So the other day I had a panic attack for what turned out to be no good reason. You see, I’m notorious for running out of gas. I drive like 40,000 miles a year and my truck only gets like 15 miles to the gallon. Do the math, that’s a lot of pitstops!
I’ve run out of gas several times, about a half-dozen times in the past year alone, but my most famous incident was in southern Utah. I was moving home from California and pulling a U-Haul trailer full of everything I owned. My sister and I had spent the night in Moab and were headed north towards Mount Rushmore. Rather than taking straight route to interstate 70, we decided to take a scenic route along the beautiful Colorado River. Man, was it amazing. Anyway, the route took longer than expected and next thing you know we are nearing the big E on the fuel gauge. My thought was that we would make it to the interstate and there was sure to be a gas station. Heck, there’s a gas station at every exit, right? Wrong.
We find ourselves in my Silverado with a U-Haul trailer full of my life’s treasures and no gas anywhere to be found. We are in Cisco, Utah, a town so small that it isn’t even on the map! We approach a homestead that resembles your crazy aunt Dolores’s junkpile out back at grandma’s farm. A nice lady greets us only to inform us that this is a small town without electricity or running water. However, we were thrilled to learn that her husband is a former Dallas Cowboys professional football player and that he may just have some gas that we can purchase. Yes, he really was a former football player. Once Google was invented, we googled it. Anyway, we pay $20 for a little less than 5 gallons and they send us on our way. Those extra 50 miles led us to a small Sinclair station in rural Colorado where we were able to solve our dilemma for good.
Another time, I ran out of gas in rural South Carolina. It was the early days of the computer telemetry on vehicles and it told me I had 171 miles to go. My exit was 168 miles away. Lesson learned: the tolerance on the computer is a little greater than 3 miles. I’m always at the forefront of technology and had a cellular card for my laptop. I use this to determine the closest gas station and called them for help. They sent an elderly southern black gentleman in a sparkling Cadillac to save the day. We filled up my tank and I followed him to the station only to find that they didn’t take credit cards. I left them my drivers license and drove another 20 miles to get cash from an ATM to return and pay for the gas.
Wow, I had forgotten about all those stories until just now. Bottom line, my gas gauge and I are not exactly best friends.
Anyway, the other day. I was driving along my last unchartered stretch of the Atlantic Coast line in America; The Outer Banks of North Carolina. I started early in the morning with a sunrise on Virginia Beach and quickly jumped in the truck and headed south. Given my tendency, I was smart enough to check the gas gauge and be sure that it was full before I embarked. Pegged at F, good to go!
Okay, fast-forward about ten hours. NC-12 was washed out due to the effects of hurricane Sandy, so I had to take a detour through the North Carolina intercoastal backwoods. I’ve seen just about all of this country, and I’ve got to be honest, this was some of the most backwoods backwoods I’ve ever seen! However, having said that, it was truly remarkable. Some of the most beautiful country I have seen. It’s kind of a cross between the Everglades and central Iowa; farmfields as far as you can see, but the water table is just about surface-level. I imagine it would make a great area for a dirt track?!?
So, I’m driving along and notice my gas gauge is at about 3/8 of a tank. For most vehicles, that would be great. However, my truck has been beaten down so many times that 3/8 of a tank really means about 1/8 of a tank. I quickly check telemetry and it says I had used 18 gallons. For some reason, I freaked out. I think it’s the multiple times in the last six months combined with the stranded feeling I’ve had so many times before.
Throw in the fact that I haven’t had cell service and over an hour and it’s nearing dusk. I’m usually pretty calm, but for whatever reason, this one had me a little freaked out. I hadn’t eaten all day and I’m sure that that led to my inability to think clearly.
Okay, now is where you should listen. After paragraphs of rambling, this is the entire point of the story: Every problem has a solution.
The manner in which we approach the problem determines how quickly we find the best solution. The problem is that our emotional memory bank full of life’s experiences clouds our judgment. It is easy to think when we are unimpeded by emotion, but unless you are a robot, it’s hard to ignore emotions.
On this day, my emotions got the best of me. I immediately jumped to worst-case scenario; 24 gallons used is empty, I’m at 18. 6 gallons at 15 miles equals 75 miles. The next town was 60. That’s only 25% margin. I’m never going to make it. It’s getting dark. I don’t have any cell service. There is nobody around. Oh no! I am doomed.
The truth is this. I had been averaging closer to 20 miles per gallon this trip. The day before I found really cheap gas and filled it all the way up to the top of the neck. That is good for at least 2 to 3 more gallons. If you look at that 7 gallons times 20 miles for gallon, you get closer to 140 miles. To add insult to injury, I learned I had actually driven right through a small town with a gas station while in my haste.
When it was said and done, the nice young man at the family-owned gas station in Belhaven, NC put a grand total of 18 gallons in my truck. My fancy iPhone app told me I average 20.5 miles per gallon for that tank. That means I could have in fact easily driven an additional 120 miles.
Plain and simple, I freaked out for no reason. I believe that this is the in result to most problems. Sure, there are much more serious issues than running out of gas in the middle of nowhere, but at the end of the day, we all have problems facing us. How we address them determines the severity of said problem.
Here is a thought process that I try to use…
When I’m thinking clearly, to evaluate the severity of a problem like this: Will I remember this in one hour, one day, one week, one month, six months, one year or five years from now? The truth is that there are very few problems that drastically effect your life. In fact, most of our daily worries are truly inconsequential to our life. If we can just slow down and think clearly, then we can come up with an easy solution that requires very little stress…
So, the next time you’re really stressed out, just stop. Take a deep breath. Slow down. Think clearly. Is this really a big deal? Even if it is, keep your wits about you and come up with a proper solution without letting your emotions and past experiences cloud your judgment. Just because you run out of gas before, doesn’t mean you’re out of gas now.