You’d think that driving at night would absolutely kill the buzz of an epic road trip. There’s nothing to look at, save the steady throw of your headlights into the middle distance. There’s no scrolling landscape to inspire, no hypnotic play of sunlight mixed into the trees, and not much in the way of random roadside sightings to mull. (Was that a … giant metal dinosaur?)
Yes, you tend to miss a lot when you can’t see a thing. Plus, you have to work harder to maintain your edge, as creeping fatigue and diminished visibility require extra vigilance. All of this makes night-driving a bit of a bummer.
Except it’s not—at least, not always. Some of my greatest road-trip memories were generated in the dark of night. There was a bombing run to Las Vegas with four friends after a long day at work in the desert. We took turns playing DJ and experienced some of the most enjoyable free-flowing conversation I’ve ever had, as we watched the city’s distant glow grow stronger and stronger with every mile. There’s the time I brought my family all the way to northern Australia to see a total solar eclipse, and we had to beat a hasty retreat into the Outback in the dead of night to escape clouds that were building at the coast prior to the morning event. We saw herds of kangaroos race across our path at 1 a.m. An hour later, my sleeping daughter woke up, looked out the window, and said, “Look at the stars!” Sure enough, the sky was ablaze in sparkly lights and bright galactic clouds. We saw the Southern Cross for the first time.
Driving Big Sur, California
Finally, there was the time my wife and I, newlyweds at the time, drove to a friend’s house at night, arriving in town tired and cranky just around midnight. This was just a bit before cell phones and GPS navigation were huge, so we had to use actual maps and printed directions to find the house in the dark, and couldn’t for the life of us. We started sniping about whether to stop for directions, and whether the road we were on was truly the right one. It got so heated I decided to pull over so we could squabble properly. We bickered for a few minutes and then I looked out the window. “Oh, that’s the house!” I said, pointing. We laughed, parked, and met our friends seconds later. Witching hours come in many forms.
Turning a night drive into a vivid, memorable experience requires a bit of mental gymnastics. Instead of being disappointed that you can’t see the landscape, savor the mystery. Stop and get out occasionally just to see what you can with the help of the full moon, if present. You’d be surprised how much you can see just by turning off your headlights (and smartphone!) by the side of the road and letting your eyes adapt to the darkness for 20 minutes. Delve deeper in your conversations—cars are, in their way, perfect mechanisms for open dialogue, since everyone is relieved of the pressure of eye contact. That’s even more true at night, so use that to explore each other’s psyches a bit by digging into a topic, reminiscing, or confessing. Finally, just enjoy the road and the process of driving, with a singular focus that's difficult to achieve in stimulation-rich daylight. Just feel the thrust, the sway, and the steady scrolling of pavement just a few inches beneath you.
I can also say, without reservation, that driving at night has always been my most enjoyable context for music. It’s like your car becomes your headphones, with you just focused on just two things—the little bit of road in your headlights and the music around you. I play it loud, let it paint scenes in my mind, and enjoy the tracks that sync up the most with the rhythm of the drive. My acoustic balm varies based on my mood, my ride, my company, and a dozen other factors, but it's always there to carry me through.
My question to the floor: What’s your favorite music track for driving at night?