One year on the water and I find myself in New Orleans, the end of the second leg of my “22 Rivers Expedition” across these United States. It’s been a wild year for one and all, and for me, there’s been no exception. Weeks into my cross country paddle the Covid-19 pandemic hit. After discussing with trusted friends and colleagues, I determined that with the canoe as my only home, sheltering in place meant continuing the journey. New Orleans represents 4,400 river and portage miles behind me, leaving another 3,100 to go next year to make NYC. Cheers for everybody’s encouragement, friendship, and support. It absolutely means the world.
By Martin Walsh
As we reported last week, Neal Moore is now over halfway through his 12,000km odyssey across the United States. He plans to paddle 22 rivers, portaging his fully laden canoe on a cart where necessary, and finishing in New York with a celebratory spin round the Statue of Liberty. ExWeb spoke to Moore about his journey.
Back in 2018, you made about 3,000km before stopping. Did you repeat the same route on this expedition? How did it differ this time around?
Two years ago, in 2018, I paddled and portaged against a rip-roaring flood on the Columbia and Spokane Rivers. The dozen-plus dams, including the Grand Coulee, were nearly fully spilling. This required a 16 to 32km portage around each one -– harness strapped to my limbs, wheels tied under the canoe and all my gear inside, pulling my craft like a mule on the side of the road. Soon after, I tipped in the St. Regis River in western Montana. After I got my canoe and some gear back, I missed out on paddling up the Clark Fork because of a 100-year flood. I eventually hung up my paddles in Watford City, N.D.
This year, I launched at Astoria, Oregon three weeks earlier, on Feb. 9, 2020. I was determined to paddle up the Columbia farther than last time, to just above the Canadian border, where I could catch the mouth of the Pend Oreille River and paddle to Lake Pend Oreille. Here, I’d follow the Clark Fork to Garrison, Montana, sticking to a waterway all the way to the Continental Divide.
I was in Lewiston, Idaho nine days later. From here, I hiked 160km north along the Idaho border, paddled 100km across Lake Coeur d’Alene and portaged an additional 65km north to Lake Pend Oreille. I made my way to Garrison, Montana, where I repeated my portage up and over McDonald Pass and down the Missouri to the Mississippi, where I find myself now.
Which parts have been the most challenging?
The Columbia River Bar at the mouth of the Columbia River is known as the graveyard of the Pacific, the most dangerous stretch of water in the world. You have to come prepared with the right gear, a clear forecast and a lot of luck. Paddling the mouth of this river is an adrenalin rush, but once you make it around Tongue Point and into the “old-man sloughs,” you’re relatively okay.
There’s a stretch of the Columbia River Gorge just above Bonneville Dam that’s problematic when a strong wind gets behind you. New Englanders Pete Macridis, 25, and Timothy Black, 23, vanished on this stretch of river in 1978. Two years ago, I had a rough time here, but conditions got even worse for me farther upriver.
It’d taken a full day to portage the dam, and the next morning, winds were forecast for 17mph. I made a mental note to not paddle that day, but when the day looked pleasant, I made a too-rash decision and launched out. Following the Columbia River up along the jagged shore on the Washington side, I had a refreshing, gentle push of wind behind me at first, but this was soon followed by a gale. The waves pushing upriver chop into you unlike any other place I have paddled, propelling the craft quickly forward as you watch for obstacles –- boulders, submerged trees, anything that can capsize you. I managed to get into a cove an hour later, sitting on the slippery, jagged boulders as I held onto the canoe. The canoe was smashing up and down onto the rocks with each progressively larger wave, and if I didn’t get it out, it would be destroyed.
It was tense, and one ranger was asking the other if we were going to smash on the rocks. A dozen minutes later, the engines started back up and we made it out safely.
What stood out this time was both the ruggedness and remoteness of the Snake River. In the nine days I paddled her, I didn’t see any other boats, and not one fisherman. I experienced sleet, snow, a torrent of rain, and wind pushing me forward, backward and side to side.
