SOURIS, PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND -- The speedometer read 140 km/h when I determined I could go faster than that. I hit 150, 160, pushed it to 165 for an exhilarating eight kilometres of joy riding that would surely cost me points, if not my license, in a jurisdiction other than Prince Edward Island.
On this smallest and least populated province, law enforcement appeared to me to be only a rumour. I did see one "police" car during my five-day stay, but its driver seemed to arrive on the scene only to be another one of the island's many ambassadors of kindness. Seeing me stopped at an intersection, awaiting the chance to make a left turn, the officer slowed his oncoming vehicle and waved me on, essentially permitting me to continue with my burning of rubber through his province's far eastern shore.
No one has ever accused me of ever driving too slowly, but that doesn't mean I am lead-footed behind the wheel. It's been more than 15 years since I was punished -- unfairly, of course -- with a speeding ticket and on rural roads I'm always cautious of deer, cyclists, oncoming traffic, or winding turns. Those concerns kept my foot off the gas for my first two days driving on PEI, but once I realized road hazards here are as likely to be found as a frown, I pressed more forcefully on the accelerator, grinning as if I was about to sneak a cookie while no one looked.
With a population of only 140,204, PEI has dozens of empty roads and some are as straight as an AA alumni gathering. On my second trip on Elmira Road, or route 16A, I gave myself permission to let it rip. I know of nowhere else where you can do so and still feel absolutely certain it's safe. Driving fast on a highway is not the same as on a country road with farmland, horses, and cattle going by in a blink. The potential of road hazards and speed traps are so prevalent in other parts of the country that you should never take the chance of going twice the speed limit.
Here, on this 12-kilometre route with a solid yellow line separating the two lanes, I was positive no danger was in sight. The trip was as thrilling as any amusement-park ride, and it left me with such a sensation that I wanted to do it again. So I did, hustling back to the south shore and then north again, adding dozens of kilometres to my trip that would surely make the rental-car company wonder where I'd been.
Pushing the Limits on a Visit to PEI
Am I condoning breaking the law? Am I encouraging you to book a trip to find your inner Villeneuve on one of PEI's lonely stretches of asphalt? I could be accused of that and maybe it's irresponsible to write this. (I'm sure someone will tsk-tsk and give me their opinion.) What I'm relating is an experience that is difficult for cautious drivers to find anywhere else. Visiting PEI blankets you in a feeling of freedom because there seems like so very little can go wrong here. It is Canada's least violent province, both in terms of number of incidents and ratio of violent crime-to-population. In the past six years, it has had one murder. Last year, there were 13 fatalities in motor-vehicle accidents; in 2007, there were just six. Beyond being safe, the island is also an escape from crowds, traffic, the bombardment of media, noise, and distraction. While you're driving along, you just may find that you've caught up with yourself and the aspects of life that deserve your focus.
And while you might wonder if being subversive on the road makes you an ugly visitor, you should know that this province -- the nation's "Cradle of Confederation" -- has many of us fooled. It's called the Gentle Island but there is a radical and pioneering element here that I discovered.
- At Basin Head Provincial Park, the No. 1 Beach in Canada, throngs of visitors hurl themselves off of the pier or the site's wooden bridge and into a canal, despite signs and warnings not to do so.
- The PEI Distillery is run by a fun-loving, church-going, same-sex couple from the United States nicknamed the Vodka Girls. The distillery produces vodka and gin that have won world competitions.
- Moonshine is such a significant part of the culture of PEI that recipes are passed down from generation to generation, and family and community gatherings include taste tests to see whose underground liquor is the best.
- Not everyone on the island has read or adores Anne of Green Gables.
- The culinary scene is booming and in many ways it is leading the nation in devotion to sustainable food and local farmers. Chefs, restaurant owners, and consumers are insisting that you know where your food comes from before you consume it; not enough of their peers across the country are brave enough to do the same.
- The Pearl Cafe, a favourite restaurant on PEI, recently featured an art show of nudes that ensured more than a few diners lingered over their desserts.
- Rumour is there is an underground barter economy on the island that helps people keep cash in their pockets.
- Mike Duffy was born and educated here.
So my fast driving is quite tame by PEI standards. No, the next episode of Breaking Bad won't be set on the island, but this isn't the innocuous, idyllic piece of paradise many of us think it to be. It's way more interesting than that.