‘A total of 7,500 miles;’ man canoeing from Oregon to NYC stops in St. Louis

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

Author Neal Moore is Paddling on Nature’s Interstate

Story By Laura Miserez, Missourian Features Editor; Photos By Julia Hansen, Missourian Photo Editor

The Missourian

Missourian Photo/Julia Hansen

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.

Neal Moore packs in the pre-dawn light Tuesday, Sept. 22 in New Haven. Moore likes to leave at first light on his cross-country, solo canoe trip. Missourian Photo/Julia Hansen

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. 

Neal Moore pauses to speak to Shane Camden (not pictured) while packing his belongings before leaving New Haven Tuesday, Sept. 22. Missourian Photo/Julia Hansen

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. 

Shane Camden gifts Neal Moore a Paddle Stop t-shirt Tuesday, Sept. 22 before Moore leaves New Haven. Missourian Photo/Julia Hansen

“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.

Neal Moore tries to pry his sponge from Brewster’s mouth Tuesday, Sept. 22. Missourian Photo/Julia Hansen

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. 

Shane Camden and Brewster place a sticker in Neal Moore’s canoe Tuesday, Sept. 22. Moore has been collecting stickers and signatures on his journey so he can remember those he meets. Missourian Photo/Julia Hansen

“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. 

Neal Moore pushes off from the boat ramp in New Haven Tuesday, Sept. 22. Missourian Photo/Julia Hansen

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.”

22 Rivers Shape America’s Story, Chapters Of Long-Distance Paddler’s Own Life

Moore canoeing on 22 rivers in 22 states to cross the United States

NEWS CHANNEL NEBRASKA 

By Dan Swanson

NEBRASKA CITY – Neal Moore describes himself as an “internationalist” and river journalist as he attempts to take 22 rivers in 22 states and carve a new path across America, but arrived at Nebraska City Tuesday with the idea that the rivers are carving him.

Moore was born in Los Angeles and lived the majority of his life in Africa and East Asia. He said he is drawn by the idea of seeing his home country up close and personal from an open canoe.

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Moore at the Missouri River Basin Lewis & Clark Visitor Center at Nebraska City, Neb. with the Missouri River behind. Photo by Dan Swanson

The CNN contributor and Taiwan English teacher launched where The Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean and came upstream to the top of the Continental Divide at MacDonald Pass, Mont.

His journey includes sometimes pulling his canoe on wheels overland to connect the 22 rivers. He first put his canoe into the Missouri River at Helena, Mont.

Moore: “This is my second go-around. I tried this two years ago and I made it about 1,800 miles to Lake Sakakawea ( in North Dakota) and so I had confidence I could make my way up the rivers, over the divide and this time around actually go the distance.”

The long-distance paddler had earlier descended the Mississippi River and compared each river odyssey to a new chapter in his own life story.

Moore: “Every river acts different and so the Columbia, for example, you start off with the Columbia River bar, which is the most dangerous waterway in the entire world. Luckily this time around I had really good weather when I was coming across.”

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Missouri River Basin Lewis & Clark Visitor Center Executive Director Doug Friedli shows Moore a map of Lewis and Clark’s track, across the western portion of North America from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean : by order of the executive of the United States in 1804, 5 & 6. Photo by Dan Swanson

Moore: “Coming up the Snake, it’s remote and it’s rugged and in the age of COVID there were not … in nine days of paddling the Snake not one boat, not one fisherman on that river. I didn’t see anybody for the first five days.”

He described the Clark Fork River in Idaho as a rock-bed river. After setting up camp, an upstream dam went from very little water to 30,000 cfs overnight.

Moore: “It washed out my canoe and most of my gear. I woke up and I was lucky enough not to be washed out myself.”

Moore: “These rivers were the first thoroughfares in North America. The first roads built in America were built along the side of these rivers. The first communities, the first settlements were on these rivers. There is so much history and to travel by canoe it’s sort of a nod to the Native Americans who came before us, as well.”

He said he is grateful for “river angels” who show him hospitality and river towns where there is a sense of history and grit.

Moore: “The big thinking is, as you piece these 22 rivers, as you connect these 22 rivers, and, of course, all of the stories along the way, by the time I make the Statue of Liberty there in New York City, when you add up all of these stories, when you look at the history – the people who have come before, the people who live here now – the history beneath the feet of the people I’m able to meet and befriend, you really have the story of America.”