The tricky part of all this remoteness is that if you tip into the cold water, it’s on you to save yourself. I had a wetsuit, a fire starter kit and a cell phone in a waterproof case (although no reception) on my person at all times. Once I thought I’d have to jump for it, because the wind and rollicking waves pushed me hard against a riverbank filled with obstacles. I pulled alongside a log and was bailing hard, because the waves kept breaking into my open canoe, but this log soon disappeared, and then I was grasping onto willows.
A half hour later, when I felt I couldn’t hold on any longer and was ready to jump in and swim for shore, the wind changed on a dime, and it blew the canoe back out into the river.
On my fourth night on the Mississippi, I was straddling one of these islands as the sun was setting. I was determined to get past these people and set myself up on a sandbar just under the dam at Clarksville, Missouri.
But as I struggled to get around the pelicans, a spotlight beamed directly through me and the pelicans. And they flew, all in one motion, up they went. A thousand-plus pairs of wings in one frantic motion, all lit up by the spotlight. The beam came from a tow pushing a load of dark barges. It had snuck up on me, and I was far too close to the flashing red light on the lead barge. I paddled for all I was worth to get out of the way, thankfully making another sandbar in time.
You have said you hoped to be able to talk to people and tell their stories. How has COVID changed this mission?
Talking to folks in a story-minded setting has been extensively curtailed this year. Instead, I’m mainly documenting the people I meet by chance along the way. I’m listening, learning, absorbing the ties that bind –- the threads that make us Americans. I’m looking to underscore our common humanity, but especially bringing into focus the immigrant narrative, the Black experience, along with what we can learn from Indigenous American wisdom.
Hiking the Continental Divide was a challenge this second time, as I hit a late-May snow blast. It’d been forecast as rain the day before, but it snowed all day, for the hardest part of that climb. But I had the right gear, and when I got to the top of the pass at 6,312 feet, I was the only camper. There was a foot of snow and soon I had my tent set up. I was out of my wet clothes and into the warm.
The following day was brilliant sun with no wind, and it was an easy portage down to Helena. The local paper’s photographer came to snap some shots of me portaging my belongings down the mountain. The moment he got his shots and headed back to town, a grizzly showed up. He came over the divider, his back hump prevalent, and ambled across the road 50 feet in front of me. I was harnessed from behind, attached to the canoe and wheels and gear, and by the time I got my gloves off to try to snap a picture, he was out of sight.
Where are you now and what are your plans for the second half of the journey to New York?
I’m in Memphis and will be back on the water in a few days. I’ll continue down the Mississippi to New Orleans, which I hope to reach in mid- to late-December. From there, I’ll skirt the Gulf Coast and along the Intracoastal Waterway, then up the Mobile, Tombigbee and Tennessee rivers, down the New River, the Cumberland, the Dix and the Kentucky rivers. Up the Ohio, up and down the Kanawha, and up the Allegheny River. From Lake Chautauqua, it’ll be uphill and downhill for days over Portage Road to Lake Erie. Then it’s the Erie Canal, the Mohawk, and down the Hudson by December 2021 to see what has always made America great!
You can follow Moore’s journey on Instagram.
BY SHELLEY BYRNE
A man canoeing the nation’s rivers from the Pacific to the Atlantic wants to share a story about how interconnected both they and the Americans living and working on them are.
Neal Moore, 48, expects to be midway through his 7,500-mile journey this week when he reaches Memphis, Tenn. He saved money from a year and a half of teaching English in Taiwan to afford his two-year journey, which he purposely planned for the year before and the year after the election for the American president.
Moore was raised in Los Angeles, Calif., but he has lived much of his adult life overseas. He spent time as a missionary in South Africa, as an aid worker and, among other adventures, trekked across northern Ethiopia with a donkey named Gopher. Eleven years ago, he canoed down the Mississippi River, and it left an impression on him. Now he is expanding upon that voyage by solo canoeing 22 rivers in what he said is believed to be the longest continuous solo canoe trip ever undertaken from coast to coast across the United States.
