Out of gas – planning for adventures

How do you plan for fighting Mike Tyson? Prepare to get punched in the face repeatedly. A wise mentor once told me this, and it has stuck with me ever since. Mind you, I’m still very much learning how much slower I need to go, how many more commitments I need to shed so I have enough time in my day, week, and month to plan effectively. I’m getting there though. I’m slightly embarrassed to say that yes, I am an Eagle Scout. Yes, the Scout motto is “Be Prepared”. And also yes, for a lot of life I am not prepared as well as I would like. 

Our old Land Rover, Bill, is a great adventure vehicle. When he’s well maintained and stocked for the problems that any road or trail can throw at us, there’s no stopping him. Except for the fact that he’s an 18 year old truck built by the British during an era where “good enough” was good enough. He leaks oil like the Exxon Valdez, and is about as fuel efficient as a cement mixer. On one of my adventures with my daughter Jane, we found out about the importance of planning well. The hard way.

We were driving along a country road from the campsite we were staying at, and going to grab some gas before we went hiking for the day. The sun was shining, birds were singing, and little 4 year old Jane was bobbing along in her carseat without a care in the world. She loved seeing the green trees flash by her window as we drove, occasionally piping out “go faster dadda!” To which I would reply with a smile,“we’re driving an old truck, Jane. We can’t go any faster!” I began to get a bit concerned with the fuel situation since we were somewhat far from a major town with lots of gas stations. The needle hovered around empty, but I thought for sure we could get to town. Then the fuel light came on.

I started to panic slightly, knowing we were at least 5 miles from the nearest gas station, and that from prior experience when the light shows empty, it really means it. Old Bill isn’t like some cars I’ve known that have 50 more miles of range in them when the gauge means empty. He’s honest, like the crusty old British farm boy he is. I imagine him giving a “harrumph” and then in a Midlands accent, “love, it’s time to get to a petrol station. I’m on empty here!” Bill, I’m trying! As the light went on, I felt shame that I hadn’t stopped sooner. That I hadn’t prepared better. Come on, I’m supposed to be the adventure guy, the Eagle Scout, ready for anything. And I’m running out of gas?

We went over one hill, down the next, and just as we were crossing a bridge about a mile from the gas station, Old Bill had enough. Sputter. Cough. Dead. Coast. I hoped and prayed we could just coast for the last half a mile, but nope. We stopped on the side of the road and began that embarrassing endeavor of figuring out what to do next. I had a spare gas can, but it only held 1.5 gallons. I drained it into the fuel tank, hoping that would be enough to get us to town. Turn the key, and pray. Crank, crank, crank, puhhhhh. Nada. We weren’t going anywhere unless we hiked to the gas station (maybe more than once) and got ourselves enough gas to start Old Bill and get him properly fueled.

I told Jane we’d be going for a little walk, and unbuckled her from her seatbelt. Thankfully, I had been training for years to carry awkward, heavy loads, people, and jugs of liquid for many miles through all of the GORUCK events. Less than a mile to a gas station with a toddler on my shoulders? Easy. I set off, knowing we’d be fine eventually. Just get to the gas station. No worries.

Thankfully, a kind soul saw our plight just about 30 yards from the truck and slowed down to ask if we needed help. I told them we had run out of gas and needed a few gallons to get going again. Thankfully, they were a bit better prepared and had a 5 gallon jug in their trunk. What luck! I thanked them profusely, and drained the whole thing into my tank. Bill started up with a grunt, and we were in business. It was a good reminder that next time I was heading out into the wilderness, I need to bring more spare fuel! 

What does that look like in your life? How can you be more prepared for your adventures before you’re stranded on the side of the road without gas? Think through these questions before you set off (preferably with enough time to order things from Amazon and actually get them to your house):

  • What could go wrong?
  • Of those things, what are likely to happen, or will be especially bad if they do?
  • What resources, gear, or training can I put in place to avoid these problems in the first place?
  • How can I put resources, gear or training in place to make them not hurt so bad if they happen anyway?
  • If all else fails, how can I put resources in place as a backup to avoid a catastrophe?

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