Editor in chief
In 2012, LJ and Jana Wilde of Hyrum welcomed their third child, Luciana, to their family. As their baby girl developed, and it became time for her to start standing and walking, the couple had concerns that led to doctor appointments that led to tests and ultimately the diagnosis of a rare genetic disorder called Hereditary Spastic Paraparesis (HSP) SPG4, a disorder that limits her ability to walk independently and slows her speech. Luci is the only person in the world genetic databases with her specific mutation. “She truly is one of a kind!” LJ said.
No parent expects their child to need to use a wheelchair, especially not LJ, who was raised in Jackson, Wyoming, skiing, hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, and whitewater rafting. The mountains are what he calls an essential part of his well-being, and he expected and hoped to share experiences in them with his family.
“Before we had Luci, we never stopped to consider how many things kids in wheelchairs go without,” LJ said. “Now we live it.”
LJ explains, “It’s trivial but easy to take for granted that our ability to enjoy more than our immediate surroundings depends 100% on personal mobility. If we don’t have that, we must rely on someone strong enough to carry us or a device like a wheelchair.”
LJ and Jana embraced the fact that their life as a family would be unique and did what they could to help Luci continue to experience the outdoor activities they love. They learned that hiking with Luci wasn’t that hard when she was small enough to carry in a carrier backpack.
“In May 2019, I had to face reality,” LJ said. “We were out for our first family hike of the spring at Richard’s Hollow. It was a two-person job getting Luci in the pack, but we made it work. However, not far up the trail, Luci voiced her discomfort. I had to boost her up by the bottom of her feet for the remainder of the hike to make it tolerable for her. As I walked, I wondered if this would be our last hike as a family on those kinds of trails.”
Years ago, LJ began honing his talent for creating things from his imagination as an 8th grader in a woodworking shop class. He eventually came to Utah State University with his sights on becoming a pilot but later shifted back to his talents in innovative design and earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering.
He spent most of his career to date at Spartronics (formerly Inovar) and found a way to feed his love for creative design and innovation by working to design other people’s dreams.
He thought about that as he carried Luci on his back in Richard’s Hollow and left the trail that day with a design in mind and a commitment to break through a barrier for his family.
At this time, the Wilde’s had four children, and life was busy. Before he went to work on building his solution, he researched all he could to find something that already existed. “Nothing I found would truly get us where we wanted to go,” LJ said. “The idea was to create something that would carry most of the passenger weight, be operable on narrow trails and switchbacks, and be lightweight and compact enough to stow and travel with.”
LJ spent his evenings and weekends working on the design to complete a prototype of a cart he could pull Luci in on a family backpacking trip that fall.
Fall came and went, with the pieces for the prototype bent and ready to put together sitting in the garage; LJ thought he would have time to finish it over the winter.
“Life happened, and the pieces sat in the garage for two more years,” LJ said.
Then, a fateful day came in February 2022 when LJ was cleaning his garage. “I found the pieces of the prototype on the shelf. I was instantly discouraged and convinced myself I would never have the time to finish it. I resolved to haul it to the dump so I could stop feeling bad about it and free up some shelf space.”
As he was hauling the pieces to the trailer to take to the dump, LJ heard something inside him say “Don’t do that; just finish the dang thing.”
With renewed commitment, LJ and Jana invested in the equipment he needed to finish the job. He worked feverishly to complete the prototype for their June trip to Jackson and Yellowstone. He painted the pieces the morning they left, and they dried as they drove north. LJ assembled the cart in the parking lot of the hotel they were staying in.
“At this point, I had no idea if it would even work,” LJ said. “But Luci got in and rode around the hotel parking lot. The verdict ‘Let’s go for a hike!’”
It was the first family hike the family had taken in three years, and it happened to be on LJ’s birthday. “We hiked over six miles, around Jenny Lake and up to Hidden Falls in Grand Teton National Park.”
As the family approached the trailhead at the base of Jenny Lake, a woman, pushing her daughter in a wheelchair, called out to them. She asked them what “this thing” was called because she needed one.
“As we kindly delivered the bad news that it didn’t have a name because it was built in my garage, the disappointment was evident on her face.”
The experience repeated itself in Yellowstone when a father told LJ about his son’s needs and asked where they got the hiking cart.
“I felt bad, but I simply didn’t have time to make another,” LJ said.
Although LJ and Jana had talked about jumping off the entrepreneurial ledge with the product, their aversion to risk, especially financial, held them back. But these interactions replayed in their minds as they returned home. “Jana and I both had a change of heart that day. We realized we could do a lot of good for a lot of special people.”
LJ says everything in their lives started to line up. Every time they took a step closer to making the leap, a door would open or a person shared the right encouraging words. “We couldn’t help but keep moving,” he said.
Since then, as they have shared more about the prototype, the Wilde’s have been contacted by people from nearly every state in the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, Poland, Netherlands, Sweden, France, and Germany. People are looking for something like this.
LJ left behind an 11-year career with a company and team he loved to focus on the project full-time because he says he knew he could help countless families like his, with kids like Luci who want to enjoy the mountains’ majesty. In August 2022, Huckleberry Hiking was officially born, with LJ as the principal sherpa.
“The Huckleberry Hiking cart has broken the barrier to being in some beautiful places. We are able to include Luci and stay together as a whole family in nearly any outdoor adventure.”