The family of four (Mom, Dad, and two tween boys) approached me at the front of the parking lot.
Where’s the closest gas station? the man asked me.
We get this question a lot in the parking lot, so I knew the answer.
The closest gas station is twenty-five miles that way, I said, pointing. If you’re going that way, I said, pointing in the opposite direction, the closest gas station is about thirty-five miles.
I’m not going to make it thirty-five miles, the man said.
Well, you’ll have to go that way, I said, pointing again. I explained where he’d have to turn and told him about the one pump behind the community’s general store.
So they have diesel? the man asked me.
Diesel? Who’d said anything about diesel?
I suppose when the man said gas station, he’d been envisioning a full-service, multi-pump establishment with a convenience store and restrooms, where, of course, diesel would be available. I was telling him about what was actually there: one gas pump behind a little store selling ice and a few food items.
I don’t think they have diesel, I said. I think they only have regular unleaded.
Should we call Triple A? the woman asked the man. Will they even come out here?
I think Triple A will go anywhere on pavement, I told them. The nearest pay phone is about eight miles away.
The woman lifted her cell phone and showed it to me while slightly smirking, as if I were an idiot.
Most people don’t get cell service out here, I said.
Do you have a signal? the man asked her hopefully.
The woman deflated like a balloon the morning after a birthday party. I don’t know, she said.
She determined she had no signal.
What should we do? they asked each other.
I had no more information to offer. I’d told them where the nearest gas was. (Unfortunately, they didn’t need gas.) I’d told them where to find the nearest pay phone. There was nothing more I could do.
You’re already here, I told them. It’s early in the day. You might as well walk the trail.
A truck was approaching the parking lot’s exit. The driver of the truck spoke to the main in need of diesel. The man in need explained his predicament. He asked the driver of the truck if he had a full fuel tank. He told the driver he had a siphon. The driver agreed to let the man in need siphon some diesel from his tank.
Oh thank God! the woman exclaimed, but she sounded more like someone who wanted attention than like someone who was grateful for the blessing the Lord had sent.
The man in need walked back to his truck. The driver followed in the truck with the tank full of diesel.
The woman and the kids stayed up front near me.
He’s camped next to us, the woman told me. We don’t even know him.
The woman really wanted my attention.
It’s kind of him, I said flatly. I was tired and didn’t want to chitchat.
The woman and kids crossed the road to walk the trail.
The siphoning must have gone well, because later I saw the family drive away in their truck.
They must have been city people. City people are accustomed to finding a gas station every few blocks. It’s not like that in these mountains. People around here live in communities with no gas (and/or diesel) available for purchase. The nearest gas station may be twenty-five, thirty, forty miles away.
I once read a book aimed at solo women travelers. One suggestion the book gave was to never let the fuel in one’s vehicle to go below a quarter of a tank. It’s good advice that I take to heart. I also recommend folks not take off into remote areas without knowing how much fuel they have, how far that fuel can take them, and the distance to the next place where they can buy fuel. There’s not always going to be a Good Samaritan in the parking lot or a multi-pump gas station just down the road.