He thanked the “river angels” at Nebraska City who provide hospitality for river paddlers.

He expects to make it to New Orleans by the end of 2020 and paddle down the Hudson River before the end of 2021.

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Neal Moore at Missouri River Basin Lewis and Clark Center in Nebraska City. Photo by Dan Swanson

https://www.instagram.com/riverjournalist/

https://22rivers.com/

Man touring America by canoe visits Plattsmouth

The Plattsmouth Journal

By Timothy Rohwer

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Neal Moore, who is touring America by canoe and hopes to write a book about his experiences when he is finished. He is currently canoeing down the Missouri River and had a layover this week in Plattsmouth. Photo by Timmoth Rohwer.

PLATTSMOUTH – Neal Moore is touring the country in what he described as a most “amazing” way.

The California-bred Moore, who has lived overseas for the last 30 years, has returned to America and is seeing it by canoeing on its major rivers—from Sea to Shining Sea.

“To come back to my home country and to see it this way is truly amazing,” Moore said during a stopover in Plattsmouth on Tuesday.

He started his cross-country journey in Oregon at the mouth of the Columbia River in early February, and reached the Missouri River in Helena, Mont., in early June.

Moore is currently canoeing down the river and hopes to reach New Orleans, La., by year’s end with the goal of reaching New York City on rivers by the end of 2021. “This would include reaching Lake Erie near Buffalo, hopefully before winter arrives,” he said.

So far along the route, Moore has faced “extreme” lightning storms and a tornado where fortunately a storm shelter for cover was nearby.

“To experience the raw power of nature is really something.”

He estimates his journey from start to finish will total 7,500 miles.

At the height of the Great Recession in 2008, Moore decided to canoe on the Mississippi River to see America from a different view.

“I was finding hard-luck towns and each had a cause or a theme,” he said.

Eventually, he met a man from Montana who was living his life on the rivers, Moore said.

He told Moore to slow down on his journeys, to get out and walk around and learn of the people along his routes.

On Monday evening, Moore camped on a sandbar near where the Platte River meets the Missouri. On Tuesday morning, he toured downtown Plattsmouth and met patrons at a Main Street restaurant where one of them paid Moore’s meal.

“I’m happy to be here,” he said of his visit.

On Tuesday evening, Moore was scheduled to stay overnight in Nebraska City.

He hopes to write a book on his experiences after finishing his journey, Moore said.

“To come back and see your home country in this way has to be the greatest adventure of your life.”

Canoeist attempts cross country journey

NBC/ABC Affiliate DAKOTA NEWS NOW

By Austin Goss

 

PIERRE, S.D. (Dakota News Now) – South Dakota has a special traveler passing through right now. If his journey is successful, he’ll become the first solo canoeist to pass through the country continuously from East Coast to West.

Neal Moore is a published author and former CNN contributor, who has traveled the world as a way to draw inspiration for his work.

“What I’m doing is connecting twenty-two rivers across twenty-two states that’s going to take roughly twenty-two months,” Moore said.

Moore has completed similar journeys down the Mississippi River and up the Columbia River. Despite all his travel, this is his first time ever in South Dakota.

“The rugged natural beauty, I’ve just found the sunsets and sunrises and just the storms that sweep across the river… are unbelievably beautiful… also potentially dangerous.”

Moore has been able to find refugee along his journey with people of similar interests. In addition, he has gotten a little advice.

“I’m his local meteorology guru for wind speed and direction, and other assorted facts about the river,” said Randy Birch, an avid water sports enthusiast.

If successful, Moore’s journey will end at one of America’s most famous landmarks.

“The end game is to come down the Hudson River, to New York City. I plan to circle around the Statue of Liberty, land at Liberty Park in New Jersey. The backdrop is going to be Lady Liberty, with Manhattan behind it.”

Moore has been in South Dakota for about two weeks after coming down from Bismarck, North Dakota. He will be in the state for about two more weeks if everything goes according to plan, and will exit out the Southeastern part of South Dakota going towards Omaha.

Copyright 2020 Dakota News Now. All rights reserved.

