Sunday, July 17, 2016
Fueling and staying overnight at a Pilot/Flying J
On our trip to Pigeon Forge from Orlando, I was sure that I didn't want to drive the entire distance in one day. We also had to make a stop in Brevard, NC to drop off a UHaul full of furniture.
Since we only needed one night in Brevard, we decided to stop at a Pilot station and try to stay overnight, then find another spot to park the rig in Brevard the following night. Before we left, I scrutinized the satellite photos of Brevard and found a church parking lot that looked perfect. When I called them, they sounded reluctant, but agreed that we could park it there for one night.
This past Thursday morning, she hopped in the 26' UHaul and I took the RV with our toad and we headed up I95. We talked along the way and chose the Pilot on I26 just west of I95. We've stopped there before in our truck and were fully aware that it's a very busy place.
As it turned out, I was running a bit ahead of her and pulled into the Pilot to get gas and scope it out. We had decided that we would move on down the road and check out a rest stop if there was no room at the Pilot for both of us.
Getting fuel at Pilot's is a little bit frustrating, because unless you have a commercial card or a Pilot/Flying J credit card, you have to go into the office to get pre-approval for your credit card before you can even pump. If you want DEF, you need to tell them that when you get the pre-approval. I figure out how much I'll roughly need (total cost) and round it to the next hundred. When you get back out to the pump, it's all ready and all you have to do is fill it up. When you hit your limit, it stops. If you don't hit it, you're only charged for what you actually used and can go back in if you want and get a receipt.
For me, DEF putting DEF in at the pump is difficult because my fill point is at the right rear and the diesel fills are at the front. If I put DEF in, I have to get back into the coach, move it up and then pump. If there are truckers waiting, then I feel like that would really frustrate them. To make it all work out, I carry two DEF jugs (ordered online), fill them and then use them to fill the DEF tank later at a campground.
After filling up, I asked the guy in the lane about parking. The trucker's can back into some of the long parking spaces, but I can't back the RV with the toad. Unless I found two long, back-to-back, available spaces, I wasn't going to be able to stay there. The trucker was a nice older gentlemen and he explained that a lot of folks parked along the grass at the back of the complex. I drove around and was lucky enough to find one of those spots. Lucky because all of the sites were filling up fast - and it wasn't even 4pm yet.
When my DW arrived about an hour later, one of the back-in spots had come open and she backed the UHaul in for the night. Parking is interesting at the larger P/FJ's. There are the fuel pumps for smaller vehicles that are right in front of the store and, usually, a restaurant. These pumps have gas and diesel (on some) available. Next to the gas pumps are a row of parking spaces that are only big enough for cars. To the side, there is a large parking lot for trucks. The truck spaces are in two rows that are back to back against each other. This is just like the parking lot at your grocery store, except the parking spaces are very long to accommodate the trucks. Sometimes, as it was in the case of the Pilot that we visited, there is room around the side of the large roadways to park some other trucks or RVs.
After parking our RV and toad along the back of the parking lot, I thought I was going to be in good shape to pull out the next morning. However, when I woke up around 7 a.m. and looked out the window, I saw that two long semi trucks had pulled up during the night and had parked parallel to me - blocking my way out. If I had gotten up early and wanted to leave, it wouldn't have been possible. As it was, everything was clear and I was able to easily get out at 9 in the morning.
It seems like most of the Pilot truck stops have either a Subway, McDonald's, or a Denny's. All are open 24 hours a day. The stores are very well-stocked, and the drinks are nicer and less expensive than the drinks in the restaurant. The larger stops even have some mechanics and people that do tire work. From a convenience perspective, these sorts of stops are very nice places to stay.
I've read that a lot of people are bothered by the trucks coming and going at all hours of the night. We weren't so bothered by that, probably because our coach is pretty well insulated and also we ran the air conditioners all night. I admit it may have been different if we parked in the regular rows with the professional truckers.
What about cost? At first, I thought we would get a pretty good deal because it is free to stay at one of these stops. However, it was a very hot day and night and we felt like we had to run the generator. On the first afternoon, we arrived around 4 o'clock and left about 9 o'clock the next morning. That is about 17 hours on the generator. Given that half a load on the generator consumes about 1/2 gallon of diesel every hour, we used something in the neighborhood of 9 gallons of diesel while we sat in that parking lot. At an average of $2.50 per gallon, we spent about $23 on electricity and had no water or sewer hookups. So if we could have found a place on the side of the road that had full hookups for $25 or so, we would have been better off. And we would have been able to put our slides out.
In the long run, I think we'll avoid staying at truck stops and rest areas if we can find some sort of campground along the way that costs $25 or less per night.