The idea of a handcart for hiking was born of the problem of transporting a lot of
weight on an overnight hike without having it in a backpack. Being a sedentary person
when not on the road, I don't have the strength to carry all the overnight gear
required in the desert. The heaviest single item in desert travel is water.
The need for a gallon of fluids per day causes the load to get heavy fast.
I hoped to make a three-day trek on the mud flats of Crater Island, hiking a total of 18
miles and doing a little exploration along the way. My main goal was to examine three
isolated hills at Crater Island's north end. Those hills called to me to be explored ever
since I first saw them with binoculars from the area near Lucin (north of Crater Island).
This is how I envisioned the three-day trek:
---day 1: hike eight miles on the mud flats to the three hills and camp there
---day 2: explore the hills and surrounding area and camp there again
---day 3: hike back to my starting point (a casual campsite at the edge of the mud flats).
It was out of the question to carry all the stuff I'd need (including 24 pounds of fluids), so
an alternate method of hauling all my gear had to be developed. I was aware that some Mormon
pioneers had used handcarts to transport their possessions ( more info available at
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mormon_handcart_pioneers ), and a
Web search for hiking trailers led me to modern-day trailers for bicycling and hiking.
The handcart had to be made of materials that I had or could buy cheaply, be made
without the need for a table saw (I used a circular saw and jig saw), and be designed
to be broken down for transport in my mini-van and easily assembled on-site.
What I came up with was basically a shallow wood box with long handles, mounted on the axle
and wheels of my hand truck. It was held together with screws, four U-bolts, and several
angle brackets. Using my portable drill for driving the screws, it took me about 45 minutes
to assemble or dis-assemble the thing. This was inconvenient but tolerable. Before leaving
for Utah, I strength-tested the handcart with the help of the president of our homeowners'
association. She rode in the thing as I pulled it around on the street. Thanks, Rosemary!
I used the handcart twice on the mud flats. The first effort was disappointing because the
mud was still quite soft and littered with wet spots. The cart's wheels (and my feet) sunk
into the soft mud enough to add drag to the hiking effort. But worse was the wet mud---it
stuck to the tires with a vengeance, preventing forward motion. I had to stop about six
times to scrape the gooey stuff from the wheels and sides of the cart. The wet mud also
stuck to my shoes and was difficult to walk in because it was so slippery. After hiking
two miles I realized the futility of the effort and gave up.
Two weeks later, after spending time in Salt Lake City and Moab, I tried again and was pleased
to find that all the wet spots were gone and the mud in general was firmer. I and the tires
still sank in a little bit here and there, but the inconvenience was minor compared to what I
had experienced the first time. I hiked five miles, camped on the mud flats, and returned the
next day. I didn't reach the three hills (bummer) and didn't hike as far as I had planned
(another bummer), but what the heck. I altered my plan because my little cooler and the evening
weather let me down. The ice in the cooler melted too quickly and I craved cold drinks. The
weather was annoying: a strong wind blew most of the night, making the tent flap, which robbed me of sleep.
To borrow the revolting corporate-speak of organization development gurus, I treated the
difficulties as "opportunities for personal growth." (Where's my barf bag?) The handcart
will be altered to be more usable and---I hope---require less assembly on-site. A more
efficient ice chest is required. Can't do much about the wind, though.
The three hills still call, so another mud flats hike is in order.
(Originally this text used the term "trailer" because I envisioned pulling the thing with
a harness, but it turned out that it was easier to pull or push it with my hands.
Thus in this text I changed all instances of "trailer" to "handcart.")