Toto, are we in Kansas? Part Three

Toto, are we in Kansas? Part Two, continued:

Our GPS listed only one gas station, a little over 4 miles up the road in Jetmore, Kansas.  I gazed down that long expanse of empty highway, to a place conjured in my mind’s eye.  I saw a set of old, encrusted pumps standing beside a dusty road as dried tumbleweed somersaulted into a brazen sunset.  I guess my brain was still on high desert time.

For a few brief moments we discussed the feasibility of hiking into town. We already had an empty 5 gallon jerry (gas) can strapped to our roof rack – required gear for spending several days off-road in Canyonlands National Park backcountry. But Doug correctly assessed that walking so far with an empty can was one thing, returning with it filled was entirely another.

Then I got a great idea. I would just call the gas station and see if someone could come get us. We had about $100 in cash; plenty of money to pay someone for their trouble. Luckily, our handy dandy GPS listed the phone number. I quickly reached for my cell phone and a young-sounding man answered. After I briefly described our situation, the conversation went something like this:

“Could you send someone to get us? I’ll gladly pay any extra costs. And we already have an empty gas can too.”

“Um, well I’m the only one working today and I can’t leave.”

“Ok, is there another gas station in town?”

“No, we’re the only one.”

“Is there a tow-truck service available?”

“No.”

“Do you have a friend you can call? Someone who might like to earn a few bucks? It wouldn’t take long; it’s only 8 miles round-trip.”

“Well, uh, I’m new to town so I don’t know anybody.”

“Is there a taxi?”

Small laugh. “No.”

I thanked him for his time and disconnected the call. We sat still for a few moments, lost in our own thoughts. I looked out across the fields and couldn’t help but relish in its beauty…in a lonely, desolate sort of way. The sun was just beginning its descent, deepening the color of the surrounding wheat to emblazoned gold.

Kansas Eventide
Kansas Eventide

Out of nowhere, a huge tractor trailer thundered past at breakneck speed, shaking the Honey Badger with its blast of moving air, spurring me back to the problem at hand. We drew straws to determine who would get the privilege of hitching a ride into town. Doug won.

He dutifully climbed out, retrieved the jerry can from our roof rack, and I looked both ways down the road. Yup, totally empty of any traffic whatsoever – and totally silent. There weren’t even any crickets singing to the summer’s heat.

Meanwhile, I’m thinking things through in the cozy truck cab, windows down since it was still pretty hot, and enjoying the pleasant breeze reaching out to me from across the horizon. I figured that worst case scenario, we could pitch our tent right next to the truck on the edge of the wheat, and hopefully the morning would bring more traffic. We still had all our gear from wilderness camping in the deserts and canyons of Utah; so although it might not be the most appealing answer, it would work.

Unless the dude from “The Chainsaw Massacre” came home and spotted our little encampment – or pick any horror movie that involves empty roads and stranded travelers – all of which activated my imagination, each scenario ending with the same result. The police would show up by noon the next day and find no trace of us except for some lingering blood stains and our children would never know what happened to dear old Mum and Dad.

A light bulb went off and I started thinking about possible story lines. Out came my journal. All thoughts turned to scribbling down ideas.

After a couple more monstrous tractor-trailers whizzed by us without stopping, and a few cars too, Doug leaned through the driver side window and said, “I know a sure-fire way to get someone stop. Watch this. I’m going to light a cigar.”

From what I’ve been told, relighting an extinguished cigar is just downright unmentionable for the true aficionado…my guess is that it just tastes that much nastier. So in theory, and given “Murphy’s Law”, if Doug lit a luxurious, hand-rolled, maduro cigar, it would take only moments for someone to arrive and offer us a ride thereby forcing Doug to abandon his expensive, pleasurable smoke.

Crazy; I know. But guess what? Within 5 – 10 puffs after lighting up, a car appeared on the horizon. Doug just grinned around his cigar, motioned to me that his theory was true, and from a cloud of fragrant smoke, stuck out his thumb.

The tobacco gods must have gotten a good chuckle because sure enough, a snappy little commuter car pulled in behind us, sporting a very nice farmer who lived locally, and was not one bit surprised by our predicament. We joked that signs should be erected warning unwary travelers to gas up in Garden City before making the epic, gas-free, journey to the Interstate. After a quick call to tell his wife he would be a little late in getting home, the farmer advised us that although we would find gas at the next station, to only fill up enough until we reached Larned, where gas prices would be more amenable. It was good information, but we preferred paying extra rather than risk another empty tank.

I decided to stay with the Honey Badger because it made no sense for both of us to go – even though my internal ‘alert meter’ was pegged at ding-ding-ding! Didn’t you see that movie, stupid? NEVER separate. Bad things always happen. So wearing a bright, shiny smile upon my face, I waved Doug off, and began my frantic search for weapons.

Well – it’s not like I could even roll up the windows and lock the doors. It was still 105 degrees outside.

Nervous sweat rolled down my face as bag after bag held nil for protection. I felt as vulnerable as a sitting duck. But then the clouds parted and the angels began to sing; I found the motherlode. I immediately strapped a 10” survival knife to my waist, tucked another beside my seat, stuck some mace in my purse, and lastly slipped my trusty, Kershaw into a side pocket. Oh yeah, and my 9mm was within hands-reach too. Any Hollywood monster would think twice before messing around with me.

With a sigh of relief, I settled back into my seat, took a cool swig of water, and lost myself inside the pages of my journal.

I was so busy writing, I belatedly noticed that a car had pulled up behind the Honey Badger. I watched it coast to a stop from my side view mirror. No, no, no – don’t stop, nothing to see here, keep moving. We women have been over-conditioned to avoid being stranded alone, on the side of any road, under any circumstances.

Luckily, it turned out to be Doug in the farmer’s car – silly me. My attention had been so riveted to my writing, that I never saw them arrive and make the U-turn. Good thing I was armed to the teeth; I failed miserably for situational awareness.

To be continued…

Tune in next week for the exciting conclusion – um, Part Four :o)

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