Penny and I bought a travel trailer last year and were not able to use it because an unseasonably cold snap forced me to “winterize” it early in the fall. Sure, we parked it in our driveway a couple of times, but we hadn’t slept in it, eaten a meal in it or — important to its intended purpose — traveled with it.
All that changed yesterday; we’ve watched dozens of YouTube videos, we packed up lots of supplies and we hit the road.
The Queen of the realm now has a moveable palace.
Full of hope and optimism, we are ready to hit the road.
A month ago, we selected our first camping destination and our choice was strongly influenced by the cold spell we were experiencing at the time. So, we chose southern New Mexico — Alamogordo, to be exact. We’re staying at a KOA, which is where you go when you want full hookups and an easy camping experience; perfect for our inaugural adventure.
On Saturday, we will visit White Sands National Monument and perhaps make the long drive (sans trailer, which will remain in the KOA for the weekend) to Carlsbad Caverns. All of this was predicated on making it to Alamogordo first.
Gas Anxiety Isn’t Limited to Motorcycling
My brother, Clive, was a little alarmed that we chose a destination so far from home. However, as I type this, it’s 33 degrees and snowing at home, so I guess we made the right choice, since the weather was forecasted to be in the 70’s when we arrived.
On the other hand, we wound up driving right into the teeth of a persistent, driving wind that drove the normally dismal gas mileage of my Jeep Grand Cherokee (a vehicle I love despite its almost comically-poor reliability) to new lows.
We gassed up south of Trinidad, CO, at a Shell station that must be in the running for having the most scenic backdrop in the chain:
Topped up and feeling like, “I got this,” we forged confidently southward and the country opened up, traffic rapidly dissipated and Penny took a nap.
If you look at a map of this area, you’ll see that it’s only 84 miles from the Shell station in Trinidad to Wagon Mount, NM. We (meaning me; Penny, who has vastly better judgment than I do, was still asleep) breezed through Wagon Mount with a half tank of gas, confident we would have plenty of fuel to reach Las Vegas, NM — a much-preferred Las Vegas than the better-known version, in my estimation.
It was then that Eurus, the unlucky Greek God of Wind, sought to extract his price for my devil-may-care nonchalance by whipping up the air to what seemed hurricane speed. I drove on, head-on into the gale, dragging 5,000 pounds of northern Indiana’s finest fabricated recreational camping handiwork — which features an enormous, perfectly flat front wall that served as a terrific air brake — behind me.
With only 39 miles left to the next gas station and vacation salvation (gas) ahead of us, I wasn’t too worried. The total distance between gas stations for this leg of the trip was only 125 miles.
And then the gas gauge began to drop precipitously; I swear you could see it moving.
I regularly checked the “instant gas mileage” indicator and I was horrified to see mile after mile of horrifyingly terrible numbers: 4MPG, 3-something MPG and, at one point, 2.8 MPG.
Penny awoke from her nap, looked over at me, smiled and asked, “Can I get you anything?”
“Yeah,” I replied. “Gas.”
Alarmed, no doubt unsurprised that I’d gotten us into a new predicament while she slept (but too nice to show it), Penny jumped in to help.
First, she searched online for nearby gas stations I might have missed (good idea, but for once, I was right and there were none). Then she googled to find out the size of the Jeep’s gas tank so we could more closely estimate remaining range, since the “Distance to Empty” display on the dashboard had switched to a “Low Fuel” warning message. The tank holds 24.6 gallons. Ordinary range: 300+ miles. Today’s range: hopefully 125 miles.
So, when when the needle dropped to the 1/8 tank line, we slowed to 40 MPH, four-way flashers on, in an effort to save gas. Other motorists, semi drivers and even a state trooper in a hurry flew right by us, flaunting their plentiful fuel stocks. I could feel their haughty derision as they passed us.
The next place to fill up in any direction was 10 miles away in Las Vegas. We didn’t know exactly what mileage we were getting but the instant mileage indicator refused to move higher than 3-something MPG, so the calculations were not encouraging.
We debated pulling over and uncoupling the trailer to improve our odds of making it to the gas station, but instead, pressed on, tense, mostly-silent and dreading to feel the first signs of a sputtering, fuel/starved engine.
Since this was our first outing in the camper, we wanted to set it up in daylight. Either running out of gas or leaving our precious RV by the side of the road would disrupt that plan, so we played against the odds and kept going.
We made it. But just barely and not without one final moment of tension:
We were obviously not the only travelers struggling with fuel challenges because when we pulled into the first gas station we came to, there were lines at every pump. I pulled behind a pickup truck that was gassing up, turned off the Jeep to conserve fuel and Penny went inside.
The gauges were on when I took this photo. The tank is very clearly nearly empty.
Finally, it was my turn to gas up. I stepped on the brake pedal, hit the starter button and the dashboard lights protested: “Key has left vehicle.”
Actually, both keys had left the vehicle because Penny had the spare in her purse and I had handed her the other one earlier for some reason. Frantic texts and a phone call later, Penny came sprinting out of the station to hand me the key.
I filled the tank. It took 24.1 gallons, meaning we had half a gallon, or about 1 3/4 miles left, adjusting for wind and based on the “instant MPG” display’s most recent readings.
Over the 125 miles, we’d averaged 5.08 miles per gallon, a record low in my experience, even counting a “drive into a heavy wind” episode I’d had in a U-Haul truck towing a trailer two summers ago.
The last part of the trip was thankfully uneventful. We drove through some beautiful country; open, unpopulated, but, as you can see, still plagued by roadside trash tossed from moving vehicles. What kind of horrible people litter into any landscape but especially one as pristine as this?
One highlight was “Penny’s Diner,” in Vaughn, NM, more of a wayside along a two-land highway than an actual town:
Finally, we made it to Alamogordo and the friendly confines of the KOA. Setup went great; everything works but the TV, which is the thing we care about the least.
We spent the evening dining, relaxing and reading and then enjoyed a great, first night’s sleep in our little travel trailer.
This morning, we’re enjoying coffee in the 54 degree, sunny weather of Alamogordo and will head out to White Sands National Monument soon, but that and other news from today will be the subject of tomorrow’s post.
Thanks to Penny for putting up with my inexperience. I managed to refrain from using the line, “It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong,” during our gas shortage scare (likely a good decision). Thanks to you for reading and we’ll touch base tomorrow.