Road Trip Report: Day 9, July 20

Today’s story could have been a lot better. It’s still pretty decent, but…well, you’ll see.

The key thing you need to know is that I like to play chicken with my gas tank, attempting to run it right down to fumes before I fill up. I’ve been doing this since my first car, way back in 1998, and I’ve never managed to get closer than maybe 3-5 litres remaining. The reason for this is that when your fuel gauge is on Empty, you actually have a decent amount of fuel left. I assume that automakers do this so that people won’t run out, but I’d personally rather that Empty meant Empty.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the top.

When I woke up this morning, I had to decide where I was going next. The goal was Salt Lake City, but I could either go the northern route through Cheyenne, Wyoming, or the western route through Grand Junction, Colorado. If I wanted to put in another full-day drive, the northern route would be only 7.5 hours. However, if I wanted to stop midway for the night, Grand Junction seemed more interesting and would put me halfway to Salt Lake City after about four hours.

What I definitely didn’t want is a repeat of two nights ago, when I showed up in Denver and couldn’t find a hotel room. Also, I realized that I might not have camping options, since it’s the weekend. I also realized that I might not be able to get into any major national parks, as they’re often booked months in advance (which I obviously couldn’t do). So after much contemplation of the options, I decided to book a room in Salt Lake City and go for the long drive.

I would come to regret that, but only slightly.

I checked out of the Omni Interlocken and drove into Denver to see the downtown, getting myself a little lost in all of the highway interchanges, and then headed for Northfield Stapleton, an outdoor mall where I was meeting my friend, Erin, for lunch. Having located the restaurant, I then tried to figure out where I could get my oil changed, and came across a chain called Grease Monkey, with a location not too far away.

And then it was time for lunch, and I am so glad that I contacted Erin before I arrived in Denver! It’s possibly been 20 years since we saw each other in person, and it was fantastic hearing what she’s been up to and meeting her husband and 11-month-old daughter. Erin was an awesome person to be around when we were younger, because she was always easygoing and happy. Two decades later she’s still got the same fantastic smile, and I’m grateful that we got to reconnect.

Interestingly, Erin has been in Denver since 1997, so she left BC shortly after I did in 1995. The difference is that her parents and siblings all migrated to Denver as well, so she’s got close family right where she is. I was glad to hear that, too…it makes me feel even better about going back to BC to be near my family.

I got back on the road and headed for Cheyenne, but I didn’t actually stop into town. I did, however, stop at the Abraham Lincoln memorial along Interstate 80…mostly because I needed a nap.

Now, I mentioned how I like to play chicken with my gas tank, and in case you haven’t figured it out already, I did that today…even though I had promised myself before leaving Waterloo that I wouldn’t risk stranding myself in the middle of nowhere.

There are a number of factors at play, though.

First, long-distance driving is easy when the roads are mostly dead straight and relatively traffic-free, meaning that I spend most of my time thumbing the cruise control buttons…seriously, it’s like playing a video game.

Second, I spend a lot of my time calculating fuel consumption. The problem is that I’m used to thinking of it in the Canadian method of Litres per 100km, as opposed to the American method of miles per gallon. Saying that, I’ve been buying gas in US gallons, while tracking my distances in kms, because that’s what my car’s odometer uses. Also, while I used to be really, really good at calculating things in my head, I’m not any more.

Third, I keep forgetting to look up how much gas my fuel tank holds, both in Litres and gallons. I’ve been putting between 8-11 gallons into my car at fill-ups, and didn’t know how close I was actually getting.

Fourth, the dumbest thing about my Miata is the fuel gauge, because it doesn’t appear to be linear. It’s one of those half-gauges, and when it’s full, the needle climbs up above Full. It also seems to empty much slower at the start and much faster after the halfway point.

What this all means is that I don’t really know how much fuel I’ve been putting in my car, how much it holds, or how much is actually left in the tank when the Empty light comes on. At least, I didn’t until today.

Quick sidebar. A few weeks ago I saw in passing a news article about a study stating that men don’t properly wash their hands after using the washroom. Which, let’s be fully clear, is gross. Apparently, some men just pretend to wash their hands by running some water over them.

Well, having used quite a few public restrooms over the past nine days, I can tell you this: a lot of men don’t even bother pretending. Seriously, on numerous occasions I’ve seen men of all ages just walk out without even approaching the sink. I’ve also seen the fake handwashing.

So, I don’t mean to alarm anyone, but you might want to think twice before you shake a guy’s hand. Just sayin’.

After leaving the rest area with the Lincoln memorial, I noticed that on the first half of my fuel gauge I got an impressive 310km, which was a significant increase over the ~250km I was normally doing on that much gas. In theory, this meant that I could go as far as 620km on the full tank, assuming that half of the gauge is actually half of the tank. A road sign said that the next major community, Rock Springs, was about 270km away, which meant that I should be able to reach it with gas to spare.

