Fuel Management • 7/26

This is the world's largest thermometer, in Baker California. It reads 96 degrees. I took this picture at about 3:30 AM. It most definitely was not going to be a cooler day.

As suggested, we departed Tecopa Hot Springs at about 2 AM. It was uncomfortable and sticky right off the bat, but at least we made it out of the desert before temperatures truly soared.  I'd gone over the plan to some degree with Mike and Maria, looking at the big picture on the atlas, but in doing so, the smaller, more immediate navigation choice got neglected.  When I got back to the intersection of Old Spanish Trail Highway and Route 127, the choices were heading back to Baker or NOT heading back to Baker. We hadn't really talked about this. It was clear I needed to get back on the 15 but I didn't know if maybe the route that led away from Baker might land me at a later spot on 15.

Two things stuck in my head. The first was that Maria had said it was only about a 20 to 30 minute ride back to 15 from there, and the other was her admonition to "Stay on the blacktop." Both directions looked like blacktop, and I knew from my previous day's drive that Baker was at least at hour away, so I opted for the other direction, toward Shoshone. I had an atlas but for some reason I'd packed it back a ways in the bus. Considering what I'd been through you'd think I'd have been glued to the thing, but, well, sometimes you're just not in the mood to learn from your mistakes, I guess.

Luckily, not far down the road, the blacktop turned to a sort of rubble, and I remembered, "Stay on the blacktop." I pulled over, got out the atlas, and learned that I was most definitely going the wrong way, heading toward the no man's land of Death Valley.

I guess when you live as far off the path as Maria and Mike an hour might seem like 20 minutes, or maybe I misinterpreted what she'd said, but it took us an hour and change to get back to Baker. I was holding my breath the whole time, hoping we didn't run out of fuel. We squeaked into the station, filled both tanks, and bought a "Gateway to Death Valley" smashed penny from a machine in front of a closed general store. If you're not familiar with smashed pennies, they make great souvenirs, and at a cost of only 51 cents, they're economical too, I'll post a picture of my Baker penny once I figure out where I put it.

The drive from California, through a sliver of Arizona, and then into Utah was uneventful. With no radio in the car, I entertained myself (and I'd like to think Cowboy, too) by singing at the top of my lungs. Any overwrought, dramatic song I could think of made its way onto the list: lots of musical theater stuff I hadn't thought about in years, old 1940's torch songs, and, for some reason, "If I Only Had a Brain." The area was pretty desolate, not a lot of places to stop, and I knew I needed to switch fuel tanks soon. The bus has 2 tanks, holding about 18 gallons each, but the fuel gauge is unpredictable, so it's a good idea to switch before you hit 1/4 of a tank. I guess my singalong with myself distracted me because all of a sudden I noticed I was at exactly that level.  There wasn't much of a shoulder and I was just moments away from the spot where I'd make the jump from the 15 to I-70, so I figured I'd pull off as soon as possible once on the new road.

Immediately after taking the exit, I started to feel the bus hesitate. I pulled over right there, on the shoulder of the ramp. In order to switch tanks, it's necessary to turn off ignition. I shut down, flipped the switch, turned the key, and... nothing.

One of the first things I learned about the bus, and about diesel engines in general, is that it's a very bad idea to run out of fuel. For a scatterbrain like me, that's a big problem. Think of the person in your life most likely to forget to put fuel in their car, then multiply them by 10. That's me. In this case, the gauge wasn't reading empty, and I had a reason (sort of) for letting things go (very few fuel stops - but I had a full reserve tank so that's not really a valid excuse).

The reason running out of fuel has bigger consequences with a diesel engine is that, if the line has been totally emptied, it's very likely going to end up with air in it, and that air has to be bled off. There's a tiny little valve on the fuel filter for priming. Unfortunately for me, sitting on the side of the road by Exit 1 of the I-70, it takes two people to do this: one to press the valve and the other to start the vehicle.

I had no choice but to call AAA, where I'd recently upped my coverage to the RV add-on. They told me they'd send someone along, but I was on my own finding someplace to be towed in to that works on diesels. I was 99% sure I didn't need a tow, that the only problem was some air in the line, but I couldn't be sure. The driver called me, and when I told him what was going on he said he wasn't going to bring a tow truck because we'd be able to solve the problem ourselves. I suggested that maybe he should bring it, in case I was wrong, and he told me AAA doesn't pay him enough for these calls. "I'll pay you!" I blurted out, even though I am beyond broke. I just wanted to get rolling again.

Sure enough, when the driver showed up, it was simply a question of priming the filter, and I was moving again. I gave him some cash for his troubles, and he waited on the ramp for me to give him a signal that all was well. Three miles down the road, when the bus hadn't come to a stop or anything, I gave him the all clear.

The rest of the day was uneventful, as we made our way to the stopping point for the night, Green River UT. The heat had never let up, and Cowboy looked awful, so I opted for the air conditioned comfort of Motel 6. Personally, I would have slept in the bus no problem (though doing so with all those boxes in there would have meant taking on some interesting contortions), but I really felt the little guy needed to rest in comfort before being subjected to roasting all over again. The following day's forecast showed there was no break in the heat coming.

So... if you are keeping a log of the lessons to be learned from my mistakes, today's was: Don't get so caught up with singing "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" that you forget to stop to switch fuel tanks. Words to live by.