It was the end of summer and, like millions of other Americans, my family was looking to squeeze the last little bit of joy out of the warm, lazy season before hunkering down for fall and winter. In Oklahoma where we live, July had been unbearably hot, so our destination requirements were simple:
1) Must have a cool climate.
2) Must have access to water.
The coasts were too far away to drive with our pop-up camper — yes, we are that family — so we picked Traverse City, Michigan, an arts community nestled in a large, protected bay near the tip of the “mitt.”
We set a budget of $750 for the 6-day excursion. We figured that between picnic lunches and camping out, we could do our impromptu vacation on the cheap and still manage to have a lot of fun.
Until we started doing the math on fuel.
Using this nifty little tool, we calculated that making the 2,000-mile round trip — plus sight-seeing detours — would cost us approximately $600 in gasoline. After adding in food, camping rentals and recreation, we realized we were going to blow through our $750 budget by Day 3.
Enter compressed natural gas and the fine folks at CNGnow.
CNGnow helped us procure a bi-fuel Chevrolet Tahoe and we used their Fuel Finder app to plot our course for the Great Lakes State. We found CNG stations in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Miami (Okla.), Springfield (Mo.), St. Louis, Fair Oaks (Ind.), Chicago and Grand Rapids and Muskegon in Michigan. The CNG tank inside a bi-fuel Tahoe offers about 120 miles of range, so we knew we wouldn’t be able to make the whole trip on the fuel. Still, at roughly half the cost of gasoline, we estimated that we could cut our travel costs by about one-third by fueling with compressed natural gas when and where we could. That extra $200 went straight into our food/camping budget.
Along the way, we met a lot of people interested in the natural gas vehicle movement. At Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a park ranger stopped us to ask if we were really burning natural gas in our engine. “Of course,” we said, to which the ranger replied, “Best decision you’ll ever make. Natural gas is the future.” The nearest CNG station to Sleeping Bear Dunes is 130 miles away. What an awesome testament to the momentum the NGV movement is gaining!
We had conversations like this throughout our trip. There was the Marathon gas station attendant in Traverse City who asked how he could add a CNG pump to his location. There was the couple from Milwaukee who stopped us outside a restaurant to ask how we converted our vehicle. There was the police officer in Chicago who yelled “Awesome!” as he waved us through an intersection near Millennium Park. Even though fueling stations were sparse along our route, support for compressed natural gas was surprisingly easy to find. CNG not only saved our vacation, it helped us make some new friends along the way.
As you continue to fight the battle for hearts and minds in the rapidly expanding alternative fuel marketplace, never lose sight of the No. 1 thing that makes CNG such a powerful player in the space: It costs half as much as gasoline.
And it can fuel any type of vehicle — even a Chevy Tahoe pulling a pop-up camper.