Out of gas

July 5, 2011

Saturday, goodbyes, then the road and the sun.

I rode all day, ending in a motel about 20 KM from Thunder Bay. The bike holds up, with it’s issues, but it holds up.

Sunday. Breakfast and I head out towards Thunder Bay. I have only studied the roads cursorily and when I get to Thunder Bay the signs don’t really tell the story… I check the GPS. Seems like I am on track. Highway 11- highway 1 I am determined to cover ground but the speed limit is well… limiting. 90 KM/hr which is… 55 MPH. It’s actually hard to keep that speed. The bike likes to cruise at 80 MPH.

This place reminds me of Prince George BC. But I motor on. I am determined. Around 11 AM I go through Long Lac. I look at my gas situation, I have another 110 miles of gas on the tank, I get this twinge… almost turned around to fill up. Nah, there has been towns every 50 to 70 miles, no worries.

But 50 miles down the road I start to worry. The only signs I see are for Hearst. Starting with Hearst 190 KM. I sit there as the trees roll by calculating, translating miles into KM and with a growing pinch of unease to my stomach realizing that I don’t have enough gas to get there. I turn on the GPS, click the “Points of Interest” then “Gas Stations” icons. It tells the same story : looks like I’m short 45 miles on that tank of gas. Uh ho.

The road ahead is a long, long endless ribbon that unfurls tirelessly, rolling hill after rolling hill. It was an interesting feeling, an interesting process to watch. The growing anxiety. A sinking. The knowing of the inevitability of the situation. I was going to run out of gas. I cursed myself a few times for not listening to my gut, back in Long Lac where I could have filled up and been totally immune to any ill feeling. Earlier I had stopped at a station to eat a banana and look at the map. First I had realized the map had flown off the back of the bike and second, this woman almost ran over my bike with her minivan and aggressive attitude that loudly said : GET OUT OF MY WAY. (I assume I had parked in “her” spot). Which pretty much summed up the vibe in the air in this place. Northern Ontario is NOT a friendly place. My antidote for that was to basically get out of Dodge as quickly as possible and that meant I didn’t fill up the tank.

I was watching the countdown to the empty tank and looking around me for the slightest indication of the unexpected, wished for, serendipitous appariton of a gas station. With each rolling hill and every peak, hope would fill my heart and mind.

Maybe after this one?

Nope.

The red warning light came on. That means I have a gallon of gas left. Which is roughly 42 miles of travel left.

30. 20. 10. And still I hoped at each hill. I Turned on the GPS hoping it would reveal new information. The human mind has an interesting way of coping with situations; hope. Against all odds and against the cold truth one hopes.

Around these parts there are very few installations, a home here, a turn off for a road there, which are all gravel roads which I don’t dare trying on this loaded bike. I ponder stopping at a house, but the folks around here gave me such a bad impression, flashes of the Stephen King movie “Misery” appear in my mind so I continue. For a rare time in my travels, I actually don’t feel safe, so I inexorably continue on watching for a gas station to appear as the miles go by, watching the machine consuming every last drop of the precious fuel.

When I hit 210 miles on the tank I knew I had to look at a place to pull over. I didn’t want to run it dry. The shoulder on my right was very soft, narrow, with thick new soft gravel near a ditch. Not a good option with the risk of dumping the bike or being too close from the road and its rushing semis.

At 212 miles an entranceway to some gas company’s installations appeared… One has to appreciate the irony. I pulled to the left, parked, turned off the engine.


Silence.

I feel a bit dumb and a bit bewildered.

It’s warm and sunny, but not too hot as to suffer in the leathers, which is good. The flies buzz around. That made me panic a bit, there are loads of them. Black flies, horse flies, small flies, bee looking critters with big stingers… But somehow they are not feasting on me yet. Just buzzing busily.

The wind blows. There is a line of trees on both sides of the road. Violently cut off to put the road in. Man conquering nature sort of look. They seem to observe.

“What do I do?” I asked myself.
“CAC, Canadian automobile club, which is like BCAA in BC and AAA in the US. I pull out my phone. Turn it on. No bars. No signal. I try to dial anyways, that hope thing once again… Nothing. No service.

