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The Dumbest Thing I’ve Done All Year

Greg Stier
Greg Stier

It all started as another wonderful day in paradise. This morning we decided that we would get a semi early start to Maui’s largest active volcano to start the day with some breathtaking sights.

Haleakala towers above the landscape, launching from sea level to over 10,000 feet in the air. The lush landscape is fertile due in large part to the volcanic activity over the last hundreds and thousands of years.

Debbie and I along with our two little ones, took our trusty rental mini van and sped our way toward the gigantic mountain that rules the east side of the second largest island in the Hawaiian chain. We accelerated past the tiny towns that dotted the landscape on the way toward the crater. We sped our way past the gas stations and food chains in these tiny towns. We hurried our way past the sign that reminded everybody going up Haleakala that this was their last chance for fuel for the next 70 miles (35ish miles up and 35ish back down.)

I started getting a little nervous when we asked the ranger at the-drive-by-pay-up shack and asked the lady there how far we were away from the nearest gas station. She told us that it was about twenty miles down the mountain. When Debbie checked the “DTE” button (“Distance to Empty) it read 18 miles.

Here was one of those moments in time where I had a decision to make. I could have (and should have) turned the car back around and tried to make it to the gas station at the bottom of the hill. At the very worst, I would have been a few miles away from a gas station when I ran out of gas. My second choice was that I could have (and did) choose to drive the rest of the way to the crater and hope that I could find some gas at the top of the volcano.

My wonderful wife asked,

“Greg are we going to be able to make it back down the mountain?”

My answer was “Sure sweetie!”

I went on and on about our mini-van being tilted upward as it climbed up the steep mountain hills thereby making the gas in the tank swish to the back causing the gas gauges to look more empty than it actually was. My verbal reasoning was so persuasive that I was starting to convince myself when I heard the dreaded “bing” sound, you know, the sound of a car’s built in warning sound that there was only one or so more gallons to go before you’re out of gas and luck. It’s when we heard the “bing” that Debbie started getting really nervous. But by this time we were a few miles from the crater at the summit. There was no way I was going to let the absence of fuel thwart me in my quest to see the crater. So I pressed on.

I reminded my wife that the Rangers probably had gas up there for emergencies or that I could find others with extra gas at the top. But my biggest back up plan was that, if all else failed, I could literally coast the car the entire way down the mountain if I had to. Once at the summit my car had only 8 miles on the “DTE” guage. Holy crud, Batman.

So, while at the summit, we did the proverbial touristy things. We took a few pictures, hiked around a little bit and then got ready to make our descent. So I got up the gumption to ask the ranger at the top of the mountain at the summit store if they had any gas. She said “no”. But she said that if I could make it to the Visitor’s center ten miles down then they would probably have gas for an emergency. So it looked like “Operation Coast-a-lot” was going to be in full gear (actually neutral) for the Stier family. But I knew that I was in trouble when we started coasting, fully expecting the gas tank to be much fuller (since now the gas was swishing to the front because we were headed downhill.) But instead of being more full, the “DTE” gauge was shrinking faster than a snowman on a Hawaiian beach in July.

As we were making the steep hairpin turns in neutral some disturbing thoughts invaded my mind. Thoughts like:

“What if I run out of gas, stop coasting and there is no where to pull over?”

“What if my brakes or steering don’t work when I run out of gas and we go plummeting over a cliff?”

With about five miles to go to reach the Visitor’s center (which is only about one third of the way down the mountain) my “DTE” guage hit zero. Instead of risking losing brakes and steering I quickly pulled into a small side road and came to a stop.

My wife and I looked at each other and just began to laugh and then almost started to cry because we knew that it was going to be a long afternoon. I asked some hikers who just pulled in if they had some gas and they looked at me like I was an idiot.

Okay, so they were right.

I gave my wife the cell phone and told her that I was going to get some gas. I reassured her that the visitor’s center would have some. I had five miles to go to get there and was sure that I could get a ride from somebody, but in the meantime I would run as far and as fast as I could down the mountain. About a half a mile into this forced run I began to realize the gravity and weirdness of the situation. I had two small children and a lovely wife locked in a minivan with a bag of cheeto type snacks, a bottle of water and some gum while I was running down a volcano to get some gas.

Hoping I didn’t look like a psycho I began waving down cars as they passed by. The first car drove by with passengers who looked at me like I was some maniac killer trying to get a free ride. Finally a nice couple from San Francisco pulled over, bought my story and let me into their car. They dropped me off at the Visitor’s Center. I said goodbye to the San Friscan Good Samaritans and ran into the building to talk to the ranger, bracing myself for the good news. Here’s about how it went,

“Sorry about your mini van and your family stuck at the top of our volcano. Our gas is contaminated. You’re now twenty five miles away from the nearest gas station. There’s a pay phone outside. Good luck and get out.”

And aloha to you too.

But, gaining my senses back, I knew that I had a few things going in my favor. First of all I knew that my Daddy was sovereign and would work things out one way or the other in spite of my stupidity. Secondly, I knew that as a preacher I had a knack for persuading people. So I made a quick call to my wife on the pay phone to check on her and the kids, uttered a quick prayer and then begged a couple heading back down the mountain (who were stopping for a potty break) to take me to town, since it was right on their way.

Praise God they said “yes.”

The good news is that I had a chance to share with them the hope of Jesus while urging them not to judge Christianity by the stupidity of Christians like me. The bad news is that it took about forty minutes to make it the rest of the way down the winding roads of Haleakala, meanwhile my wife and kids were running out of games to play. Peek-a-boo goes only so far with a twenty month old and after about an hour of Sesame Street and Sunday school songs Jeremy was getting bored.

Once at the Shell station I bought their last two one gallon gas containers, filled them up and offered a nice old guy pumping gas into his Camry fifty bucks to take me back up the mountain. He unhesitatingly said “Yes” which to be honest kind of scared me at first (psycho or Samaritan?) But beggars can’t be choosers and hitchers who don’t hitch end up becoming hikers pretty quick.

I hopped into his car and we quasi-whisked up the mountain. I got a chance to witness to the guy on the way up (whose actual name happened to be “Guy”). He didn’t want to have anything to do with the gospel of us “right wing fundamentalists” but I was grateful anyway for the ride and hopefully encouraged him to reconsider his stereotypes.. An hour later I was back at the mini van and the Stier clan was once again on our way down the mountain. The lessons I learned today?

  1. Always fill up.
  2. Never assume Park Rangers are nice or that there’s gas on the top of a Volcano.
  3. Fifty dollars will get you a long way if you need a ride.
  4. Couples from California (north and south) are nice.
  5. It pays to be ready to share your faith.
  6. God will always take care of you, even when it’s you’re fault.
  7. Today I did the dumbest thing I’ve done all year. But the year is young.

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