That Time I Ran Out of Gas on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Written by

Jason Barnette


December 19, 2016

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COVID-19 has changed the world. The tourism industry has been one of the hardest hit areas of the global pandemic. Local restaurants, museums, state and national parks have all changed hours of operation, procedures, and some have gone out of business altogether.

Please verify current operations of any places you want to visit mentioned in these articles, and contact me if a business has permanently closed so I can update the article. Thank you and stay safe out there!

Ever see that cutesy meme floating around the Internet comparing the two types of drivers in the world: each see the gas needle almost at “E” and one says “I need to get gas immediately” while the other says “I can go a bit longer.” I’m the one who is always trying to pump just a few more miles out of the gas tank. But one time, in the worst possible place, I reached my end and ran out of gas.

Peaks of Otter on the Blue Ridge Parkway in VA

I might’ve run out of gas, but I ran out of gas at a beautiful section of the Parkway: Abbott Lake at the Peaks of Otter.

I started my day in Waynesboro, Virginia, at the northern entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway. My goal was simple: spend the entire day driving just 130 miles to spend the next night in Roanoke. When I woke up that morning I glanced at the gas gauge. It read just a tick below half tank, which means I had ten gallons of gas. I did some quick math in my head: ten gallons of gas at an average twenty miles per gallon, so I should easily have a two hundred mile range. I decided that gave me a good enough margin for error and quickly started my drive.

Everything was going great until I made a stop at the James River Visitor Center just sixty-five miles down the road. I pulled off the Parkway and hopped out to stretch my legs and take a short walk around the visitor center. When I returned to the van it was time for lunch. I kept the engine running, like I would frequently do, while I made my lunch so I could also keep my phone, tablet, and batteries charging.

That’s when I realized the needle on the gas gauge had deeply sharply toward the “E” since I started that morning. Instead of the slightly more than a quarter tank of gas I expected, it was only a few ticks above empty. And I still had seventy miles to drive. I felt the first moment of worry creep into the back of my mind.

I decided it was probably just a glitch. After all the climbing up and down the Parkway, going around curve after curve, had probably thrown off the gauge that sits in the gas tank. I was sure I had more gas than it read, and figured once I started driving again the gauge would correct itself and show I had more gas. It didn’t.

Just a few minutes after leaving the James River Visitor Center the van dinged and the low fuel light came on. This meant I had one gallon of gas left. I knew on a normal day this meant I had twenty miles to go, but if the gauge was accurate I had far less than that. To make matters worse I was facing a new-constant uphill climb now as I left the river gorge behind. I felt the first bead of sweat develop on my forehead.

I quickly pulled out my Parkway map, while still driving down the road because I didn’t want to waste gas by stopping, and looked up the next available crossroad to get gas. It was forty miles away. I knew I wouldn’t make it. So I began looking for the next major attraction on the Parkway. I was relieved to find the Peaks of Otter coming up in just fifteen miles. I knew if I was very lucky I would make it to the popular restaurant and lodge, and once comfortably and safely parked I would call Geico roadside assistance to get gas. I now had a plan.

Peaks of Otter on the Blue Ridge Parkway in VA

The last photo I captured before the sun dipped below the horizon.

Twenty minutes later, with the engine sputtering every once in awhile, I pulled into the parking at the Peaks of Otter. I parked off to the side since I knew I wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon. I turned off the engine, but then decided to indulge myself a curiosity and tried starting the van again just to see if I could. It wouldn’t start. I had literally used the last drop of gas in the tank to park in this spot. I wasn’t going anywhere. I felt the first moment of humor as I burst into laughter.

Of course my cellphone had absolutely no signal whatsoever. So much for that fancy “Roadside Assistance” button in the Geico app. So I walked inside the restaurant, asked to use the courtesy phone, and fifteen minutes later had scheduled for someone to bring me some gas through my insurance company.

They said it would be an hour before they arrived. The one good piece of fortune all day was that I had arrived just before sunset. With the sunlight quickly fading I grabbed my tripod and camera gear and headed out to the lake’s edge to capture a few photos. At least something positive came of my misfortune. I returned to the van and decided to read a good book for about a half hour until the gentleman arrived with my three gallons of gas.

As it turned out most minivans have notoriously bad fuel efficiency on mountainous roads. I had only bought the van a couple of weeks earlier, and this was my first real test on roads that would dip and climb a few thousand feet every twenty miles. The man who brought me gas explained he’d owned the same van as mine years ago, and also admitted to running out of gas in the mountains a few times. After doing some math I basically figured my fuel efficiency dropped from twenty miles per gallon on the open highway to just nine miles per gallon on the Parkway.

I continued my drive into Roanoke, got off the Parkway, and immediately filled the tank with gas. I gave the pump handle a few extra squeezes after it automatically clicked off just to be sure I had the most gas I could get. I never let it get below half a tank after that. But at least I had a great time on the Parkway that day!

If you would like to view photos from the Blue Ridge Parkway, please visit my website at

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