Most gearheads know strange things can happen when two project cars sit side by each in a garage. Several “what if?” scenarios begin to play one’s head like an incessant Salvation Army tambourine. Could that engine work in the other car? What if I welded both ends together? Why am I sleeping on the couch again?
Aside from being kicked out of the bed chamber, your author experienced similar questions a few years ago. For once, it didn’t involve ill-advised engine swaps. What it did involve was a calendar and an old-fashioned paper map.
Science wonks will know that every year, on or around June 20th, the summer solstice brings that year’s longest day in terms of daytime hours. The actual longest day on the East Coast is either the twenty-four hour period before the Victoria Day long weekend or the day before deer season. Take your pick.
Hand-in-hand with the longest day? You guessed it: the shortest night. That evening’s hours between dusk and dawn are scarcest of any date listed shown in the calendar resting on your author’s battered desk. A quick Google search revealed this solstice would provide about seven hours of darkness.
Quickly, an idea fused together like that dipthong in the name of Elon Musk’s new kid: why not try to drive from one side of Nova Scotia to the other on the shortest night of the year?
After all, it’s about 700 kilometres from one of the province’s most westerly points to one of its most easterly. Can a Buick beat the sunrise? We were determined to find out.
Cape Forchu sits on a spit of land extending out like a tentacle from Nova Scotia’s southwest tip. Locals call the Cape’s lighthouse ‘The Apple Core’ for reasons that are blindingly obvious once you see the thing. Movie producers in Hollywood simply call it a great place to film, using it as the setting for a flick starring the likes of Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson.
We called it the Cape-to-Cape Challenge, with a plan to drive from Cape Forchu to the Low Point Lighthouse on the eastern rim of Cape Breton. Google was a few furlongs off its distance estimate, with the odometer on our car ringing up 735km by the time we breathed the salty Atlantic air for the second time that trip.
Right. The car. Buick showrooms are full to the gunwales with crossovers and SUVs, from the pint-sized Encore to the jumbo Enclave. Positioned in the middle is the Envision, an all-wheel drive new entrant into the red hot compact luxury crossover segment. Sized to target competitors like the Lincoln Corsair, the Buick is offered in a quartet of trims with standard all-wheel drive.
We’d love to say the sun winked down below the horizon at Cape Forchu, signaling the start of my trek. The pea-soup fog hanging in the air made that impossible but, knowing the time of sunset, we left the lighthouse in Envision’s rearview mirror at precisely 9:10pm.
The first few clicks were spent at an excruciating crawl, covering a narrow strip of pavement across Yarmouth Bar on what is technically Route 304 but known to locals as John’s Cove. The Buick’s infotainment screen served me a map via Apple CarPlay, promising a destination where the sun would rise at 5:09am.
This entry-level tester was slathered with $495 worth of Bronze Metallic paint and furnished with a good list of standard equipment. Heated front seats, a hands-free power tailgate, dual climate control, and GM’s 4G LTE wifi service are all along for the ride at this price point. Further up the food chain, leather seats and tri-zone climate control appear.
Digby and its famous scallops emerged and faded into the darkness like an AM radio station.
Rolling up to Windsor junction, a choice presented itself. Should we stay on the highway, dipping down to Halifax before heading north, or hang a left onto a sinewy rural road that cuts through the countryside? With the clock sweeping past midnight, we bet the lower-speed country roads would be devoid of plodding tractors.
To the hubtown, then, and my planned fuel stop in Truro. Hitting the turn signal brought forth a deep tick-tock sound, as if there were a grandfather clock buried in the dashboard under a blanket. The quick splash of fuel was barely necessary, as the Envision’s 65.5L fuel tank assured that I could make it clear across the rest of Nova Scotia without further pause.
The summer solstice occurs (cold fog or not) when the Earth’s rotational axis, or geographic pole on either its northern or its southern hemisphere, is at maximum inclination toward sun. As I passed through the town of Antigonish and its St. Francis Xavier University, home to 5000 hormone-sodden undergrads, the Buick’s clock was sweeping toward the 5:09am goal. Would we make it to Nova Scotia’s eastern edge and be amongst the first in mainland Canada to see the sunrise that morning? If not, it sure wouldn’t be the Buick’s fault.
By this time, smudges of pink had started to mar the blackness of the night’s sky, being quickly replaced by large smears of rose and gold. We were close to the finish line – but so was the sun. Leaving the highway, Buick’s electric power steering twirled us onto a paved two-lane, then a gravel track, and finally a dirt path. Low Point Lighthouse was within sight. Boats taking their morning’s catch were off shore. The sun wasn’t.
We made it. Turns out, one can indeed traverse the length of this beautiful province faster than the sun can travel. Others have tried this challenge in other parts of the globe; we would be counted amongst the victors. In fact, we had a full eighteen minutes to spare.
Good thing, too. Despite knocking off 735km in a single night, the trip was technically only half over. Now we had to turn around and go home … where a couple of ill-advised engine swaps awaited.