“The idea is to come back to my home country and see it up close and personal and coast to coast, to see old friends and meet new friends along the way,” Moore said.
Moore left the West Coast, paddling up the Columbia River and past Portland, Ore., on February 9. He is in a red, 16-foot Old Town Penobscot canoe. He hopes to canoe around Ellis Island in New York Harbor to complete his journey by the end of 2021.
Moore picked the year before and after the election as a time to travel in part because of the deep political divisions in the country. At a time others are focusing on differences, he said he hopes to shed light on what brings people together, instead.
“It’s the ties that bind us together,” Moore said. “It’s looking at what we have in common.”
Part of the journey travels the same rivers explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark traveled on their Corps of Discovery expedition, although Moore notes he is doing so in reverse, in part to avoid the onerous task of paddling up the Missouri River.
“The big idea as I’m on, along and in these rivers is to be able to try to document stories and talk to people from all walks of life, different ethnicities, different immigrant tales, the idea being when you string all these rivers, when you string all of these stories together, you’ll have the story of America.”
Moore is recording the stories of many of the people he meets on the trip and compiling them into a book. People may follow his journey and donate at 22rivers.com as well as purchase books on past adventures, which help fund future ones. He is also documenting his trip on Instagram at @riverjournalist.
Moore’s route so far took him from the Columbia River to the Snake River. He then portaged 200 miles due north to Lake Pend Oreille in northern Idaho, where he caught the mouth of the Clark Fork River and went up past Missoula to the town of Garrison in western Montana. From there he portaged 60 miles over the Continental Divide to Helena and the Missouri River. He came down the Missouri to the Mississippi, pausing to paddle upriver 116 miles to Hannibal, Mo., hometown of Mark Twain. He paddled to the confluence of the Ohio River, then took another detour, paddling 50 miles upstream to Paducah, KY.
“I was just really keen to get a taste of the Ohio River and also to see the mouth of the Tennessee since I’ll be on the Ohio and the Tennessee next year,” Moore said.
Moore then paddled back down the Ohio to the Mississippi and is traveling downstream. When he reaches the Gulf of Mexico, he will then skirt it 150 miles to Mobile, Ala., before taking the Mobile and Tombigbee rivers, the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and the Tennessee River, eventually catching the New River near Knoxville, Tenn., and then the Cumberland River. From there, he said, he will take the Dix River and then the Kentucky River through Frankfort before dumping out into the Ohio River just downriver from Cincinnati, Ohio.
Moore will then paddle up the Ohio River to Pittsburgh, Pa. He plans to take a side tour on the Kanawha River to see West Virginia because he has never been there.
“What I’m really excited about are parts of the country I haven’t been to before,” Moore said.
He will return to Pittsburgh and then catch the Allegheny to upstate New York, and at Chautauqua Lake will portage on a road named Old Portage Road about 10 miles. He plans to skirt the edge of Lake Erie to just above Buffalo. From there the Erie Canal will turn into the Mohawk, which dumps into the Hudson River around Albany, N.Y.
“Then I’ll ride the Hudson right on down to New York City,” he said. “The end game will be the Statue of Liberty. You can’t land there, but you can paddle around there.”
Moore said unlike 11 years ago, he is equipped with a marine radio, which should help with communicating with towing vessels and other boats. He promises to do all he can to stay out of the way of passing tows and doesn’t normally canoe at night, spending most nights in his tent, usually on a nearby island or sand bar.
Although he is on a very different trip than that taken by others up and down the country’s rivers, Moore said once again there is something that connects him to many of the others who choose to spend their time on them.
“Coming from Los Angeles and then based in a place like Taipei, it just really feels liberating,” he said. “It feels great to be out in the wild, whether it’s the extreme highlands or lowlands of Ethiopia or whether it’s in and along these major rivers, which by and large are extremely rural. It’s an exciting feeling to be out there surrounded by nature.”
