Saturday, June 12, 2004

Yea, Though He Walks ...

A Memphis man hopes to cross Death Valley on foot to test his invention.<

Posted By on Sat, Jun 12, 2004 at 4:00 AM

Death Valley National Park in California is regarded as one of the hottest places on Earth. It's home to the highest temperature ever recorded in the U.S. -- 134 degrees. Later this month, local inventor Melvin McCoy will attempt to cross the park on foot in order to put his hiking device, the Multi-purpose Uniaxial Litter Enginery (M.U.L.E.), to the ultimate test.

McCoy says the M.U.L.E., a heavy-duty rolling backpack, allows the user to carry hundreds of pounds of equipment without back strain. The device straps over the shoulders, and a second strap around the waist allows users to pull with their hips. A solitary wheel at the device's base also helps eliminate strain.

McCoy and his M.U.L.E. are no strangers to strenuous hikes. In 1992, McCoy walked from Newport Beach, California, to Lewes, Delaware, in about eight and a half months. Now he says he's got all the kinks worked out and he's ready to put his invention through its final exam. He plans to pack enough supplies to last the seven days he predicts it will take him to cross the 150-mile stretch of barren desert.

"It would be suicide without the M.U.L.E., especially the water aspect of it," says McCoy, who describes his age as "ancient," although it's safe to say he's middle-aged. "One of the interesting things about the M.U.L.E. is the incredible volume of stuff you're able to carry. Let's say I'm Arnold Schwarzenegger or the Rock and I'm carrying a regular pack -- I would still be limited in what I could carry."

He's planning to carry 10 gallons of water, a week's worth of freeze-dried food, vitamin supplements, Gatorade, cassette tapes, a sketch pad, and a special raised tent that will allow him to sleep off the ground in order to avoid reptiles and insects. On his cross-country journey, he packed a portable television, but he says TV and cell phone signals won't work in Death Valley, which is 282 feet below sea level.

McCoy says he's "fortunate enough not to have heat bother him." During his walk across America, he traveled through several desert areas, and he says the lack of humidity made the temperature seem cooler.

"When I crossed the country, the worst temperatures I experienced were in Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana where the humidity was above 90 degrees," he says.

Since Death Valley is a National Park, park officials have insisted on having a paramedic handy. But McCoy refuses to have one follow alongside him, so he'll carry a walkie-talkie to check in.

McCoy began working on the M.U.L.E. in the 1980s, after a friend complained that her arthritis prevented her from hiking with a traditional pack. He began experimenting with a tricycle wheel and some tubing. Over the years, he's added a wheel that never goes flat, a stand, and a braking system. He's hoping to market the device when he returns home from his Death Valley expedition.

"We've been fighting an uphill battle in terms of education about the device," he says. "People don't really have a concept of it, so we did the walk across the United States to give it a real world field trial. A lot of people have walked across the U.S., but they almost always have a chase car following them because they can't carry enough to survive. Everything I needed, I was able to carry."

Since the M.U.L.E. is designed to cover all types of terrain, McCoy says he thinks the device would be perfect for forest-fire fighters, archeologists, and serious hikers.

"A lot of people have expressed concern about me crossing Death Valley alone, but I've got an overall vision. I believe this device can save lives and benefit science," says McCoy. "Initially, it was a risk to walk across the country, but as I started to get a sense of the M.U.L.E.'s reliability, I began to enjoy the cold and the rain. Everyday, I'd see something I'd never seen before. I don't know what it'll be like this time, but I'll find out."

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