ACROSS THE CONTINENT IN A CANOE

In 1890, “a plucky young Texan” paddled his canoe from New York City to Astoria, Oregon. A staff correspondent for New York’s Mail and Express, R. Elbert Rappleye’s odyssey spanned 6,280 miles and was undoubtedly a first. What’s crazy to consider is that 130 years on, there isn’t a West Coast to East solo, continuous canoe expedition on record. It feels awe-inspiring to traverse the nation by canoe, to span the country with a journalistic eye, and with a bit of luck and success, to pull off a reverse record.

Having paddled and portaged up the Columbia, Snake, and Clark Fork Rivers, I’m currently in North Dakota at Tobacco Gardens Resort & Marina on Lake Sakakawea (on my second cross-country shot). I spent months to plot and plan out the unique cross-country route. It’s amazing, but without knowing about Mr. Rappleye until now, from the rivers and lakes of Idaho and Montana to Lake Chautauqua, Lake Erie, the Erie Canal, the Hudson, and even my final destination of New York City, I’ll be casting my eyes and scribbling in my notebook, from water level, along and upon a number of similar vistas and waterways.

Mr. Rappleye’s cross-country canoe route, from East Coast to West, 1890.

Mr. Moore’s cross-country canoe route, from West Coast to East, 2020-2021.

If you’d like to follow my journey, you can check out my Instagram feed here.

Thanks to Norman Miller for the information on R. Elbert Rappleye, and for chronicling all long-distance paddlers to touch the Missouri – and beyond.

Here is the original article about Rappleye’s voyage from 1891:

R. ELBERT RAPPLEYE, a plucky young Texan educated in New York, has just won the glory of making one of the longest trips on record in a small boat. He crossed the continent from New York to Astoria, Oregon, on the Pacific, a distance, over the necessarily circuitous route of more than 6,200 miles. The canoeist had necessarily to carry his light, but tough, paper craft, Only twelve miles during his protracted voyage. The length of the land voyage was, however, increased by the unnecessary transfer of his boat to Lake Chautauqua and by encountering ice in the Rocky mountains. He paddled down 150 miles of the Missoula river, in Montana, that, the settlers said, never had been successfully navigated before.

The canoeist launched his little boat from the Jersey City Yacht Club on April 10, 1890, and started up the Hudson river. He paddled from the Hudson through the Erie canal and into Lake Erie. It was his intention originally to go from Lake Erie by way of the Miami canal, which connects the lake with the Ohio River; but the citizens of Jamestown, N.Y., prevailed upon him to leave Lake Erie at the nearest point to Chautauqua lake, and transported him to Mayville, whence he was escorted to Jamestown by the Chadaukoin Canoe Club.

Everywhere he touched he was welcomed with enthusiasm and entertained and feasted. Word of his coming was flashed over the wires from town to town, and there were always many to meet him at the landing place. He passed through North and South Dakota, and, on August 30th, visited the camp of Sitting Bull. He reached the divide in the Rocky Mountains in October. Here he was the first necessary portage of the voyage. The battered canoe on which were written the names of hundreds who had helped to welcome the voyager at points along his course, was slid into the Hell Gate river at Missoula, in the presence of a thousand citizens, who cheered its departure for the western coast. The canoeist took a passenger at Missoula, the first in his long course, who was invaluable to him as a guide. He was Frank Whittaker, an old Leadville miner, who left him at Paradise, Montana, where he joined a survey party. He had the company of David W. Low, a young man and enthusiastic canoeist of Missoula, from the time he parted company with his first passenger until he reached Astoria.

A longer carry over the divide than would have been necessary in summer had to be made because of the ice in the mountain streams. To make a short portage he would have had to remain all winter in the mountains and start down the Hell Gate when nature broke the ice barriers in the spring. The voyager was not any too soon in reaching Missoula, as the water froze in his wake. When he came out of his tent in the morning to make breakfast, the coffee and water in his tin bucket was solid. Much of the rest of the journey was through snow storms, for the winter had set in earnest. From the Missoula Mr. Rappleye paddled into the Clark fork of the Columbia, and cruised thence into the Pend d’Oreille lake, in northern Idaho. Sliding down the outlet of the lake, the Pend d’Oreille river, the paddler floated into the Columbia river and down to Astoria, where he was joyously greeted by the expectant citizens, who had been reading about his journey for months. He mingled some of the Atlantic that he had taken with him with the Pacific.