Greetings from Memphis where I find myself mid-way across America from the West Coast to Lady Liberty in NYC. Cheers to one and all for your encouragement, friendship, and support. It means the world.
By Les Winkeler
GRAND TOWER — Neal Moore has packed a lot of adventure into his 49 years, beginning with a Mormon mission trip to South Africa as that country was emerging from apartheid. Moore has spent most of his adult life in Africa and Asia, but has longed to return to his American roots.
The California native is currently in the middle of a 7,500-mile trip in which he hopes to reconnect to his native country in an incredibly personal way. He is essentially retracing the steps of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s epic Voyage of Discovery.
He will travel 22 rivers over 22 months while making his way from the Columbia River in Oregon to Ellis Island in New York. Moore recently spent the night in Grand Tower where he provisioned himself, just in time, for colder weather.
An author and freelance journalist, Moore’s goal is to gain insight into the soul of America, to dissect what Lewis and Clark have wrought, there is another side to the trip that Moore had to take into consideration while planning. Twenty-two months in a canoe, making your way through some of the biggest, as well as most treacherous water in the United States takes a toll – mentally and physically.
The reality of paddling nearly 7,500 miles is one of the reasons Moore is doing the trip from west to east … he’ll spend a lot more time traveling downstream.
“I’ve been planning and planning this for quite some time,” Moore said. “I was looking at initially going from east-to-west, naturally to tell of the progression. I was given a contact of Norm Miller, he runs the Missouri Paddlers page. He paddled a canoe in 2004 from St. Louis, up the Missouri River and over the divide. Talking to him what he said was it’s not the physical part, the struggle.
“I looked at the map, I knew there’d be 200 miles from Cairo to St. Louis, to come up the Mississippi, then up the Missouri, but what he said was psychologically, for hundreds and hundreds of miles on the Missouri to paddle up, it’s wild up to Yankton, knowing you could walk faster … So, looking at the map I got excited thinking, ‘What if I could do the whole thing in reverse?’”
That’s not a small consideration when you begin a 7,500-mile journey will some back issues. To compensate he outfitted the canoe with a back rest and steeled his mind.
“You’re forced to be strong,” he said. “Your body becomes strong, but also, mentally, you have to see that goal. It goes back to being an Eagle Scout where I wanted to give up and dad said, ‘You can’t give up. You started something, you have to finish it.’”
He began a similar trip a couple years ago, but flooding forced him off the water.
“Two years ago, I was against a 20-year flood on the Columbia River,” Moore said. “It’s really heave ho, I really like the idea of the open canoe. You’re experiencing the same hardships they (Lewis and Clark) would have encountered as well. You’re opening yourself up to hell or high water quite literally.
“But, you’re also open to all of the good. You are going to meet people who aren’t so nice. You’re going to meet people who might wish you ill. You’re going to meet a lot of people who are there to support you and encourage you that you can learn from as well. That also goes hand-in-hand with their experience as well.”
That’s where the psychology kicks in. For 22 months, Moore will basically be isolated on the river, except for the people he meets along the way. There is no room for a support group in his [16-foot canoe].
During the course of the journey, he will spend most of the time with his own thoughts.
“You have to will yourself forward,” Moore said. “You fight and you fight. This is a part of life as well. You have to have a goal and you have to sort of struggle. And, part of the beauty is the struggle. There are days where you just whistle and you just laugh at the beauty, the beauty of this river. You also have the other days where you are fighting for your life.”
He said his early life featured frequent moves, forcing him to make new friends on a regular basis. That experience is coming in handy on the trip, although there are still some difficult times.
“The psychological part, I don’t like big crowds too much,” Moore said. “I really like the idea of being out there. At the same time, I’ve moved for the majority of my life. When I was a kid we lived in eight different houses in Los Angeles.
