Broadly speaking, there are two types of drivers when it comes to making decisions about when to refuel during long road journeys- the cautious ones who refuel even before the arrow tips to the E mark and the slightly bindaas ones who rely on their gut instinct about the capacity of the reserve fuel in the car and are willing to push the car to the nearest fueling station, if need be. Besides there are those who seem to be on some kind of a loyalty programme and refuel only at particular fuel stations and there are also those who refuel only if the price is within a particular price bracket (like in US where prices differ across vendors and stations). Whatever be your type, sooner or later you are bound to come across an experience that may nudge you to reconsider how you make refueling decisions and when you make them.
We had a nail-biting experience while driving from
Lafayette to Baton Rouge on I-10 in after which the E mark on the car does not look the same to us anymore. We were so engrossed in talking, eating, taking pictures, listening to music and all that is usually done during long drives that we did not notice how long we’d been driving with the arrow on the E mark. And before we knew it, we were already driving on the Atchafalya Swamp Freeway, a long stretch of elevated freeway that rests on pillars over the swamps. The bridge is an architectural feat because it is constructed over the Louisiana Atchafalaya river and large tracts of swamps on all side and runs for over 18.2 miles.
Initially we joked about who would push the car for the remaining distance in the hot sun; but soon we realized that there was no way we could turn back and all we could do was to keep driving until we ran out of fuel. Jokes were soon replaced with arguments about who was responsible or rather irresponsible to get us into this situation. Arguments rarely provide answers or solutions, so for the sake of self-preservation we kept aside the verbal duel (to be continued at another time and place) and tried to find some solutions. The first step was to take a baseline by trying to calibrate the exact position of the arrow relative to the lettering E and making some quick calculations on mileage, distance covered, fuel efficiency etc. As per the calculations, we thought we may just be able to cross the 18.2 miles elevated highway if we conserved. The AC was switched off immediately and the windows were rolled down to let the swampy air flow into the car and add to the foul atmosphere inside the car. Then there was an argument if switching off the car stereo would have any impact on fuel conservation. Although we did not arrive at any consensus, we decided to err on the cautious side and switch off the music. Instead of listening to the other person say ‘I had told you to switch off the music, now push the car’ we preferred to rather listen to each other sing. There was no question of stopping or changing gears, but we did try to argue if the changes in speed would affect the fuel efficiency. We tried telling each other that staring at the arrow would not elevate it in any way and we should leave the poor 'E' alone instead of hypnotizing it with our constant glare. We tried to figure out what emergency features the expressway was equipped with. We saw that there were several call phones marked by numbers for easy identification and we figured out that help will not be too far away even if we indeed needed support. With all eyes on the movement of the arrow which was way below E, we forgot to even take pictures of the
Atchafalaya river and swamps. The 18.2 miles ride seemed so long that we even began wondering if there was any digit missing from the hundredth place and if it was in fact 118.2 kms or even worse if the decimal was actually not supposed to be there before 2? But finally we did see the end of the freeway and our car was still running on the reserve fuel.
Once we got off, we still did not see any fuel station but the fact that we were in a human habitation and not suspended over a swamp gave tremendous relief. Soon we spotted a fueling station- it was not selling fuel from our preferred company and the price was also somewhat high but that did not matter anymore. We had stared at the E mark for too long than what it deserved.