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An Angel in Cowboy Boots
On our next-to-the-last stage in driving across Texas, we left San Antonio the day before and drove to Fort Stockton, where we spent the night. Making sure that we had a full tank the next morning, we headed northwest out of Fort Stockton on Route 285. We knew that it would be 49 miles to Pecos and then another 100 to the New Mexico border and Carlsbad. 150 miles of desert driving. At over 100 degrees.
Let’s see, I thought: 150 miles total for the day; at 10 miles-per-gallon on average; with a pitiful 15 gallon tank; we should have been able to just make it from Fort Stockton to Carlsbad on one tank. Should have… At this point in our trip I should have learned not to try to get too many miles out of a tank of gas. There were too many variables that could make even 10-miles-per-gallon a pipe dream. And this was going to be one of those days…
Almost 2 weeks earlier we had rebelled at what we thought was over-priced fuel by limiting a fuel stop to only 15 dollars. We were still on I-10 in Florida; headed toward the beautiful panhandle beaches. What could go wrong, right? Since there were gas stations all over the place, we’d fill up at the next one. Well, that 15 dollar fuel purchase should have been okay except for the torrential thunderstorm that we ran into 30 miles from the De Funiak Springs exit to Santa Rosa Beach and our destination; the Top Sail RV Resort.
After long, long minutes of praying for a gas station; any gas station; selling gas at any price, the dashboard lit up like a Christmas tree and the engine stopped right at the top of our exit; Exit 85. We had watched our gas gauge drop like a rock as we fought through torrential rain and headwinds. And now we were out of gas within sight of a gas station, just visible through the rain. I rolled down the exit ramp, trying not to brake and thereby decrease our forward momentum. As we yelled encouragement to our beleaguered Mazda (Zoom! Zoom!), we shot out of the exit and onto the road leading to the gas station. We went through a green light, turned left and then another left, and came to a dead stop against the gas station’s apron, not 50 feet from a pump. Arghh!
In the end, we had to admit to our dumb luck at having been able to make it all the way to the station. As I carried a 2 ½ gallon tank of fuel back to the SUV, mumbling and cursing my luck, dumb or otherwise, I made a promise to myself to not let this happen again. From now on, I wouldn’t let the fuel level go below ½ a tank; no matter what gas was selling for. I would live to regret not following through with that promise…
Two weeks later we were in Texas. After enjoying a few days in San Antonio, we continued westward on I-10 to Fort Stockton. We would spend the night there; refueling the next morning and heading northwestward to our next destinations; Carlsbad and Roswell, New Mexico.
Based on the map, we should’ve been able to make it on one tank of gas. It was about 50 miles to Pecos and nearly 100 more to Malaga; just south of Carlsbad. We’d have 3 hours of driving ahead of us; 150 miles across the desert at a temperature of over 100 degrees. I planned on refilling at Pecos, but, if not Pecos, than somewhere further on. That kind of thinking would be my undoing…
We still had more than one-half a tank when we reached Pecos. Route 285 passed directly through the town. The road was under reconstruction, making our passage dusty and slow. The first stations we saw were selling fuel 10 cents higher than what we had paid that morning in Fort Stockton. We usually passed up the first stations in most towns, knowing that they usually charged more than stations on the way out of town. But there weren’t any. We debated turning around and going back down that dusty, bumpy road, but instead (I) decided to stop at the first station we ran across on the way up to Carlsbad. That decision was a mistake…
30 or 40 miles north of town, we hadn’t come across any more stations and our gas gauge was down to less than half a tank. We started to debate turning around and heading back to Pecos, but couldn’t face what would be an almost 80 mile roundtrip back to where we were at the moment if we went back to Pecos for gas. Another mistake…
As we drove further and further away from Pecos, our fuel gauge continued its downward journey to ¼ of a tank. It was then that it dawned on us to ask Hilda, our GPS, where the nearest station was. Maybe there was one just down the road… But no, by then the nearest station was more than 30 miles away; on the way into Carlsbad.
Tempers grew short as we debated over whether this predicament was more the driver’s fault or the navigator’s… I tended to believe that the navigator should be the one giving directions and deciding when and where to stop. Maureen felt that I was a jerk.
With what I knew had to be less gasoline than we would need to reach the nearest station, we shut down the AC and tried to urge every extra mile we could get from whatever gasoline we had left. It was 112 degrees out in the desert that day; something that must have helped account for the poorer than normal mileage we were getting. But, being beyond the point where we could turn around, we soldiered on, continuing our discussion over whether I was really the big jerk my wife thought I was.
A few minutes later, I spotted a white pickup parked at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. We pulled up alongside the truck and waited for the sleeping driver to wake up and notice us. We needed his help and we didn’t want to shock him by honking. He must have felt the presence of two desperate, overheated people and their dog, sitting next to him in the middle of nowhere staring at him, because he slowly raised his head and looked out the window at us.
He was a young fellow who worked for the power company. He acknowledged that the nearest station was indeed, still about 30 miles from where we sat and, being that his truck was a diesel; he couldn’t offer us any gasoline. He told us that he was headed up toward Carlsbad later and would keep an eye out for us in case we ran out of gas. And that, we thought, was that.
As we pleaded with our Mazda to please, please, make it just another mile, or even the next ½ mile, the gas gauge continued it fall. We were just outside of Malaga when we saw the first station we’d seen since we passed through Pecos; about 100 miles south of there. Growing on the horizon like an oasis in the middle of the desert, the gas station seemed just outside of our reach. Sure enough, the SUV started to surge and slow down. I feathered the gas pedal and willed the SUV to keep rolling; just keep rolling…
We ran out of gas maybe 100 feet from the station. The thing that kept us rolling was good, oldmomentum. We bounced up into the station lot doing maybe 25 miles an hour and almost ran over two cowboys chatting (No wait! Cowboys don’t chat; they chew the fat, or shoot the breeze…) next to the gas pump I was aiming at. They had to jump backwards out of the way, but didn’t seem too annoyed by it… “Sorry!” I said, “I’m out of gas.”
After filling up the tank, I walked into the crowded store (This place was really like an oasis out here) and grabbed a couple of candy bars and sodas. It was then that I noticed a familiar baseball cap on a fellow shootin’ the breeze with those two cowboys I mentioned earlier. Sure enough, it was our pickup driver; now how did he get here ahead of us? He hadn’t. After shootin’ the breeze, I learned that he had left that rest spot way back there along the road as soon as we had and had followed close behind us all the way to Malaga, nearly 30 miles. I never saw him because he stayed too close behind us to be seen in our mirrors. If only we had known that we had an angel on our tail, ready to help if we ran out of gas, well, I could have hugged him, but I didn’t; since cowpokes don’t hug.
Till Next Time,