I have a golden rule that I always follow when driving in the US: Once the car’s trip computer says that you have less than one-hundred miles of gas (petrol) left you fill up at the next gas station you come to. This acts as an insurance policy against the fact that, at times, gas stations can be few and far between. I made the mistake of not following this rule today.
The road between Santa Fe and the Texas edge of New Mexico goes through an area known as the ‘high plains’. While not a desert, this is a huge area of grasslands and ranches that is very, very sparsely populated. About thirty minutes after leaving Santa Fe on the interstate the trip computer reported that I only had one-hundred miles worth of fuel left. Following my rule, I started searching for a gas station. About ten miles later (ninety miles of gas left) one of the helpful blue exit signs indicated that there was a Shell station near the exit. I left the interstate and got to a stop sign at the end of the off-ramp. Next to this stop sign was another sign that indicated that the Shell garage was, actually, eight miles away down a side road. I had a long way to go today so decided that a sixteen mile round-trip for gas would take up too much time.
Besides, I was on the interstate. The interstate. Of course there’d be another gas station within the next ninety miles. There was a large town (bizarrely called Las Vegas) around thirty miles on which would definitely have a gas station or two. Wouldn’t it?
I carried on.
Thirty miles later (sixty miles of fuel left) the interstate indeed went through the town of Las Vegas. There were four exits that served the town. I passed the first exit: no gas station. The second exit was also dry. And the third. And the forth. Hmm.
Still. I had sixty miles left. There’d probably be five or more gas stations in that distance. Even so, I knocked the cruise control back from 75 to 70mph to conserve a bit of fuel.
A number of other small towns went by: no gas stations.
I turned off the air-con.
A few miles later my prayers were answered! With forty miles of fuel left one of the helpful blue exit signs indicated that there was a ‘Sinclair’ (big green dinosaur logo) gas station located at the next exit. I turned the air-con back on and headed up the off-ramp. I turned right at the stop sign and pulled on to the gas station concourse.
It was deserted.
Well. It was more than deserted: It was abandoned and looked like it had been for several years. In desperation I drove off the forecourt and conducted a reconnoissance mission around the other side of the interstate to see if there was, per chance, another gas station to which the interstate sign was referring. There wasn’t.
I was starting to get worried so enlisted the help of the sat-nav (it has a ‘points of interest’ mode that can tell you how far away the nearest gas stations are). It pulled up a list that said there were one, two, three, four, five gas stations 20.1 miles further down the road. It’s quite common to find a cluster of gas stations around a junction so I was reassured by this. Even though the sat-nav maps were a few years old I was confident that at least one of them would still be in business. I had forty miles of fuel left so would have a bit of margin.
I got back on the interstate and resumed my journey, albeit at 60mph with the air-con turned off.
After about ten miles I started to get worried. I could see a fair way down the road ahead of me and I could see nothing but endless grasslands in all directions. I decided to get the sat-nav to pull that list up again to just confirm in my mind that they were really (now ten) miles down the road.
The sat-nav pulled up the list. There they were: all five gas stations now……32.5 miles away.
What?!!! WHAT!!! They’re further away?
I had the sudden, sickening realisation of what had happened. When I was investigating the other side of the interstate by the abandoned gas station a few miles back the sat-nav must have assumed at that time that I’d swung around and was about to head in another direction.
Damn damn damn. I looked at the trip computer:
Fiddlesticks. (This was not the exact phrase I used at this point in time but this is a family-friendly blog.)
So even if I could turn around right away (and I couldn’t – the other carriageway was separated by a good half-mile of grass and there were no exits visible anywhere ahead of me) I would potentially run out of fuel seven miles before arrival at the gas stations. I asked the sat-nav to tell me where the next gas station was on my current route, going in my current direction.
I decided I didn’t have a choice. I had to go for it. I was reminded of the scene in Apollo 13 where they have to keep the lunar module’s power below two amps to prevent the electrics tripping and have to turn everything off. So I turned everything off.
Radio – off. Fans – off. Sidelights – off (it was daylight). Sat-nav – taken off charge. iPod – disconnected.
I slowed to 55mph and hoped for the best. The consequences if I ran out of fuel did not bear thinking about. I was possibly in one of the more isolated places you could be in New Mexico. I figured that I could hitch a lift to the nearest gas station, buy a gas can and hitch back.
The fuel economy went up and, by my calculations of rate, I’d get to zero fuel around six miles from the gas station. I then turned the trip computer off (every little helps).
Ten long minutes went by.
I rounded a corner on the interstate and wait! What was this? A helpful blue sign saying that there was a ‘Historic 66’ gas station at the next exit! I tired to contain myself and remembered what happened the last time the blue signs alleged there was a gas station.
I indicated right and headed up the off-ramp. At the top there was a railroad crossing and….and…..the most beautiful thing I’d seen all day, no, all week:
A fully operational gas station! I almost cried.
As I’d turned off the trip computer I didn’t know how close I’d got to disaster. The car had a fifteen gallon tank and, once I’d finished filling it up the display read:
That was after one click of the pump handle. By my calculations (based on instantaneous MPG before I turned the computer off) I had around eight miles left. I would have got to the station indicated by the sat-nav but would have probably have had to coast the final mile.
Phew. That was close….and a clear demonstration of my golden rule: When driving in the US always, always, fill up you tank at the first gas station you come to after passing the one-hundred miles remaining mark. No exceptions.
(As an aside: With an exchange rate of 1.55 $ to the £ you can work out how much the above fifteen gallons of fuel cost in £’s and then what the equivalent cost-per-litre would be. I’d advise you sit down while you do this.)