“Especially doing these stories, you have these intense kinds of friendships that are short, then you have to get back on the water. That, for me, I think is the hardest part. As my mom tried to teach me, by leaving you’re opening yourself up to the possibility of the realization of more friends and stories down the road.”
You can follow Moore’s progress and chart his new friendships at www.22rivers.com.
By Les Winkeler
GRAND TOWER — In the early 1800s Meriwether Lewis and William Clark traveled the Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri and Columbia rivers on their Voyage of Discovery. Their task was to discover the extent of the North American continent.
Two hundred years later, Neal Moore embarked on a journey re-tracing their steps in reverse, trying to discover what that country has become. While Lewis and Clark traveled from east to west, Moore left Portland, Oregon and will traverse 22 rivers in a 16-foot Old Town canoe before his journey ends at Ellis Island in New York City.
“I think to have a chance to travel from coast to coast and to not only see the country up close and personal during this time, the year before the election and the year after the election with all the negativity, but to string all these rivers together,” Moore said. “But, to try to delve deeper and meet the people along these waterways, these storied waterways and sort of listen. To be able to learn from people and to try to document the innate goodness of people and what are the ties that bind us together from coast to coast.
Specifically, I’m looking at immigrant stories, at diversity, and how diversity is a strength as well. But, really, all sorts of stories, and now with COVID thrown in, before I launched out the story was the election, before and after. With COVID thrown in the storytelling has been enhanced, you find the recession we are going through as well. When times are tough, that’s when people step up, families step up, communities step up and people help each other. That’s what I’m sort of doing.”
When Moore stopped in Grand Tower last week to resupply, he was approaching the halfway point of his 7,500 mile journey. Through all the miles on the water, the small towns like Grand Tower, the major cities like St. Louis, a major stopping off point for Lewis and Clark, Moore finds himself not only absorbing history and making new friends, but also learning about himself.
“I think I’ve learned that I’m more anti-social than I probably thought I was,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m in it over 3,500 miles now, I’m going to hit the halfway mark at Memphis. I’m definitely not good at a lot of things, but I’ve learned I’m not too bad of a storyteller, and also I can paddle long distance. I think mentally it takes somebody who is twisted in that way. I’ve stepped back from friends all my life. You have to be able to live with yourself. Some people can’t do it.”
At the same time, Moore talks about the brief, albeit intense friendships, he makes along the way, telling the stories of average Americans who inhabit river towns, the waitresses, grocery clerks and campground hosts. He talks of the melancholy attached to leaving these new friends behind as he paddles downstream in search of the next friendship.
The force that keeps this trip, this story alive, is the river. Moore developed an affinity for rivers as a 12-year-old Boy Scout on a canoe trip near Los Angeles. It was reinforced while visiting the Tagus River near Toledo, Spain as an exchange student.
“The human body is 70 percent water and they say the surface of the earth is plus-minus 70 percent,” he said. “I think there may be some sort of correlation. The water is also soothing. It has a soothing effect on people.”
In the present, Moore, who is currently a resident of Taiwan, draws his strength from the Mississippi.
“It’s really the water itself,” he said. “I have this tent. It’s screened off where you have this 180-degree view. I pitch the tent most nights and I’m open to the water. I’m sort of connected to the water. It might sound silly, but even in my sleep, I can hear the sounds, I can hear the tows going by, the barges, the trains, the whole deal.
“I feel connected. I think that feeling of being on the water and about the water and in the water and beside the water, it’s sort of strengthens my soul. It makes me feel really quite alive, as opposed to being in the clock-in, clock-out in a major city.”
An author, Moore previously published “Homelands” the story of his Mormon mission to South Africa. He said there may or may not be a book resulting from his current journey.
Readers can follow Moore’s journey online at www.22rivers.com.
On Twitter: @LesWinkeler
By Chris Yu, Multimedia Journalist
PADUCAH — It’s a journey that spans two years, 22 rivers, and 7,500 miles. A man who is canoeing across the U.S. made a pit stop in Paducah Thursday.