Other canoeists who have made celebrated voyages in paper boats are Bishop and McGregor. The former went from Pittsburgh to New Orleans, a distance of 2,600 miles, in 1875; wrote a book about the trip, and had his canoe, the Maria Therese, exhibited at the Centennial Exposition in 1876. McGregor won fame by his cruises on the Baltic, the Jordan, the Nile and the lakes and rivers of Europe.

Mr. Rappleye has called attention, by his trip, to a geographical fact not popularly known – that, barring a few miles, there is an all water route from the Atlantic to the Pacific. He has probably seen more of the United States, and paid less for the privilege, than any man who has ever crossed the continent.

Onto the Missouri River

Up against the current of the Columbia, Snake, and Clark Fork Rivers, I’ve slowly but surely fought my way uphill. This past week, I’ve portaged my canoe and gear up and over U.S. Route 12 of the Continental Divide to an elevation of 6,312 feet – encountering an all-day, mid-May snow blast and up top, a migratory grizzly bear – who waltzed on past and paid me no heed.

Today is day 104 of the expedition, I’m safely down the mountain, and as I sit and sip an ice-cold Blackfoot IPA (courtesy of local vets Matt and Mike – cheers, gents!) at “Lakeside on Hauser” bar and restaurant, I’ve at long last got the Missouri River in sight. Lake Hauser is an intensely beautiful place in the world, and come tomorrow, I’ll put into the Missouri River, to experience the pleasure of paddling with the current.

There’s been a little press as of late: Tom Kuglin ran a front-page Sunday story that appeared in Helena’s Independent Record and Missoula’s Missoulian; friend Pat Hansen’s piece appeared in Butte’s Montana Standard and on NBC affiliate KPVI; and out in Saigon, writer Martin Walsh filed a piece about the expedition for Explorersweb.

In Helena, friend Norm Miller, founder of the Missouri River Paddlers’ group, shot a two-part, thirty-minute expedition interview which you can see here:

And so, I paddle forth. Onto the Missouri and later this year, on down to the Mississippi, where I hope to make a turn for Hannibal, before heading downriver to the Gulf and the promise of adventures, characters extraordinaire, and La Nouvelle-Orléans.

Explorer’s goal: Paddle 22 rivers across America in two years

By PAT HANSEN

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Explorer Neal Moore paddles on the Clark Fork River on his way across the U.S. connecting 22 rivers on a 7,500-mile two-year journey. PROVIDED PHOTO.

On an “adventure of a lifetime,” Neal Moore is making a 7,500-mile journey across the United States in a canoe connecting rivers from the West Coast to the East Coast.

Moore, 48, left Astoria, Oregon on Feb. 9 and has paddled up the Columbia, Snake and Clark Fork Rivers.

“It is a challenge, but anything in this life that is worthwhile is a challenge,” Moore said.

Moore continued his portage from the Clark Fork River to the Missouri River in a snowstorm Friday to the top of the Continental Divide on MacDonald Pass, a 1,200-foot elevation change that he called “a hell of a climb.” More than a foot of snow accumulated during the night as he camped under a tree.

On Saturday he descended into Helena where he will put into the Missouri River on his way to the Mississippi River and New Orleans. Next year he plans to paddle from New Orleans to Mobile, Alabama then navigate rivers north concluding the journey at the Statue of Liberty.

Moore said he is inspired by the late Dick Conant of Bozeman, an unrivaled long-distance paddler and Navy veteran who went on many grand canoe adventures. “We met on the upper Mississippi River and he planted in my mind that it is possible to connect the rivers across the nation.”

Conant vanished on his last adventure in 2014 on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway headed from the top of the Hudson River to Florida. His canoe was found by a duck hunter, but his body was never found and likely was swept out to sea.

“I looked into connecting rivers across the country when I learned of his death,” Moore said. “This trip is to pay homage to Dick Conant. Some of the route for this journey is what he covered from Mississippi, Alabama and north.”

An amiable man with a big smile, Moore is an explorer, author and journalist who said his trip is all about the stories of people he meets along the way, as well as the adventure.

“The idea for 2020-21 is to travel in a traditional style canoe to chronicle the story of America leading into the election and the year following with an emphasis on the thread that unites us — what it feels like, looks like and tastes like to be an American from Oregon to the Statue of Liberty,” Moore said.