“What do I do?” I asked again. The odd car would race by. I stood by the bike for a while wondering if anyone would stop. No one does. Finally I decided to overcome my reluctance and I waved down a car. Some burgundy old Pontiac, two guys are in there, Overweight and slightly odd looking, one feller opens his mouth on a set of yellowed ragged looking teeth. I feel like running away.

“Oh hi, I am out of gas, I was wondering if you could call the police or someone, my phone does not work…”

“Oh, you’re out of gas.” Says the driver.

“Gnn, gnn, gnn” laughs the passenger.

“Oh, your phone doesn’t work.” Says the driver. The passenger looks at me.

“Well, dunno… said the driver. The next town is 130 KM that way.” He says pointing West.

“Yeah, 130.” says the passenger.

“Yes, thank you, I know that, came from there… Well if you can just tell someone I’m out here… Let them know… Thank you.” I said.

They took off. Phew. Whoa. Hillbilly nightmare. A while later another car approaches, I wave my arms. I can’t help but wonder what I look like to them… woman in leather pants and superhero jacket waving on the side of the road by a loaded motorcycle.

They stop. I run to the car. I repeat the story. It’s a couple in an older red minivan.

“You could call someone?” the lady suggests.

“I have no service on my phone.”

“Oh…”

They look at each other, uncomfortable.

“Well, if you could just maybe let the cops know I’m out here by myself, out of gas…”

“Uh hmm.”

And they roll away. Wow. This is kind of different. As I see these characters, I really don’t want to leave the bike out here alone. So what do I do? Semi trucks speed by and I am gesticulating, waving, trying to convey the idea of “call for help” but as they disappear on the crest of the hill ahead and the noise of the tires and engine blurs into the sound of the wind through the trees, I know nothing will come of that.

Well, I need to eat. I thought. I pulled out a mini can of tuna and two pieces of dry rye bread crisps. I ate that and the flies augmented their racket around my head. I drank water out of the camel back. At least I’m prepared and I noticed how the giant horse flies were puzzled by my leathered legs knowing they couldn’t get blood out of those and that made me relax. Protective gear. Yes.

Another car. I go by the side of the road and wave. Zzzzzmmmmmfff. They stop, turn around come close to me. A couple.

I tell my story.

“Oh, my phone works!” she says. He looks for it and hands it to me. I call BCAA. No answer. He calls. He gets messages. I’m wondering what is going on… without them I’m hooped. We try a third time. Someone answers. It took a while but they got my location, someone to come by and an approximate time of arrival. Progress.


I thank them profusely and they leave. OK. All I need to do now is wait. I put a jacket over my head against the sun and the flies. About 20 minutes later a truck pulls by. A blue two tone older Ford. I walk towards them. A woman comes out first. She must be 60 or so. Big bulging blue eyes that have a strange lost look. Red marks on her very pale skin, grey curly short hair, overweight, in a dark blue with small dots sleeveless shirt and shorts.

I tell my story.

“Oh Mon Dieu!!!” she exclaims.

“You speak French?”

“Oh no!” Antoher man comes out. Then another. All in their late 50s early 60s. I have to tell the story again.

“I told them, betcha this motorcyclist stopped because his ass was sore!! Ha! Ha! Ha!” the bigger man says.

“So your boyfriend went for help?” asked the other.

“No, I’m by myself”

“You travel alone?! A woman!? Where are you from?”

“Vancouver.”

“Whoa! You like trouble” the woman said.

The first man then walked towards the front of the right side of the truck. He was standing with the door of the truck separating us. On the ground I saw a puddle forming. Hmm hmmm… Grand. Really grand.

The woman said :
“Well, we stopped because we wanted to stretch our legs and he wanted to pee. So that was the deal.”

The unspoken words here were “ We needed a little distraction and saw you …” The man was done quickly and walked from behind the truck’s door. I looked at his hands, which I half expected he was going to wipe on his pants but he didn’t.

Time to go! Good luck! And they were off. I realized I had provided great entertainment to these folks on the otherwise boring road from Hearst to Long Lac.

Holy crap… I am in the middle ages of an era with cars and computers but nonetheless the middle ages… The Dark Ages. We don’t realize it in our shiny cities…

I elected to get on the bike and try to relax. I leaned on the handlebars, used my gloves as a cushion and laid my head to rest. Somehow this is tiring. I’ ve been here 2 hours already and it feels like an eternity.