I really enjoyed driving through Wyoming. It’s an unbelievably wide-open space, with beautiful sandy vistas stretching for miles and miles. However, I noted that there weren’t as many rest stops as there were in Nebraska, and there were huge stretches of nothing but space. I thought about this a bit as my fuel gauge dropped, but even as it got to 1/4 and I passed the last major settlement before Rock Springs, I remained confident in my calculations.

By the way, AT&T has also forsaken Wyoming, so I’m starting to wonder if the guy in Minnesota (not an AT&T guy) who told me AT&T would be better than T-Mobile for service in-between major cities was just making it up on the spot.

As I enjoyed the Wyoming scenery, I noted that the fuel gauge seemed to be dropping a lot faster in the last 1/4 tank, and I started to question both the accuracy of the gauge and my mental conversions of miles to kilometres. With about 100km between me and Rock Springs, I was seriously questioning whether I’d make it, and went into full-on fuel-saving mode. That meant unplugging my GPS and phone charger from the 12V socket, turning off the stereo, and tucking myself in as closely as I dared (not really very close at all) behind a truck to reduce drag. Then I drove along silently while the Empty light on my dashboard mocked me.

At this point, I was questioning why I broke my promise to myself and played chicken. Moreover, why did I do it in Wyoming, hundreds of miles from major settlements? Did I want to run out of gas just for the thrill? Did I want to miss my hotel reservation and throw $94 down the drain? Was I just trying to prove that I still have decent math skills? Or am I just an idiot?

Don’t answer that. It’s rhetorical.

I didn’t make it to Rock Springs…because about 50km before it I found a gas station in a tiny place called Point of Rocks, where I put in 10.2 gallons of gas to fill the tank. Here’s how Wikipedia describes the place:

“As of the census of 2000, there were three people, two households, and one family residing in the CDP. The population density was 1.6 people per square mile (0.6/km²). There were two housing units at an average density of 1.1/sq mi (0.4/km²). All residents were white and between forty-five and sixty-four. The median age was sixty-three years.

One household was a married couple living together, while the other was a male individual.

The median income for a household in the CDP was $41,250, and the median income for a family was $41,250. The per capita income for the CDP was $21,050.”

All I know is that the inside of the gas station was very clean and well-kept, and the girl at the counter was very friendly. Definitely not between the ages of 58 and 77 (2000 census plus 13). Maybe an offspring? Or maybe Point of Rocks has had a population boom?

After filling up the tank, I have to say that I was annoyed with myself, because I had put in 10.7 gallons the other day. So, I definitely had more gas than I thought, and I might have made it to Rock Springs after all.

Once again, I played chicken with my gas tank, and I blinked.

And that’s the main reason why this story could have been better. This could have been about my epic triumph, winning a bet that I made with myself and getting to Rock Springs as I believed I would. It also could have been about the adventure I went on trying to get gasoline and bring it back to my car. Instead, it’s just the story of me playing unnecessary mental games with myself, and losing. Yes, I know that it’s better than leaving my car on the side of a highway…and yes, I would have regretted that more. But years from now this will be a footnote, when it might have been the most memorable part of the trip.

You might think I’m crazy right now, and I wouldn’t argue the point.

I mentioned earlier that I regret booking the hotel in Salt Lake City, and here’s why. After reaching Rock Springs, I passed through a little community called Green River, and I kind of wanted to stop there to see what was going on. It just seemed a random and pretty place that exists in the middle of Wyoming. It was then that I realized that my decision to book a hotel in Salt Lake was an overreaction to not getting a hotel in Denver the other night, and that I should have tried it again. If I hadn’t had a booking in Salt Lake City, I would have definitely stayed in Green River for the evening.

I also regret that I had to drive the last leg of the trip in the dark, because there were some pretty twisty roads that were a little daunting. For the most part I followed a Corvette piloted by a driver for whom I had developed some respect, as s/he was very respectful and courteous, and knew when to use the highbeams in dark corners. And while I was doing that, I realized that it would have been more enjoyable in the daylight, not just to reduce the tension, but also to see what I was driving through.

Instead, I’m in Utah at the Hilton Garden Inn. The room is just about right for me, and the bed is comfy.

Before I close this one out, I should note that I looked up my gas tank, which holds 48L or 12.7 gallons. So, I had 2.5 gallons of fuel left (despite riding the Empty light for a long time), which would have gotten me to Rock Springs. I haven’t run the numbers, but this suggests that the halfway point on my fuel gauge is correct. And that would explain why the fuel level seems to drop so quickly at the bottom end: when the Empty light comes on, there’s still about a quarter of a tank left.

Good to know…for next time.