Mission Accomplished 

A Memphis man treks through Death Valley on foot in seven days.

Local inventor Melvin McCoy is still brushing dust off his body, and he's developed a horrible cough. That's because he spent last week trekking across California's Death Valley on foot in an attempt to test a hiking device he calls the Multi-purpose Uniaxial Litter Enginery (M.U.L.E.).

The M.U.L.E., a heavy-duty rolling backpack, can carry several hundred pounds of supplies without causing back strain, according to McCoy. It straps over the shoulders like a normal backpack but extends to the ground for maximum storage. A wheel at its base allows the user to pull the device, and a strap around the waist reduces strain.

McCoy had previously put his M.U.L.E. to the test on a cross-country walk from Newport Beach, California, to Lewes, Delaware, in 1992, but he says the Death Valley mission was the ultimate test.

"Without the M.U.L.E., this trip literally would have been suicide. It allowed me to bring water, shelter, food, and medicine," says McCoy. He made the trip alone and without vehicle support. "I truly believe anybody could have done the same thing with the M.U.L.E."

The hottest temperature on earth -- 134 degrees -- was recorded in Death Valley in 1913. McCoy says the highest temperature he experienced was 113 degrees. In order to ensure he had plenty of cold water, McCoy invented a special foam cooler that attached to the M.U.L.E. and kept eight gallons of water cold for his entire trek.

"I allowed myself a gallon and a half or so per day," he says. "You can drink until you can't drink anymore and then you walk 600 feet and you feel like you need another drink. The absolute dryness in Death Valley makes you feel like you can never get enough water."

Although McCoy had to spend three days getting his tent repaired in a desert town, he met his goal of seven "walking days" for crossing the valley. He began September 14th and finished on September 23rd. Due to flash flooding that caused parts of the park to be closed, McCoy had to plan a new route before setting out.

"I picked one of the worst years to cross Death Valley," he says. "They had so much of the park closed off, and I had to change the route through the parts of the park that were open. It was about 20 miles less than the original route, but there was more elevation. Climbing is whole lot tougher."

McCoy traveled 149 miles, and he encountered his share of obstacles. On the first night, a dust storm swept through that lasted two days. The wind blew his M.U.L.E. over while he was lying in his tent, and he lost quite a bit of water.

When the stitching on his special raised tent gave way, McCoy's trek was interrupted, but the tent was essential to his trip. It sits off the ground to keep the heat of the desert floor away from the user. McCoy says the ground temperature reached about 200 degrees at one point. He mostly slept during the day and walked at night, when it was cooler.

McCoy says he hopes the Death Valley expedition will bring more exposure to the M.U.L.E. He'd like to mass-market the device. "The Death Valley trip was meant to put a stamp of reliability on the M.U.L.E.," he says. "The fact that such a thing was attempted successfully by an ordinary guy like me really shows its utility and functionality." •

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