Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Day 2 - A New Kind of Drama

We awake in the morning and leave Sweetwater to continue our journey west to "Stop A - Day 2".  

     The truck looks to be working fine, and I focus much of my attention on the Engine Oil Temperature and battery voltage to see if there are any repeats of the issues we've seen in the day and weeks prior.  Unexpectedly a different light appears on the dash.  It's the low fuel light.  Not to worry.  I've got 50 miles range remaining per my vehicle trip computer.  We'll pull off at the next stop.  

     Except... the next stop doesn't appear to be coming up any time soon.  Brynn manages to get enough cell service to pull up the nearest gas station - 22 miles away, and yes it has diesel.  We're showing 46 miles on the range at this point.  We should be good, right?  But knowing that towing near max capacity (10,500 lbs) runs the fuel down considerably quicker than the computer claims, which I learned early on, I bounced the odometer against the range ticker for the next 5 miles.  

     2 to 1.  For every mile I drive, two miles disappear from my range.  That means the we'll get to the gas station with somewhere around one mile range remaining, if we make it at all.  Past experience tells me our range ticker is pretty accurate.  It got down below 2 miles before the vehicle came to a stall and stranded us in Indiana with a repair bill souvenir.   I don't want that to happen again, so I know before 2 miles range appears, whether I am at the gas station or not, this truck is pulling over to the side of the interstate and I'm hopping on my bicycle with a gas can.  Its already 104 degrees late in the morning, so every mile closer to the gas station, the better off I'll be biking, and more importantly the less time the family is waiting for my return.  (We may be able to run the A/C in the trailer off generators, ironically also low on fuel, so they aren't left stranded in the heat).  The difference between a 2 mile and 10 mile round trip bike ride is fairly substantial in this heat.  

     Every 1/10th of a mile counts at this point.  I share with Brynn the predicament.  She immediately, and wisely, cuts the A/C.  We have 15 miles to go... in a black SUV... with windows seemingly straight out of a greenhouse... in 104 degree West Texas.  If I wasn't sweating from the stress of the situation, I'm definitely sweating now.  We slow our speed from our usual 60 mph to 50, reducing RPMs by 500 and ever so slightly improving our fuel economy from 10 mpg to maybe as much as 11 mpg.  Every little bit counts. 

     I pull up our "fuel remaining" read out on our Scan Gauge.  It's given in percentage: 4% remaining.  If  it's all usable fuel, we are looking at 1 and 3/4 gallons remaining, or about 17 miles.  We just might make it.  I frantically scan the instruments and then back up to the black top, heat waves blurring the horizon.  1500 RPM - 11 mpg - 3% fuel remaining - 24 miles range (which is actually closer to 12 miles).  11 miles to go.  We can do it.

     The stress is nearly unbearable for me.  If I'm driving down the highway on my own, no big deal.  I can handle a bike ride in the desert sun.  But how could I be so irresponsible as to do this to my family - again!  Sweat has me plastered to the leather seats.  I wipe sweat from my brow with each passing second.  We creep along at 50 mph, the cabin temperature surely now 15 degrees warmer than just minutes before.  The boys holler out, "Daddy, I'm getting warm."  I know buddy, hang in there.  Brynn's recent trip to Haiti with no A/C seems to have prepared her for this, as she doesn't seem to be bothered by the heat at all.  

    Two miles to go!  I see the exit in the distance and its all downhill from here.  We can make it!  I hope...  

     Two minutes later I'm coasting off the interstate.  Now for the tricky part.  Pulling the 55 ft truck and trailer into a small gas station, making sure the pump is lined up on the proper side, and not sideswiping anything in the process is challenging enough when not running on vapors.  This may take some luck to pull off.  As we approach I see the diesel pump is perfectly positioned for me to pull straight in.  We're going to make it after all!

     But it just can't be that easy.  A gentleman is already using that very pump (for gasoline, not diesel, as is always the case), and I don't have another option.  I open my window and tell him I'm completely empty and may not even have one more minute of fuel to idle here while he finishes.  Basically I'd like him to stop and leave, even if his tank is only half full.  Fortunately the fuel nozzle clicks off as I'm explaining my plight.  He surely understands the gravity of the situation, so my anxiety lessens.  And then he begins the tedious and unnecessary step of "topping off" his tank, little click after little click, making sure to get that crucial last 1/64th gallon of gas into his tank.  Just as I'm about to lay on my horn to get this guy moving, he removes the nozzle, and returns it to the pump stand, moving as though he just received two new hips, impossibly slow as he inches those last couple of steps.  (I hope he really did have some mobility issues, because otherwise evil has overtaken even the most benign of human encounters).  I'm preparing myself for the old man to begin a squeegee wipe of his windshield, but he spares me the suffering.

     He leaves, we pull in.  2% fuel remaining, 4 miles range on the trip computer.  A little more than 43 gallons is required to fill up the 44 gallon tank.  So far as I can tell, we just made it.  Never again, I say to myself, as I breathe out a long sigh of relief.  


My wonderful family has already made the best of the situation, and they are treating themselves to some Dairy Queen to cool off.  

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