Bahamas right now being served an ice cold Beck's by Tyra Banks in a thong bikini.

If you actually CAN drive you should be warned that the O.P.P. (Ontario Provincial Police) are thicker than bugs on a bumper up here and eager to tip their hat to Muskoka's cash-cow tourist tax base by presenting you with your very own moving violation. And it'll be for a hefty sum, too. Most of the secondary highways in the Muskoka area have a posted speed limit of 80 kph which means that pretty much everyone does 90 kph. And that's fine by the O.P.P. But as you approach any given town, that speed limit drops to 60 kph and then 100 feet down the road it's lowered again to 50 kph. So ten seconds inattention will have you being clocked at 40 kph over the posted limit and therefore in for a ticket in excess of $200. Welcome to Port Carling. Have a nice day.

And finally - as much as I hate filling the tank when gas is 63.9 cents a litre it's a necessity if you're going to be driving the loop around Lake Muskoka at night. If the lake were a clock with Bracebridge at 11 and Gravenhurst at 3 there are no - count 'em ZERO - gas stations between 3 and 11 after 8 pm. And even during the day there are only two - one in Glen Orchard and one in Port Carling. When I was a kid you couldn't drive 5 miles around here without passing a gas station advertising 'dew worms'. Now all those stations are antique stores and you'd better have a gas gauge you can trust or you'll find yourself reenacting the Franklin Expedition with mosquitoes. So forget the ten buck top-up. That Expedition drinks more gas than you think. Fill it up. Relax. Enjoy your trip.

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