Have you ever run out of gas? I have...just once. And honestly, it was pretty fucking awesome. I'm glad I did: let me tell you why!
It was 4:30pm on my 27th day of a cross-country motorcycle tour. I was somewhere in Idaho, heading east. I stopped at a gas station, just short of a mountain pass. I had every intention of gassing up, driving 30 miles part-way up the mountain, stopping at a camp site, and calling it a night. That was the plan....
...until this man rolls up to the gas station on his Harley. He immediately walked over and introduces himself as John. In no time, he was jawing about motorcycles and telling some amazing stories about doing 150mph on the track and his cross-country tours. Twenty minutes later, as we were wrapping up our talk, he asked me where I was headed.
I told him my plans, and he quickly said that I should try to get further. Missoula is only 3 hours away. I should head for the town on the other side of the mountain pass, gas up there, and make Missoula by end of night.
I did some quick math: sunset is at 6:30pm, arrival time would be 7:30pm, and I hate riding in the dark (especially through the mountains). That meant one hour of riding in the dark, which wasn't ideal. However, I also pictured a hotel room and bed in Missoula. (I hadn't had a shower and hotel room in WAY too long). I said fuck it, I'm making Missoula tonight!!
I headed out on this absolutely stunning ride along a river, up to the mountain pass. Holy hell, was it ever pretty! (If you ever want the location, please ask!) Picture 100 miles of only this:
The first 1.5 hours were the best ride of my life. Corner after corner, empty roads, perfect pavement, not a person to be seen, just fucking beautiful.
But as I made my way up the mountain, the weather shifted. A clear, sunny day turned to clouds and rain. The higher I climbed, the colder it got. The roads became slick and I couldn't take corners near so fast. It started to get dark. The rain turned to sleet. By now, I'm 2.5 hours in to the ride. I'm freezing my ass off, it's pitch black out, and I haven't even hit the top of the mountain. I narrowly avoid hitting a deer and see an elk crossing the road just up ahead. (Mind you, hitting an antlered "friend" on a motorcycle can be a death sentence).
This night had gone from phenomenal to terrible in no time.
Then...my gas light came on. Fuck, I'm halfway up a mountain. There's no gas within miles.
I'm cold down to the bone. The roads are terrible. The little gas I have left is slowly being consumed by my bike.
I decide to pull the plug and find anywhere I can to sleep for the night. There was nowhere to camp, but as I finally hit the top of the mountain, I found a lodge with one last room available. After a hot shower and food, I was a new man. Still...with no gas in the tank.
The next morning I was warm, recharged and ready to go.
That previous night, I'd driven 18 miles on E. The receptionist informed me that the nearest gas station was 21 miles away. Quick math said I'd be traveling 39 miles into my empty warning light.
The furthest I'd ever gone into my empty light was 33 miles. But I had no options. I had to push on, further than I'd ever been on an empty tank.
With the little gas I had, I figured I could coast the better part of the way downhill. I said fuck it, let's see what happens! I was in the hands of fate (and a good story).
It only took 5 miles. I was out of gas.
The mountain riding must have thrown my mileage off. My math didn't add up. I was fresh out of gas. And I was stuck on the side of the road 16 miles from where I needed to be.
No cell service. No gas. All of my gear packed on my bike. It was too far away to walk. I couldn't make a call.
So...I did the next best thing. I stood on the side of the road, with my thumb out, hoping like hell I'd catch a ride.
Car after car went by. Nobody picked me up. I tried different smiles. I tried different thumb positions. I tried everything. Nobody had anything to do with me.
Thirty minutes later, the heavens opened up. I gave my best smile possible with my thumb proudly pointing up towards the sky. A car went flying by, but slammed on the brakes as it passed me. It whipped around, and came back. Salvation!!
Jenny was driving back home and was in a rush to make it back for Sunday football. She said she could get me as far as the nearest gas station. In our ride down the mountain, we got to talking about living our west, life, careers, writing books, and everything under the sun.
(Truthfully, I'd been wondering what type of conversation I was going to have with a complete stranger and didn't know if it would be awkward. It was anything but that!)
In no time, our delightful ride came to a close at the local Conoco station. We said farewell, I wished her Seattle Seahawks the best of luck in their game, and that was that.
In no time, I'd purchased an expensive container for gas, had filled up the 2 gallon tank, and was on my way back up the mountain, hitchhiking one more time.
I was much luckier this go! Maybe the gas tank in my hand showed I wasn't actually a degenerate. Whatever it was, Karlina and Jeremiah picked me up within 10 minutes of thumbing for a ride. They weren't even headed my direction, but they just wanted to help me out. Can you believe that kindness?! For the 16 mile ride back up, we talked all things politics and being part of the Army. (If this message ever finds Karlina, thanks again for your service). They were an extraordinary couple, and were a blast to talk with.
Back to my bike in no time, I thanked the couple for going WAY out of the way to bring me where I needed to go. And once again, gas in the tank!!
If you can believe it, this whole ordeal only added an hour to my trip. Not too bad, all things considered.
So a few hard details:
I added an hour to my trip
I spent $18 fucking dollars on a gas container
I had to beg for rides, which I eventually got
But really, the experience was so much more than that!! Here's what I actually learned:
Lesson #1: People Are Good
We live in this world where nobody trusts anybody. Everyone is scared of other humans. Fun fact: humans are generally pretty nice. Sure, you can watch the news about serial killers and shit like that. And sure, there is a small, small, small segment of the world where that happens.
Yet, by in large, people are good. Complete strangers are willing to pick up other complete strangers (me) and take them where they need to get.
I've got way more faith in humanity after this.
Lesson #2: Shit Always Works Out
I wonder how much time I've spent in my life stressing about the future. Probably way too much.
Yet at the end of the day, shit always works out. The stress isn't needed. The extra planning can't remove all the variables. Something unexpected is always going to "happen".
And after this something happens, things just work themselves out. They always do!
Sure, I was stressed going down the mountain without gas. But after I ran out, I just told myself: it'll work out. I had every bit of faith that I'd find a solution. And do you know what...I did!!
Let life unfold and shit always works itself out!
Lesson #3: I Might Run Out of Gas More Often So I Can Do This Again
I'm not just saying this, it was honestly a really fun experience running out of gas! I met some amazing people! I got an awesome story out of it! I learned a few great lessons! And at the end of the day, the results weren't all that bad. I was out $18 and an hour of my time for a tremendous experience. I'd call that worthwhile!
So if you get the chance to push your gas tank to the limit, I highly suggest you do. Maybe you'll make it to the gas station. Maybe you won't. If you don't, enjoy the experience!! (And be sure to tell me all about it!!)