Neal Moore is a Los Angeles native who was working as an English teacher in Taiwan.
On Feb. 9, he began his solo canoeing journey at Astoria, Oregon. He then paddled through the Columbia River, the Snake River, the Clark Fork, the Missouri River, and the Mississippi River, before going through the Ohio River to reach Paducah.
Moore will stay in Paducah for a few days before canoeing to New Orleans, then to Mobile, Alabama, followed by Pittsburgh, and eventually to New York City. His goal is to reach the Statue of Liberty by December 2021.
Moore, who is a writer and freelance journalist, said he will author a book based on his experiences during the journey.
“What I’m looking at is a two-year expedition — the year before the election and the year after the election,” said Moore. “And what I’m looking to explore is how these rivers connect all the way across the country, as well as how communities connect, how we can come together as a nation and really to explore the ties that bind us together as to dividing us apart.”
Moore said challenges during his journey include strong winds and severe weather. But he’s willing to deal with them.
“I’m traveling in an open canoe for a reason,” said Moore. “I’m open to all of the elements. I’m open to Hell or high water, to everything that nature can throw at me. But I’m also open to days like (Thursday), and also to meeting new people and taking myself out of my comfort zone.”
Moore said the title of the book is yet to be determined. He has authored two other books, including “Down the Mississippi,” which chronicles his 2009 journey through the Mississippi River during an economic downturn, featuring people he met along the way who shared advice on what worked for them. His other book is a memoir of his time as a youth in South Africa, which coincided with Nelson Mandela being released from prison and eventually becoming the country’s president.
Visit 22rivers.com to see updates on Moore’s journey.
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KFVS) – A man paddled his canoe up to the Cape Girardeau riverfront, just one stop along his 7,500 mile journey.
“Just a chance of a lifetime,” said Neal Moore.
Moore’s adventure started in February in Oregon, and he plans to make his way to New York City by December 2021. His trip takes him through 22 states and 22 rivers.
“As a kid, 12-years-old, probably as a Boy Scout, I spent a half a day on a canoe. I just fell in love with it,” said Moore.
Now, he gets to see the country from a unique perspective, from sleeping on sand bars to navigating the currents on the river by day.
“The opportunity to see it like this. Up close and personal, and to be able to experience the nature and the towns and the people as well, and to be able to learn from the community. To learn from our history,” said Moore. “Not really having an agenda but by coming through and just listening to folks, it strengthens my takes on humanity itself, on the best of us.”
Folks like Donna McClark from Jackson, who waved him down to come to shore in Wittenberg, Missouri a few days back.
“I was so excited. I have a video of it. I was really excited,” said McClark.
She then decided to stop and cheer Moore on in Cape Girardeau as well.
“He’s right. We do need to all pull together in all of these smalls downs and learn the history of each place and take care of each other. It’s just an absolute must, especially right now,” said McClark.
Although times are tough right now, Moore said he sees people step up and come together each stop of the way.
“To be able to come through and try to document that and learn from the people and feel of their spirit just feels great,” said Moore.
Moore isn’t new to canoeing. He paddled the length of the Mississippi River once before.
He plans to write a book about this trip. You can follow his journey on his website, 22rivers.com.
Copyright 2020 KFVS. All rights reserved.
By Dan Greenwald
News 4, CBS Affiliate KMOV
ST. LOUIS — Inspired by a St. Louis author and St. Louis history itself, one man is on the adventure of a lifetime, taking a canoe onto 22 rivers and rowing more than 7,000 miles across the county.
Neal Moore is traveling with an expedition canoe and 500 pounds worth of gear. He started on the West Coast and is going first to New Orleans and then to up to the Hudson River in New York. He stopped in St. Louis Sunday.
“I have my tent, I have my freeze-dried food for the rest of the year, all the way down to New Orleans,” he said. “Connect two rivers and 22 states; a total of 7,500 miles from coast-to-coast by way of the Gulf and the Great Lakes.”
