I’m a pretty planned, detailed person. Go ahead and tell me that I’m “blessed” or “lucky” in life and I will bore you for the next 48 minutes (I’ve timed it) about the challenges I’ve faced and sacrifices I’ve made to get to this point in life. And I can probably whip up a chart or two showing the plan laid out 10, 15, hell even 25 years ago.
It’s true I work hard, but I like to play harder. Having structure gives me energy and peace of mind to let go and to throw caution to the wind. Ok, well, to let go anyway, I’m not big on throwing around caution.
So as we finally met up with family in the finale of our first half journey, I let go…too much. If the family who grew up in Montana says “Hey, load up we’re heading to a bison park,” I’m in the car ready to go. And so it was, I herded our own cattle towards an unknown destination in a still unfamiliar SUV that we tow behind our RV.
I didn’t know how far it was and when I helped pack a lunch, I thought Ah ha, a park where we’re going to sit and watch the Bison and Antelope roam free. Great stuff. When we arrived, stepped out the cars to take pictures and then headed BACK to the cars, I was confused. As it turns out, it’s a “safari” tour through the park.
Before I could say “Whoa now THAT is cool!” we were back in the cars and headed through the gates. And we drove. Stopped to observe an antelope here or there. Then drove. Then stopped. Then drove. And that’s when I looked down at the dashboard gauges.
Gulp. So THAT’s what empty looks like on this new vehicle of ours. Don’t panic! I told myself but the blood rushed out of my fingertips from squeezing the steering wheel. I didn’t listen. Well – maybe for the next mile or two I kept my cool.
But the gauge kept going down and the road kept climbing up, up and away. I informed my passengers which included Julie, 2 of our older kids and our nephew and they were cool about it – for the next mile or so. Then I finally asked them, “How far IS this damned thing? Check the map!”
“Map? What map? We didn’t GET a map!”
At this point, the lead cars in the caravan seemed to go so much slower. And seemed to stop to look even at blowing tumbleweed. “Oh look, a cloud!” No, no it wasn’t that bad, but it felt like it.
So now, I’ve had all I can handle. You know that dream where you’re standing up giving a speech in school and you look down and you’re in your underwear from last week? I’m now beyond the physical concerns of the five of us walking. And now I’m processing the social embarrassment of it all. What kind of idiot goes on a safari and doesn’t fuel up?
Uh, that would be me. I was going with the flow.
Now weighing my options, the social embarrassment has overwhelmed me and I have to act. I pull up to the first vehicle in front of us, my sister and brother-in-law. They laughed.
They LAUGHED. I ask how much farther this venture was – “About 13 miles.” Oh, we’re not going to make that. Now the blood has left my hands completely and I say to the relaxed onlookers, “No worries, you guys continue, we’ll be RIGHT back.”
So we gracefully pass the lead vehicle and wave calmly. I’m sure they were thinking that we were uptight city folks for driving ahead and at that moment – they were spot-on. Once we pass them, I reset the trip odometer and start driving my ass off.
I start calculating likely fuel economy, cut up the fuel gauge into 1/32s in my head and estimate how far that should go – all with that trip odometer ticking away. I switch to neutral going down hills, turn off the A/C and while being ever so mindful of nature and animals, I take every corner that I can see around on 2 wheels.
Surely with half the vehicle in the air, that is giving us an extra mile per gallon.
With each passing hill, we are looking for an exit opportunity and expecting the worst. As we climb higher into the mountains, we start using that moment to survey the 3 counties that we can see for stores and fuel. We see a few things, but have no idea how to get in that direction with the winding safari road.
As we finally make it out of the park, there is relief but just KNOW we’re on borrowed time. I ask Julie and the kids who are desperately trying to use GPS/maps on their phones to find fuel – something. Oh, you thought we didn’t think of phones??
But of course, what made this story richer – no internet to be found. Frankly, I’m surprised the Bison even hang out here. I give one final plea “Look guys, left or right, we have NO room for error.”
“Left, left!” Oh man, everything looks right but left I go. There is a little country store as soon as we turn (I don’t remember THAT) and I see a sheriff walking out the door. I don’t even both to pull straight in, fearing I wouldn’t have enough fuel to back out, so I pull in sideways, roll down my window and say “Excuse me sir,” with great emphasis on the sir. “Can you point me to the closest gas station?”
He smiles. Looks 10 feet to his right which is 10 feet to my left and points “Right there.”
You remember that social embarrassment thing? I saved it all for this one moment that day. I must have had the most sheepish, stupidest look of relief he’d seen in years.
As I back up to the pump and go in to pay, I tell the gentleman running the store how I found that nostalgic little pump from the 70s (aka “museum piece”) and what a welcomed sight it is. He says “Yeah I know, the sheriff was just in here telling us all about it and laughing his tail off!”
So I laugh with them – what the hell, I need to let go now. We fill up that tank – gave it an extra squeeze or four, then turn back into the park. This time, I send the boys running into the entrance plaza. “Get me a MAP!” Then I start taking those hills again like Al Unser Jr. at Pike’s Peak. It takes us a while to catch up to the caravan, but not as long as you’d think. Man, we would have NEVER made it to a pump at that pace.
Did my caution and awareness of the situation get us there just in time or with plenty to spare? I don’t know but I put us in the best position I could given the bad start. Go ahead, tell me I was “lucky”. 😉