“The first thoroughfares in this country were rivers, the first roads went along these rivers, the first settlements, towns and cities were built along these rivers,” Moore said. “The canoe pays homage to those people who came before us. It is a challenging mode of travel, but is doable. When in the canoe you are down low, inside of the river, nature is all around you in a rugged wilderness. I have a front row ticket to not only nature and adventure, but to the history of America and the stories of all these different people and their experiences.”

Camping wild is the best possible place to be during a pandemic, Moore said. PROVIDED PHOTO

With the coronavirus pandemic, Moore said this trip is a self-imposed solitary confinement where he goes days with no human contact. On the Snake, Moore said he didn’t see a human for five days.

Camping wild is the best possible place to be during a pandemic, he said, and that’s why he camps on islands away from people. Because he doesn’t want to cause any COVID-19 problems for friends or acquaintances when he come into town, he wears a mask and practices personal distancing.

“I am not a reporter, but a journalist storyteller. With coronavirus, meeting people is more difficult. I love greasy spoons in small towns because that is where locals go and old-timers can be found telling stories over coffee. With the gradual opening of restaurants I look forward to meeting some of them … at a distance,’’ Moore said. “This is a difficult time for many people, Moore said, but where you find trial and tribulation with the coronavirus, we see people helping others, putting their shoulder to the wheel, rolling up their sleeves and coming together. When I walk the streets of a town, I get the feel of the pulse of the community, and have chance meetings with individuals, these stumble upon stories are always the best.”

A two-time cancer survivor, Moore grew up in Los Angeles and was inspired to become an explorer after reading adventure books. Having lived in Africa and Asia for many years and been on several solo explorations since 2003, he considers himself a citizen of the world.

Documented in his book “Down the Mississippi,” Moore said, “When not on an adventure, I dream. In 2008 I had an epiphany that the best adventure of my life would be in my own backyard — in my own country. That led to a 2009 canoe trip down the Mississippi River from its source to New Orleans.”

Two years ago, Moore attempted to canoe from Astoria to New Orleans, but rivers were at 100-year flood stage. On the St. Regis River he had a brush with death when his canoe capsized in the frigid water after it came in contact with a fallen cottonwood tree and he lost most of his gear. He was able to get to Missoula where he regrouped and then portaged from there to Helena pulling his canoe. He later stopped in North Dakota after more than 1,700 miles.

He spent the past two years living in Taiwan where he taught English to earn money to finance his adventure.

Portaging around dams or for long distances when rivers are running high is part of Neal Moore’s journey. PROVIDED PHOTO

On April 23, when Moore first entered the Clark Fork River out of Lake Pend Oreille on the Idaho/Montana border, the water was flowing 5,000 cubic feet per second. He paddled until evening when a severe lightning storm was approaching and he made camp on a large island.

“I’d taken the canoe and other heavy gear at least 30 feet away from the water, up and onto the island, and made camp several hundred feet further away,’’ Moore said. “Come first light, the water had risen significantly and strong, deep currents had replaced the rocks where the canoe had been the night before. They were all gone.”

Moore said that during the night Avista Power released water from the Noxon dam and water was flowing at 30,000 cfs. He notified the sheriff he was okay and Avista employees in a jet boat recovered the canoe that had overturned and most of the equipment that had floated downstream.

After portaging past the dam, Moore put into the Clark Fork River.

“I’ve been dreaming about paddling (the Clark Fork) for many years. It’s magnificent and wild, and incredibly beautiful,” Moore said.

To follow his journey: 22rivers.com; Facebook – Neal Moore; Instagram.com/riverjournalist

Journalist portages canoe through Helena on 7,500-mile cross country paddle

Helena Independent Record / The Missoulian

By Tom Kuglin

HAVE CANOE — WILL TRAVEL

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Freelance journalist Neal Moore makes his way down MacDonald Pass west of Helena on Saturday toting his canoe. Moore left the West Coast three months ago on his second attempt of his 22 Rivers project to paddle from Oregon to New York. Gary Marshall, BMGPHOTOS.COM

Neal Moore says he couldn’t live with himself if he didn’t try again.