I dozed on and off as cars, semis, pick-up trucks zoom by without a care. I could be dead or dying no one would know. That was unsettling. These vehicles with human beings in there… supposedly sentient beings… not seeing or caring at all… Each time one would go by. I would feel it. They look. They see. Who cares?

One pick up slowed down in a hurry. I was lying on the bike so I raised my upper body, when they saw me raise, they sped forward. Vultures? There was a 4 wheeler in the back of that truck, they probably had gas… but they’re gone.

Another hour went by. I am starting to get aggravated. I yelled out loud. The sound of my voice echoes in the forest around. A gentle sound reapeating throuhg the leaves, branches and trunks, bouncing off the soft ground of the forest. The ultimate indifference. …it’s all a mirror of what you think. Wow.

A few minutes later the towing truck appeared in the distance. I got up. Opened the gas tank. Fill me up baby. He came with a big jerry can.

“That’s been a while… I was wondering if you were actually going to show up.” I said a bit angry.

“Well I had to get out of my house, get the truck then go get the gas, then come here…” He has a very strong French Canadian accent, yellow teeth a dirty shirt, he’s fairly young but acts like an old man but he has gas. So lets be nice to him. He poured the contents of the can in the tank.

I said to him :

“Folks aren’t too friendly around here.”

“Nope! They’re not!” He said that with such knowing.

We joked for a short bit, I filled up the paperwork, thanked him and turned around, put on my helmet, gloves, bag on my back, secured the luggage and left before he could turn his truck around. We’re on. First, second, third, fourth fifth and soon I’m going 95 MPH down this wretched piece of road. Suddenly I don’t give a crap. If the police stops me I’ll ask them where were they when I was stranded up there…

But I don’t meet any. I get to town. Yes, another mill town with a tree cemetery across the way. (piles and piles of logs from the forests) Subway, Mc Donalds, Tim Hortons a tire shop and some other machinery oriented businesses. I chose Tim Hortons as my friend Chris would say : “ If it’s good enough for Natalie McMaster, it’s good enough for you!”

(that was from a tour we did together in these same parts when we were desperately trying to find something decent to eat. Natalie McMaster is a Canadian artist and was doing a commercial for Tim Hortons at the time)

I took a good hour, refilled the coffee cup. It’s pretty late. I lost 3-4 hours with this little incident. I’m starting to nurse the idea of driving all night. No wind, no RVs, no cops. I got back on the bike. Lets get on the road and see how we feel.

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6 Responses to “Out of gas”

  1. Chris Says:

    Hey Danielle, good to hear your ok. I thought about you and this part of your trip and the thought occured to me that you should travel with a jerry can with some extra fuel maybe. But now that I have said that your probably across Ontario by now. Anyways carry on safely. Be well. C


    • You know when I was in the middle of nowhere I thought of the jerry can but then thought I would have needed a 4 gallon one which would be a real pain to carry around… I guess the thing is to always fill up and check maps. But I usually do that on the internet and the internet was hard to find… so glad I’m out of there…

  2. bobskoot Says:

    Danielle:

    I’m so glad you managed to get some gas. When I drove across Canada I went the southern route Hwy 17 through Sault Ste Marie and I didn’t find it friendly there either, but at least there is gas at Wawa. I was going to try and make it but I chickened out and turned around to fill my tank. I drove at night until midnight and the moon over Georgian Bay was hypnotic

    bob
    Riding the Wet Coast


    • I’m glad to read the “unfriendliness” isn’t just in my head. I experienced more of that today at a gas station. But I’m out of there now, so all is well.

      The part about the moon… Oh, that is so cool. I can relate to that 100%

  3. SonjaM Says:

    I am glad that you got your gas and could move out of this place. I would have thought people would rather be curious, friendly and helpful especially in low populated areas. Very disappointing. Should I be trapped there, I will make sure to carry a full jerry can with me.

  4. Forrest Says:

    Geez, Danielle! That was certainly my drama feature of the week! For a story that took place mainly in one place, there were so many twists and turns! BRAVO on your storytelling and writing! I can’t describe how RELIEVED I am that you are okay! As for the citizens of the community there, I am a bit too angry to post something diplomatic about them. So I’d rather keep bad energy off of your page and just thank God that you are okay. I have no idea what Tim Horton’s is, but that is one restaurant that I am feeling quite fond of right now, I tell ya!

    Forrest


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