It’s never good when you pull text message from your wife while you’re on the pointy end of a skiff in Florida asking, “Who do I need to call to tow the Element?”.  Dammit.    

I had sensed this coming for awhile.  When shifting out of third gear every now and then, it just didn’t feel right.  There was a hard to describe thud feel and I figured that the transmission was showing it’s age as we neared 300,000 miles.  It finally died and now wouldn’t come out of second gear. 

A tow truck ride and mechanic diagnosis later, we needed to decide what to do next.  The transmission was gone.  We were looking at $2,500 for a new transmission, $1,700 for a used transmission, or maybe it was time to let it go.

Walk away from our Element that was at the doorstep of 300,000 miles?  We just couldn’t do it and opted for the used transmission and had the mechanic knock out a few other things that needed to be done while the underside was already all torn apart.  I absolutely hate spending a lot of money on car repairs but it was necessary.  Fortunately we were back in business for less than $2,000.   

There is a limited warranty on this used transmission which had Melissa and I thinking that it would be a good idea to “stress test” it with a trip up to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a day of hiking and an overnight at a nearby campsite before heading home the next day.  

We didn’t get out the door as early as we expected and after a quickie stop at REI in Asheville, we were on the Blue Ridge Parkway by late morning.  We pointed towards the Black Balsam Knob area, found a lucky open parking spot, and geared up…somehow forgetting our snacks.  

This was our first time to this area of the Blue Ridge Parkway and we began hiking what we hoped would be a five-mile loop.  For an area that is so heavily visited, the trails aren’t that well marked.  We found out later that maybe we had done this loop in reverse by starting on the Ivestor Gap Connector Trail  and then taking the Art Loeb Trail to the top of Tennent Mountain.  We then hiked over to the Black Balsam Knob and finally back to car on the Art Loeb Trail.  It was a beautiful hike that was wet and muddy in a few sections of trail that had us wishing we had our hiking poles.  Of course, they were in the car…with the snacks.  

It really couldn’t have been a more perfect day for the hike and if we were being picky, the waves of thick clouds obscuring the view while atop the balds was about the only thing we could really complain about.  

We stayed at a campground near the North Carolina and South Carolina border and had a mostly leisure night at camp.  Melissa and I don’t take too many trips away from our children and it was nice to unwind, make an easy dinner of ramen, relax in our camp chairs, and in bed early. 

The next morning we had a great breakfast, packed up camp in about 30-minutes, and stopped at a nearby orchard for a bag of apples and of course, hot apple donuts.  All in all a great day and a half away and in the woods.  

Here’s a few more iPhone images pushed through Lightroom along with gear notes.  Scroll down…    

I’ve written about our MegaMat mattresses before and they continue to impress.  If you thought you were done tent camping due to a poor night’s sleep, give one of these a try.  
My interest is perked on the new DeepSleep Duo 7.5 M as it looks like it would be the perfect fit in the back of the Element for impromptu nights where we might not be able to set up a tent. 
I brought these gloves up in the ‘10 Tools for Quarantine‘ gear review and they still continue to impress.  I’m about to order a pair for everyone in the family as they are just handy for so many different jobs.
Having a pair of gloves around camp is on my essentials list and you’ll always find a pair in the gear bag.
Car camping trips are a good time to work out the kinks on gear that you’ll take backpacking and the Escape Bowl is new find that I like over similar type collapsible silicone bowls for the fact that it has a carry handle which means that you can hold it securely in your hand as opposed to cupping it. 
I’ve put hundreds of miles jogging, walking, and trail hiking on a few different pairs of Hoka One One shoes and the Speedgoat 4 shoes are my favorite for the comfort, stability, and grippy soles on dirt and rock.  This pair is wearing better in durability than the pair of Challengers that I had been wearing, especially in high stress areas near the first third of the shoes.
No doubt, these $1 a box hashbrowns are the “ramen noodles” of the potato world but they re-hydrate quickly with some hot water and fry up quick with a bit of bacon grease. 

I’m a big fan of breakfast bowls and a box of these hashbrowns with a diced sweet onion mixed in are a perfect base for this favorite camp meal.

We’re a few months into owning the Explorer 500 and continue to be impressed.  After a month or so of not using it, it had only lost a little bit of battery power and quickly topped back off to 100{bbe05ad89f0c40efe8ea4831cb6f1d31a04c1304b5b34a58f5c9eb6a87597b93} when plugged in.  During this trip, we ran camp lights, charged three iPhones and my wife’s hearing aids while only using 5{bbe05ad89f0c40efe8ea4831cb6f1d31a04c1304b5b34a58f5c9eb6a87597b93} of the power on the battery overnight.  
This is great insurance for a lot of different power usage needs around camp and the house during an electrical outage.  I’m glad I bought it.
I mentioned that we stopped at REI and my wife grabbed this strand of multi-colored lights before leaving.  The 30 foot strand wrapped perfectly around our Yakima awning and provided a neat ambiance.  Absolutely necessary?  Nope.  Will they go on every trip here on out?  Yep.   
Like I mentioned above, camping trips are great opportunities to test new gear that might end up in the backcountry and it’s good to know that it works how it needs to work before being out there and realizing that it doesn’t.
We’re coffee and Snow Peak nerds and have put together a backpacking cook set with the LiteMax Stove, Titanium Trek 700 Mug, two Titanium Double Wall 450 Cups, and the Folding Coffee Pour Over Brewer.
The LiteMax stove, along with a GigaPower 110 fuel canister, fit perfectly inside of the 700 Mug and makes for a very compact cook system for the trail.  The Double Wall cups can do everything from coffee, cold drinks, or soup and the Folding Coffee Pour Over Brewer made for a great cup of coffee using freshly ground Early Riser Double Haul coffee.
My only nit-picky thought on the LiteMax Stove so far is that it doesn’t have an ignition built in.  You’ll need to carry matches or a lighter.
If you’re a fan of Sriracha or hot sauces, you need to give the Yellowbird Sauce a look.  We have a mini-bottle of the Blue Agave Sriracha in our camp cooler on all trips and it comes in handy to jazz up breakfast, lunch, and dinners.
The website describes it as “…jalapeño heat with a bit of sweet, followed by a supremely savory garlic finish” which nails it.  It’s tasty.

For the past 10,000 miles, we’ve been chronicling the ‘Road to 300K’ and you can circle back to these posts by clicking these links which are listed most recent to oldest…

We’re about 1,600 miles from 300,000 miles and confident that we’ll reach that benchmark.  I hope at some point to be chronicling the ‘Road to 400K’ with this beloved vehicle of ours.  

Lastly, there are a few REI affiliate links scattered in the gear notes of this post and if you shop there and want to support T.F.M., considering clicking the links when you make a purchase.  I’d appreciate it.

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