contributed by John FX Flynn, row2k
If you've ever found yourself slowly approaching a gas station wondering not how much the gas costs, but which direction the pumps are facing, what the turn radius is getting in and out, and whether you can fill your belly as quickly as your tanks and get back on the road, then you are already a pro at shell-trailer driving--but here are some Trailer Tricks the Rowing Hacks can heartily recommend to make your next trip to the races a bit smoother.
Prime Pump Alignment
You want the pumps all lined up for the "easy in, easier exit" maneuver: parallel to the road, preferably other-car-free (so you can pull through to the far pump and limit how much trailer is hanging out past the pump island), with a nice open area beyond the pumps so you can pull out straight for a length before swinging back on the road.
Pumps that are perpendicular to the road can work in a pinch, but you might be stuck waiting for the end pump to open--and maybe hoping that there is enough room behind the station for you to pull ahead and drive around, rather than backing out. (We recommend never backing up, by the way, unless you absolutely have to; a trailer trip can be an almost exclusively forward endeavor until you get to the venue, if you plan it right and stay lucky. Of course, knowing how to back up safely is important, but being good enough to avoid having to show off that skill is the mark of a real pro.)
The 'Park Once' Plan
Really ideal pit stop spots have both well-placed gas pumps and a good place to grab food, all within one building or immediately adjacent to one another. This allows you to park your rig just once or, at worst, find a safe spot just a short distance from the pumps once you are done fueling. The Park Once Plan can definitely save you time; nothing kills your average trip speed like driving around off the highway looking for a good place to eat after your gas stop.
With a co-pilot and a gas station with an "en-suite" eatery, you can really economize your stops: you pump the gas, your co-pilot grabs the food, and you are all back on the road in the time it takes to fill the tank (and empty one or two bladders).
The Park Once Plan also a bit easier on the equipment: avoiding tooling around on local roads, making turns, and entering/exiting parking lots, is much better for keeping all those sterns intact, and attached.
(nowadays, of course, there's many an app for finding a spot with the right kind of gas with good eats just next door, so if you have a young, tech-savvy assistant coach riding shotgun, with a new-fangled smartphone, you might want to check out this list of handy truck stop apps, or maybe download iExit for the iPhone.)
A few more tips:
Park like a Big Boy
When you do find a perfect spot to stop, here's a handy tip to remember when parking: hog it up! You want to take up as many spaces as you can, and--ideally--more than half of one on each end: one behind, so that no one is tempted to snuggle in under your sterns, and one in front so that you can pull straight ahead no matter how busy the lot gets in the meantime. The advanced trick here is to pull in so that you wind up with the truck angled out a bit from the trailer; with part of your turn pre-made, your getaway is a much straighter maneuver.
Keep Good Notes
Lots of us take the same trips every year or, at worst, once every two to three years, but who can remember exactly which exit had the sweet gas stop once the miles start blurring together? Not me, so I started taking (short) notes on each trip every time we stumbled on a particularly good spot. Once you start keeping track, you'll notice that the truck needs refilling around the same exits every time you take a given trip, and you might as well take plan your stops in a good spot.
Fill Up Before You Hitch Up
No list of hacks would be complete without a hack to avoid the issue altogether: if you really want to make good time, make your first gas stop on each trip the last thing you do before you hitch up--that way you can fill up anywhere you like just that once, and maybe even throw a bit of business to one of those "perpendicular pump" stations you'll be avoiding from there on out.
No See? No Stop!
Whatever you do, don't forget the number one rule of all road trip stops: if you can't SEE the gas station/McDonalds/Circle K you want from the highway, don't stop! It is pretty simple actually: if you can't actually spot your stop from the highway, you are guaranteed to lose yourself some time (and, we might add, this rule applies no matter what your app says).
This trick would also make for a speedier stop (overhang-free drive-thru required)
Remember: when you've got a full load of shells hooked up to your truck, it isn't a sightseeing trip, folks; it's a business trip!
Got any tips you use to keep things moving when you are on the road? Or good apps that help keep your trailer wheels rolling? Let us know in the comments below.
Are your favorite road stops Hack-worthy? Send us your ultimate gas stops (by highway, exit, and state) and we'll start cobbling together a Rowing Hacks list of the best places to do gas stops right. Extra credit for any exits you can recommend on I-80 (that trip is coming up soon).
Have a great rowing hack for future inclusion here? Send it to us!