Thursday, January 22, 2015

Running on empty

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a runner. I could talk all day long about the benefits of running--increased metabolism, weight loss, mental relaxation/reduced anxiety, increased bone density, improved cardiovascular health, the sense of being free, the "runner's high," and the list goes on. One could also make the argument that running can save you...

In ancient times, we needed to be able to run to hunt and capture our food. We don't necessarily need to do this anymore, but we might need to be able to run to escape danger, save someone, or catch someone. Or, you might need to run if you run out of gas...

About a week ago, I was leaving a Gray-New Gloucester high school track practice to head home when I saw my car was very low on fuel. It was later in the day, about 4:00 pm, and I knew Tessa was going to be home relatively soon. Knowing that she had a long day, or week, or maybe life (if you ask her) at work, I had plans to get dinner ready for her that night so she didn't have to worry about it.

I was in a hurry and didn't want to waste time cutting through town in Lewiston to the nearest gas station--which was in downtown Lewiston. If anyone reading this who doesn't know about downtown Lewiston, well, it is a place nobody particularly enjoys going to. Plus it would have taken too much time. So I rolled the dice and decided to jump on the highway and get off the nearest exit, which was about 5 miles down the turnpike in Auburn. I knew there was a gas station immediately off the turnpike...and I thought I could make it.

My Honda Accord made it 4 of those 5 miles when my car sputtered to a stop alongside the shoulder of the highway. It was about 4:15 pm and had started to snow. I swore at myself a few times before thinking about what to do. The nearest gas station was about 1.5 miles away--a mile along the highway, then a half-mile along the off ramp. So close yet so far.

I grabbed my phone, Googled the gas station phone number, then called the number. I asked if they had any gas cans available for people who run out of gas. The attendant said they didn't have any to borrow but did have some for sale. He said they were 2 gallon gas cans and I said "perfect," because I needed a 2 gallon can for my chainsaw anyways.

After hanging up, I looked around my car for any running gear I might have had stashed away. I was currently wearing a pair of jeans and everyday shoes, and I wanted to get gas and get back as quickly as possible. I found a pair of running pants in my work bag (one of the perks of working at a gym, I suppose?) and an old pair of running shoes in the back seat. The shoes were far less than ideal, but I was about to attempt a 3 mile run, not a marathon. So I grabbed the shoes and changed into my running pants. I was wearing a sweatshirt and had a pair of gloves and a hat in my car that I threw on. I grabbed my driver's license, debit card, and cell phone. I wrote a note on a piece of scrap paper indicating that the car was out of gas and that I'd be right back, included my phone number, turned on the emergency flashers, and carefully opened my car door. I put the note in the driver's side handle then began my run down the shoulder of the highway.

I probably looked like a total idiot to most people as they flew by. I stayed to the far end of the shoulder and kept a pretty good pace. My goal was to get to the station, get gas, then get back before it was dark--because running in the dark along the highway in the snow is just a bad idea. Actually, running alongside the highway at all isn't really a good idea, but what choices did I have?

After getting to the exit ramp, I continued to hug the shoulder as I took the exit. I made it to the gas station maybe 10 minutes after leaving my car, but it felt like an eternity.

I grabbed the gas can, paid for it while making small talk with the attendant I spoke with on the phone, then headed outside to get gas. Three-quarters of a gallon later (didn't want to carry that much weight), I headed back the way I came. After getting back onto the shoulder of the highway a police officer pulled over and asked if that was my "car back there." Ignoring the obvious of me carrying a gas can on the highway, I said yes. He told me he called it into the state police just in case and for me to "be careful" in getting back to my car. There was no offering of a ride, or lecture, or anything. It was snowing and getting dark and he told me to be careful when I was running on the highway.

"Ok thanks," I said.

I continued the mile or so back down the shoulder of the highway, facing the oncoming traffic at least. By the time I made it back to my car it was about 4:45 and pretty dark. My hands were cold as I tried to unscrew prep the gas can. The trickiest--and most frightening--part of the whole adventure was getting the gas into my car because my fuel door was on the driver's side, which was the side closest to the traffic on the highway. So I leaned around the backside of my car and was able to get a good enough angle to get the gas in without getting smoked by oncoming traffic. As soon as my thirsty Honda guzzled down the 3/4 gallon, I was on my way back to the gas station I was at 15 minutes prior.

I fueled up, then headed to get dinner and get home. I had pulled into my driveway about 30 seconds before Tessa pulled in so I wasn't able to get dinner ready in time. It wasn't until a few days later that I told her about my highway adventures and, well, that's a story for a different time.

The lesson I learned from all of this is that if you run out of gas, it'll take much longer to do what you need to do than if you don't run out of gas. But if you do run out of gas, it pays to be a runner and to carry around your running gear...because you just never know when you might need it.


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  3. It’s too bad that you ran out of gas that far from the station, but at least you were able to get to it and buy enough to reach it again after. Anyway, that was quite an experience, to say the least. Maybe you can bring a can or two for backup, just in case this happens again. Take care!

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