Thursday, September 28, 2017

Out of gas in Mojave Desert, part 2

Part 1.

Many years back, I had come across this website of a survivalist/frugalist.  When he used to talk of his car, his emphasis was on how to get the most mileage out of every drop of gasoline.  I vaguely remembered him mentioning that a modern car goes the maximum distance if, while in top gear, you keep the RPM around 2000 and the speed around 50mph.

I wasn't quite sure if that was the optimum but it did seem reasonable.  I had no time or capability to plot a chart or to search the internet on my "searching for signal" phone.

My windows were open, the air-conditioner was of course shut off, and the hot air was was like a blow-dryer constantly in my face and every few minutes, I was sipping from the water bottle and licking my lips.

Thankfully, the road south from Kelso toward Interstate 40 was slightly down-sloping.  With a delicate, feather-touch pressure on the gas pedal, I was cruising down and away.  There was nobody else on the road for miles.  My hazard lights were on, as I was going less than the speed limit.

I was listening closely to the engine for any hint of sputtering or misfiring.  No, all good so far.  The gas needle was now firmly at the absolute zero, and it could not go any further, but the Jeep was still running.  Good Jeep.

Every mile was a victory.  I knew that if I reached the highway, not only would my phone come to life, I would probably find it easier to get a ride.

Wilderness and desolation offers great experiences to the soul, but when faced with an emergency, one re-develops a healthy respect for modern conveniences.  Whether after a long hike, or after a long road trip, having being away from phones, shops and air-conditioned bedrooms, coming back to comfort always makes me feel grateful and proud of human achievements.

Mile after mile passed, the Jeep was still running.  It felt like it was truly running on hope.

I never once put my foot on the brake or came out of the fifth gear.  I just kept going, with that feather-light pressure on the gas pedal, and with the engine RPM just slightly south of 2000.

Mile after mile passed, the Jeep was still running.

I crossed Interstate 40.  The engine could now stall anytime, and it would be a pity if I stopped just a few miles short of the gas station.  All this effort, and I still had to ride with someone, figure out a way to get gas in a canister, and get back to my car.

But mile after mile passed, I was inching closer to the right turn toward Amboy, and the Jeep was still running.  My bare arms were now hot and dry, and the bottle of water was empty.  Only ten more miles, and I would be home free.

I reached the stop sign to turn right.  I had to brake and come to a stop.  But I just took my foot off the gas pedal and shifted to neutral.  The car glided toward the stop sign.  There was no one in sight.  At the turn, it was still doing 25 miles per hour, and inspired by the driver character Kowalski from Vanishing Point, I saw the law coming at me but did not stop, and took a smooth right turn on the intersection, tires screeching and leaving their marks on the tarmac.

Now it was only only six miles to Amboy, and boy was I glad to see finally a true gas station billboard in the distance.  "I will push the car if I have to, but I will not need a ride."  The Jeep, miraculously was still going.  Hallelujah, praise the lord.

As I pulled into that gas station in the middle of nowhere, in the ghost town of Amboy, I shut down the brave engine.  I came out of the Jeep and patted it gratefully on the bonnet.  Good Jeep.  The crisis was over, and a celebration was in order.

The gas station seemed like one from the seventies.  Analog meters, no self-serve, and a Psycho-esque motel next to it.  The motel reception area had an old piano, a torn couch, and a grandfather clock behind.  David Lynch could not have done the set design any better.  I almost saw a bulb flickering as I neared the motel.

The gas station was selling gas for $6 a gallon, and I, least bothered about the price and grinning ear to ear, said to the owner: "Take all my money, just fill it up!"  He was a kind old man and he told me there was a "regular" gas station a hundred miles south near TwentyNine Palms, and I should get just enough to reach there.

I thanked him for his kindness, and requested him to put in six gallons in the tank, and I swear as the gas hit the walls of the empty tank, the tank sounded a hiss of relief.  As I paid him inside the station with my card, he gave me a souvenir. a $1 million dollar bill with his photo in place of Ben Franklin's.

A dear friend had given me a bottle of rye whiskey for just this kind of a happy moment during this journey, and as I loitered around the gas station (I couldn't just leave it, it deserved a leisurely stop and an appreciation of its quaint history), I poured a generous measure into a plastic cup.  It was 115 degrees F, and sipping that warm golden liquid at noon, while sitting on the veranda of that old motel and watching a historic US Post office across the road, I was smiling and ... grateful.

Grateful for these joys, for the roller-coaster ride of the last few hours, for these unexpected turns on my journey, for the kind old man, and for life itself.

1 comment:

Arun Kumar said...

Nice read!