He says he has stories to tell along the way.
“In the age of COVID-19, some of the storytelling has been enhanced because when times get tough, you find people who are giving, who are remarkable,” he said.
You can track his journey by clicking here.
Copyright 2020 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved
Story By Laura Miserez, Missourian Features Editor; Photos By Julia Hansen, Missourian Photo Editor
For Americans of European ancestry, Ellis Island is where their families’ journeys to discover the country began. For Neal Moore, 48, Ellis Island, with its iconic Statue of Liberty, will be where his journey ends.
Moore is on the trip of a lifetime — his words — traveling the length of 22 rivers across 22 states from Astoria, Ore., to New York City in a canoe. The Mark Twain Museum and CNN have both called him “a modern-day Huck Finn,” but even Mark Twain’s most famous character didn’t travel as far as Moore will on this expedition. He first launched his canoe into the icy waters of the Columbia River Feb. 9 and is intending to travel 7,500 miles to arrive in the Upper Bay of the Hudson River around New Year’s Day 2022.
He rested in New Haven Monday, grabbing a coffee at NorthStar and getting his canoe repaired at Paddle Stop New Haven. He passed Washington Tuesday on his way to St. Charles. He will connect to the Mississippi River near St. Louis and head south toward New Orleans, which he hopes to reach by Christmas. From there he’ll cut across the Gulf of Mexico 150 miles to Mobile, Ala., and then paddle north to Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky and Pennsylvania via the Tombigbee, Tennesse, Dix, Kentucky, Ohio and Allegheny rivers. He’ll reach Lake Erie before turning east along the Hudson River.
Moore is an author and citizen journalist. He’s a Los Angeles native but has lived in South Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia and Taiwan. For him, this adventure is a unique way to explore his own home country, connecting people and their stories in the process.
“The rivers bring people together,” Moore said. “The first roads built, the first communities built in this country were along the rivers. By stringing these river communities together from coast to coast and adding them up, I think I’ll have the story of America, and that includes all of us.”
Moore, who has two published books, is chronicling his expedition via Instagram @riverjournalist and online at 22rivers.com, where people can donate to help fund the trip. Although he is collecting notes of conversations he has with the everyday Americans he meets and the history he learns along this journey, Moore hasn’t started planning for a book about this adventure yet.
“As a storyteller coming along, the big thing for me is to put my biases aside and to actually listen, to speak to people and to learn from them,” Moore said.
‘Local Knowledge Will Save Your Life’
Each section of his route requires special knowledge to navigate, and Moore relies heavily on the expertise of people living along the river. For the Missouri River, that meant connecting with the Missouri River Paddlers, a Facebook group where more than 3,000 people from Montana to St. Louis exchange information on paddling the Missouri River. The group also has a website, missouririverpaddlers.com, where members post updates on where along the routes the travelers are.
Norm Miller founded the group in 2010. He lives near the base of the Missouri River in Montana and has been dubbed the source of knowledge on the Missouri River and its paddling community.
There are also at least several hundred people in the group who live along the river and volunteer to feed, house, resupply and assist the travelers who arrive in their towns. They’re called “river angels,” a term Miller coined around 1998 based on the “trail angels” who help hikers on the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails. He said the group, particularly the angels, are one big family willing to help anyone who wants to get on the river.
“We’ve had paddlers given airplane rides to scout the route ahead,” Miller wrote in a message. “Sean Trombly, who is paddling from Montana to the Gulf and is in South Dakota currently, had his guitar stolen in Bismarck, and 35 members chipped in to buy him a new one. I FedEx’d it to him last week.”
Miller paddled with Moore for a few days when he was in Montana. In New Haven, Moore met the local river angels — Lance Strohecker and Gary Rice of Astral Glass Studio, and Shane and Stacy Camden, who own Paddle Stop. Shane Camden said they see five to six travelers come through every year.
