The Return of Charlie C. Umhau
After covering 30 miles in 3.5 days of pulling a homemade 300lbs. two wheeled peddler cart, sleeping out in fields, backyards or beautiful strangers extra bedrooms for 3 nights, I have come to the end of my journey feeling more than satisfied with my effort and making a sound decision to cease walking and go home.
After leaving Richmond on April 15th I have spent the last three days completely immersed in a conclusive attempt at bringing to life a vision I saw in a dream a year prior. After a wild year of sewing, training and Custer’s Last Waistband “peddlering”, I thus conclude my adventure having spent the last three days strapped into a leather harness, attaching myself to the cart with a series of ropes, clinching my teeth, sweating profusely, using every single prayer, mantra and muscle in my body to a proud point of exhaustion with such an effort to cause earnest sobs as my body would pause to rest and then pick up the cart again, again, again to try and pull 300lbs of Motion & Glory! as close as I could up the road to Washington, D.C. Its been one hell of an adventure and I have enjoyed myself entirely.
The days of traveling have been full of immense physical strain that although honestly have been very painful, have been beautifully contrasted with some of the most profound examples of human kindness I have ever experienced in my entire life. To big grins and smiles, free hushpuppies and bananas, and passing cars extending invitations to houses for cold glasses of tea, ice water, and most significantly to my two adopted families of the road who took me in for the night, offered me a shower, fed me and gave place to sleep.
When going on physical adventures such as this, the days are expected to be full of strenuous physical activity, sweat and the joyful strain of muscles and motion that reward the adventure pilgrim with adrenaline, and the ultimate reward of beautiful views seen from the tops of the mountain scaled. I will admit that on this trip though the only truly enjoyable aspect has come at the end of the day in the company of these loving strangers and the gorgeous mountainous views they have shown me of humanity reaching out to those in need. I will admit even in light of my pre-expectations of humanitarian optimism, these families and people have surpassed any vision I might have had of instantaneous community unfurling itself along the American roadside.
My cart has a two flags on it as it travels saying “Life the Life You Have Always Imagined!” and “If You Love It, It Will Survive!” And I built and painted this cart with altruistic intentions towards those ends; to invite others in to a life of adventure, a life of community, of spaciousness and joy. I hoped that as I devoted myself to its physical realization rolling it around Richmond and northwards to towns and cities I would re-instill a sense of wonder in our generation. I hoped I would inspire others to don their own crowns of collective intentionality and further to pull their own carts up confident roads in the directions of their dreams. I still want all those things indeed. I still believe that’s what this world needs, but I realized each time I stopped and found myself in the midst of an open family- in the company of friends made on the road- I realized that the love and togetherness I experienced there resembled more closely a life I would much rather live than the solitude of lugging 300lbs of self-expression by myself up the road.
Motivating me onwards throughout the trip was thoughts such as these and the beckoning acknowledgement of all those I love being there in D.C. (and in Richmond and in Seattle and in Chicago, Greensboro, NYC and Philly and all the other fifty states and countries and villages of the world!) waiting for me with open arms to welcome me home at the end of the road. Yet with each step I felt further and further away from the world I so desperately wish to belong to. Meanwhile the weight of the cart in both a very literal sense (the harness cutting into my skin, the shouts and sobs struggling up steep winding hills) and the metaphoric weight of singlehandedly attempting to save the world - which honestly I have isolated myself from in the very act of attempting to awaken it- felt too immense a burden for me to continue struggling for alone. For Motion & Glory! and senses of wonder and Love and intentionality and delight in life are all causes I am very, very, very willing to devote my life to…but I will not die for them; especially not for the sake of a feather in my cap, my pride, or the sad pressure of letting folks down.
On my third day of traveling, after a nice farewell from the family who adopted me on my second night, I rolled up Bear Slash road to Independence and the “Y” shaped fork right onto Blunts Bridge Road. I took a break to prepare myself for the huge, steep winding hill up ahead past the horse farm. I did yoga in the sunlight and let my boots air out waiting for my best friend to arrive in her car after she volunteered- without prompting mind you- to drive slowly behind me to insure my safety up the big hill. She arrived, and after a delightful hug she parked her car and we both decided that no car was necessary; together we would walk the cart up Blunts Bridge Road. Together we rolled the cart down the first dip, my hand tight on the brake (thank you again Andrew Phinney!) and then up the next dip until the road evened out, a level stretch of road past the horse farm and that would continue directly down the long winding decline, leading into a sharp turn, crossing a bridge and then going right up into an immediate winding, curvy very steep uphill climb. As we rolled past the horse farm over a dozen horses ran out from the other end of the pasture to greet us at the fence. With mixed reactions to the cart’s bright red wheels and the curly haired couple pulling, the horses all stood frozen staring at us. Then suddenly in one synchronized wave the horses all turned their heads to the right and sprinted off in another direction. …they all paused, stared and again in one beautiful swift movement they all turned their heads again and ran off. It was magical and they did this several times as we went down the road.