Moore, 48, made his way over the Continental Divide near Helena on Saturday toting a canoe filled with his belongings. The two-day trek over MacDonald Pass amid a mid-May winter blast and grizzly bear encounter comes nearly three months after he started his journey from the West Coast – a 7,500-mile adventure he hopes will culminate two years from now when he paddles around the Statue of Liberty in New York.

“I had been a traveler for most of my life,” he said. “When you start traveling internationally, you meet other travelers, and the question is always, ‘What’s next?’

Moore is originally from Los Angeles, but has lived overseas in Africa and Taiwan for decades. He considers himself somewhat of a “citizen of the world,” enjoying returning to his home country to document his adventures as a freelance journalist.

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Neal Moore passes a snow fence on MacDonald Pass on Saturday as he begins his decent into Helena. He will launch on the Missouri River in the coming days. Gary Marshall, BMGPHOTOS.COM

 

He floated the Mississippi River chronicling the economic downturn in 2009 for CNN and his work has also appeared in the New Yorker and Der Spiegel. Long distance paddling and storytelling are two of his great passions.

“It happens to be two things I’m good at,” he joked. “I’m not good at a lot of things but I can go long distances in a canoe and I can story tell. The actual physical nature, day-in-day-out nature of it, mixed with the chance to stumble upon stories is sort of challenging, it’s fun and it’s a real adventure.”

It was on the Mississippi that he befriended fellow paddler Dick Conant of Bozeman. Conant spent years paddling across the country in his canoe and offered invaluable advice.

“When I started out on the Mississippi River like a lot of other long distance paddlers, I was going as fast as I possibly could,” Moore said. “What Dick taught me was to slow down, it’s not a race and to just enjoy the journey and learn the history of the places you’re passing by.”

Moore’s 22 Rivers project is the second attempt at his latest adventure. He paddled up the Columbia and Snake rivers, portaged for about 100 miles, and after crossing the Divide will launch on the Missouri River in a few days. He plans to float the length of the Missouri and Mississippi to New Orleans where he will then connect rivers north to New York and his ultimate goal of the Statue of Liberty.

Moore suspended his first voyage two years ago after paddling and portaging more than 1,700 miles from Oregon to North Dakota. That trip included a potentially life threatening crash on the St. Regis River when a snag caused his canoe to tip and belongings to scatter.

Moore felt he must return to attempt the trip again but debated whether to begin where he left off or depart again from the West Coast. The ability to link the rivers together in one journey proved to be the deciding factor.

“I don’t think I could’ve lived with myself if I didn’t try it again. To start over again, and I had friends argue it both ways of whether to continue where I left off or to try again,” from the West Coast,” he said. “It came down to my own thinking and this crazy dream route. The route I selected, it had the chance to be continuous.”

Moore holds a degree in English literature – he teaches English in Taiwan – and also learned about filmmaking while at the University of Utah. He shoots videos, writes and photographs his adventures on the website www.22rivers.com and Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/riverjournalist/.

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A truck passes Neal Moore on MacDonald Pass on Saturday. Gary Marshall, BMGPHOTOS.COM

“It’s sort of a personal project and it’s something that might get picked up by news agencies or not, it might result in a book, but I’m not doing it for that reason,” he said.

“The actual thinking is to touch America, to try to come across to see it firsthand and experience the rawness and the transformation.”

As with nearly all aspects of life these days, the COVID-19 pandemic has proven a powerful influence on Moore’s project. Many campgrounds are closed and “river angels” who offer assistance to long distance paddlers have had to alter the help they can provide.

The river itself offers a sort of “solitary confinement” that lends itself well to traveling during the pandemic. Where he has stopped to see friends, he has distanced himself by camping in a garage or travel trailer and staying out of homes.

For Moore, COVID-19 is now part of the story he hopes to tell.

“My thinking now is it’s actually still possible to chronicle stories,” he said. “You meet up with people who are really interesting characters and have something to say. The thinking now is to have this time and to underscore what’s working with what people are facing with the virus as well as the economic fallout.”

While he understands the hardship many currently face, Moore also hopes to find inspiring stories.

“The whole thing with journalism is that it’s positive journalism as well … to find and highlight the American collective of what’s working and to find and highlight these unique and interesting characters,” he said.

A Spartan Life

By Neal Moore

Along the Snake River at Nisqually John Landing, Wash.