“Typically they (the travelers) are taking time off work, so it’s easy to offer some dinner or a few drinks,” Shane Camden said. “If they have to provide themselves food and drinks and shelter for three or four months, that gets quite expensive. So we as angels take them in and help them out.”
The Road Less Traveled
Moore started Feb. 9 with the most dangerous section of his journey and one of the most dangerous waterways in the world — the Columbia River Bar in Oregon. He said people in the nearby town of Astoria are part of multigenerational fishing and tugboat industries, so they were able to help him prepare to survive. Moore laughed that they also probably thought he was crazy for attempting it.
“You have the ocean pushing in and this massive river pushing out,” he explained. “If you can survive that, you’re doing well.”
Astoria is also significant as the grand finale to Lewis and Clark’s 1805-06 expedition of the western United States. Moore thought it was fitting that he begin his journey at the spot where such an important one ended.
From Astoria he continued up-current and eventually lugged his canoe up the Continental Divide inside Glacier National Park, Mont. He entered the Missouri River in May at its origin in Montana and started paddling toward North Dakota.
This section of the journey was familiar terrain. Moore first attempted his 22 rivers expedition in 2018, but he started nearly a month late and was facing a 20-year flood on the Columbia and Spokane rivers and a 100-year flood on the Clark Fork River. He almost drowned in the St. Regis River near Missoula.
“I came around the bend, and a huge tree was blocking the river and pulling me in,” Moore recounted. “I thought to myself, ‘I am absolutely not going under. Whatever happens, I am not going under.’ As I came to hit it sideways to slow down, my canoe swung out and tipped me (into the water). One second I looked, and my canoe and all my belongings in the world were gone. The next second I saw myself grab onto the roots and scrape my way up.”
After surviving what Moore described as a “near-death experience,” he restocked in Missoula for a month before continuing on his route. By this time he’d traveled the 1,800 miles to Tobacco Gardens, a historic RV park near Watford City, N.D., and he was far behind schedule and still shaken up.
“I wanted to hang up the paddles as a pause, not as giving up,” he said.
He decided to restart this journey back at the beginning in February instead of continuing on from where he left off so he could achieve a truly continuous journey. Going back to the beginning of his route offered him a chance to visit friends he’d made on the previous trip.
Moore said the interactions he has in the tiny towns he encounters feel earned because he’s worked so hard to get there.
“It’s an honor to walk into these towns,” Moore said. “By walking the streets and meeting people, you get a feel for the heartbeat — who they are and how they operate.”
St. Louis Inspiration
A longtime avid traveler and an author, Moore started thinking about traversing America’s rivers 12 years ago. At the time, his only experience with canoes was half a day as a Boy Scout, nearly a lifetime ago. But he stumbled upon St. Louis writer Eddy L. Harris’ 1988 book, “Mississippi Solo.” Harris was a novice too, and it gave Moore hope that he could accomplish a similar feat.
Moore previously canoed 2,300 miles down the Mississippi from Lake Itasca, Minn., to New Orleans in five months in 2009. He co-wrote a 2012 book about the expedition, “Down the Mississippi: A Modern-Day Huck on America’s River Road,” with the former executive director of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal, Cindy Lovell.
Since then he’s written a second book. Published in 2017, “Homelands” recounts his experiences as a 19-year-old Mormon missionary in Cape Town, South Africa, in the early 1990s. His work has also appeared in The New Yorker, Der Spiegel, a German-language publication, and on CNN International.
Moore, who departed from the south shoreline of the Missouri River near New Haven on Tuesday, said he enjoys his moments of solitude out on the river where he is free from the noise of modern-day America. He travels without music and books on tape, instead his ears are filled with the orchestra of nature as his eyes scope out the horizon before him.
“To be on the water is a phenomenal way to experience the country,” Moore said. “You literally have nature all the way around you, beneath you, to the sides, above you. To see the country — really see it, up close and personal, in such a fashion — it’s a journey of a lifetime.”