Fast-lane doesn’t work well for Herman Luis

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 31, 2004

In this age of fast cars, cell phones and on-demand life, Herman Luis is taking time to smell the roses. Luis is traveling cross-country from New Jersey to New Mexico via his two-horse power covered wagon.

He took a few minutes out in Uniontown Monday to chat about his adventures.

In this entourage, which includes Luis, three horses and two dogs, there are no cell phones, hand-held video games or laptop computers. You won’t find a GPS device or Direct TV, just a man, his animals and the wide-open road. And that’s just the way Luis wants it.

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“It’s fun, different – it’s an experience. It’s a walk through the garden,” he said. “I could have taken a motorcycle, but it would have been too fast and I would have missed a lot. I wouldn’t have met the people I’ve met either. The people I’ve met have made my trip better.”

Luis said he left New Jersey on horseback, leading two packhorses, in 2001. Along the way, he stopped in Tennessee long enough to build a covered wagon.

“I did all this myself,” he said, motioning to the small, but adequate, covered wagon behind him. The wood carriage includes handcrafted storage areas along the sides that are adorned with wildlife scenery and engraved with the name “Miss Tennessee.”

“I made it in Tennessee, so I named it Miss Tennessee,” he said. “I also stitched this,” he said, as he ran his hand along the rawhide colored canvas stretched over the arched frame.

He uses that craft as a way to produce income for the trip, taking orders as he goes for such hand-made crafts as leather purses and canteens as well as carved walking sticks and rock art.

“I take orders, I make the items then I mail them back,” he said.

Luis said the trip in the beginning was a little hectic, as he and his crew got to know each other and work out a routine. His group consists of the three horses, a morgan horse, Billy (the kid), and two Gypsy Arabian horses, Butch (Cassidy) and (the) Sundance (kid) and his two dogs, Tasha, a German shepherd, and Lolita, a small wire-haired dog who seems to think the half of the bench seat not taken by Luis is hers.

“As you can see, I’m never alone,” Luis said. In addition to his four-legged friends, Luis said he frequently stops to chat with people, and is often invited to dinner or lunch.

“The Southern hospitality has been wonderful,” he said. “People come out of the woodwork to help me. This is about self-reliance and endurance, so I offer to buy food and drinks for the animals, but most people just give it to me. And a lot of people come out and offer water for the horses and food.”

The former New York graphic designer said he spent two days with a local catfish farmer and his family, and though the pace is very different between west Alabama and New York, it’s a pace Luis said he is getting used to.

“We barbequed and I spent time with the family, it was nice,” he said. “I just do my own thing and welcome those who cross my path.”

Luis said those who do cross his path are what have made the trip so enjoyable.

“Three years I’ve been doing this and I did not realize it had been three years. I just take it a day at a time, and rich is my life for doing so,” he said.

The best part about the trip, he said, was the chance to get back to nature.

“I’ve been taking what Mother Nature dishes out, and it’s made me stronger,” he said. “The ultimate wisdom is nature. If you can be at one with nature, then you’re at peace. If you are at peace with yourself, then you can be at peace with the world.”

Nature is what makes the country, rural if you will, life so much better than the metropolitan life, Luis said.

“Cities are manmade. They are cement and buildings, and there are too many people crammed into one area. There is so much energy,” he said. “In the country you have clouds, the sky and the stars at nighttime.

“It’s all about this,” he said, gesturing to the heavily wooded scenery. “And you need that.”

So, why leave a life of luxury for a seemingly primitive lifestyle?

“It’s subject for a good book,” he said. Luis writes a synopsis of his adventures every day, something he plans to compile into a book once he gets to New Mexico.

“I’ll probably do this for another three years, and then I would like to do it by canoe,” he said. But that’s another story for another day.