Down the two of us went pulling the cart down the stretched hill, leaning my weight backwards in to the harness I used my force to slow the cart down squeezing the hand brake lightly. My best friend smiled and we kept rolling. Nodding at the passing cars and shouting “good morning!” to the construction workers on the side of the road, we made it around the sharp turn and rolled across the bumpy wooden bridge planks. At this point we both inhaled a deep breath and dug in, grasping the cart handle …and then we charged up the steep winding portion of Blunt Bridge Road. The construction crew behind us volunteered itself to our cause and rode slowly behind us, flashing its hazards to block the way. Cars parked and windows rolled down. Together we worked as one unit, panting and shouting, screaming exuberate cries of determination! I reached behind me, getting a better grasp of the pull ropes clipped into my harness leading to the back of the cart; she bowed forward and we rolled up and up and up pulling 300lb of Motion & Glory! to the very top of one steep , hell-of-a hill in the mid-morning sunlight.
Without being prompted to this amazing love of mine showed up again and again and saved me from the dangers and obstacles of my own madness. She did not stop, and all day we rolled along together, her helping me up hills, running alongside me, biking up ahead to scout out the approaching hills. She did it joyfully. She did it selflessly, without any “you’ll owe me when you get home” or even a breath of “this is insane” or “why the hell are you doing this?!”- Which at the time I think were all very valid comments. Yet that super woman joined me out of a pure act of love, concern for my well-being and earnest devotion to helping me do what I felt necessary to do.
I am the luckiest man in the world and this wild Motion & Glory! peddler’s cart –vision-quest- one man-revolution of mine has unfurled before me a world far more connected, beautiful and profound than any I have ever dreamed of. This dream has become more than realized with all the help of you incredible people. Thanks to all you wild folks who donated to my Kickstarter, to those of you who cheered me on, who fed me, who trained me in yoga, coached me in art business, gave me 4lbs of free coffee, who supported me, who housed me, who bought art work, or helped me pay bills. To those of you who smiled, who didn’t honk at my cart when I rolled past you in the street. To those of you who invited me into your homes, shared yourselves with me and appreciated my art and my earnestness… And ultimately thanks to the amazing woman who literally stepped into my world, joined me in my madness and helped me douse the world in wonder through the physical triumph of the human spirit coming together!
I am glad to be home. I am glad this crazy pursuit has come to an end and with it’s end the conclusion of a three years of solitude and emphasized separateness. I am now more than contented with the adventure and the effort I have put forth throughout this journey. I did not reach D.C but I feel I already reached the great “ah ha!” moment I was looking for throughout this whole pilgrimage when I realized that attempting the impossible is in itself a great victory and that the world is already pretty amazing as it is. Mostly significantly I realized that quite frankly the challenge and weight I feel is significantly more courageous to pull to learn how to be in this world again after such a long period of aestheticism and spiritual isolation. To meet the world as it, not retreat from it or escape into a fantasy is the ultimate challenge.
I have had a hell of an amazing and ridiculous time out here. I have stretched my will power, pushing myself beyond my physical and mental limits again and then again and again. I have felt an immense love and protection and delighted in the realness of spiritual powers and light shining in the darkness. I have explored the mediums of my own expressions, and become significantly more in tune with what it means to be alive. I have found a nice balance of strength and healthiness I was desperately lacking. I have drunk from the sweetness of human kindness, community and love and experienced firsthand the deepest affection I have ever known. Thank you very much to all of you for re-instilling in me, a newly defined sense of wonder and appreciation for life.
And now in the paraphrased words of Pablo Neruda’s great Ode to life, it is time for the prodigal hermit, the Cowboy Prince to hang up his hat and emerge from his mistaken solitude, to search and fight, to join hands with other hands… and from now on, I will not adopt, or praise misfortune. I will reject it, giving it the form of a wall, like the stonecutter with the stone, I will ‘”take scissors to misfortune and make a pair of trousers.”
I am finally coming home.