Brian Bensen stands astride his makeshift home with pride. Bensen was my neighbor at Nisqually John Landing, Wash. Photo by Neal Moore.

Brian Bensen is a minimalist, a fisherman, a hunter, and a survivor. He lives along the banks of this river, of multiple rivers, out of a 7’ x 12’ motorcycle toy-hauler he lovingly calls his house. Attached are a quartet of solar panels, a trio of car batteries, an AC/DC converter, a drop-down bed, an air conditioner, a TV and DVD player, pots and pans and knives and forks, a bottle of Purell hand sanitizer, a tarp, and a blanket hanging off of his higgledy-piggledy back shower featuring Marilyn Monroe. Bensen has spent the last three years shifting this home, along with a Kawasaki 650 off-road motorcycle that clamps down inside, an aluminum jet boat, and a GMC truck to pull them from camp to camp, Gypsy-style. “If you look, especially in the Northwest, in the twelve Western states,” he says, “there are campgrounds that are beautiful where you can spend 14 days, no money involved.” He laughed at the thought, at all the memories of Lolo Pass in the summers and this very spot on the Snake piled with snow come the winter. “And that’s about as long as I want to be in one place anyway.” Bensen is sixty-two and he’s been on the move for all of them. Civilization calls his elemental lifestyle homeless, but he calls it sweet freedom.

 

“I consider myself the king of campin’ because I’m off the grid,” he says. “I’ve been at it three years, perfected a lot of things. Literally, if I have to, I can survive. With nothin’. No help from nobody.” Although there are contradictions to being labeled a minimalist when you have a Kawasaki 650, he might be forgiven because he wants to trade it in for an electric scooter. But either way, he is still a minimalist. And that’s part and parcel of Spartan.

When folks less fortunate come around, Bensen is happy to share. “Just heat up the coffee if you want,” he told his neighbors, a homeless couple from the neighboring trailer at Nisqually John Landing here in Whitman County. “The heater is right there. The creamer and honey, it’s on the shelf.”


Detail of Bensen’s collapsible kitchen. Push comes to shove, Bensen’s going to provide for himself, and he’s going to give to others. “I figure if things get really, really bad – especially after what I seen at Walmart a couple weeks ago, I can always feed myself. Feed as many weary travelers as I can.” Photo by Neal Moore.

 


Detail of Bensen’s solar panels attached to the side of his toy-hauler-cum-home. Photo by Neal Moore.

The world around Bensen, around us all, finds itself in a gut punch of a downward spiral and we don’t yet know what bottom will look like. When asked what advice he might have for others, for people that will soon find themselves, not by choice, but by necessity, out of doors, he thought and then raised his head and his voice like a preacher. “My advice to you if you find yourself in that situation, first off, it’s one day at a time. Think of nothin’ but base survival. And then modify it. That’s what I did. I started out with one panel and one battery – so I could afford about two hundred bucks. And then once I got to know the system, I continued to learn, to graduate farther and farther.”

Bensen bought most of his hardware at Home Depot in the 75% off rack. The solar panels, each twenty-five watts, came from Harbor Freight. The solar system is capable of 14.4 volts. The whole setup with the control module and lights, because he’s a preferred member and he had a coupon, was $149. On top of the trailer are coils that go back and forth in plastic garden tubing which Bensen reckons can handle between eleven and thirteen gallons of water. It’s mounted on a 30-gauge galvanized steel sheeting roof. It gets hot in the summer. So hot, he had to add a cold-water line to mix it. “So, the whole setup you’re looking at – I probably don’t have 2 grand into it, including the power and the trailer – the whole nine yards.”


Brian Bensen shows a passerby the inside of his trailer at Nisqually John Landing, Wash. He calls breaking camp “riggin’ down”. He can rig this trailer down to move on to the next camp in forty minutes. Photo by Neal Moore.

It’s easy to glorify, but difficult to understand a truly Spartan lifestyle. The Spartans of ancient Greece lived with their armaments. They were warriors. They lived with physical emphasis. The emphasis was on combat. Bensen, who was born into the Home of Truth satanic cult in Moab, Utah, was raised up with the group’s, and later his family’s strict and simple ways. He is missing his left eye, and he told me his step-father, who he says he could never please, once yelled at him: “An eye for an eye? No! Somebody takes one eye, you gotta take both.” Bensen has been fighting for as long as he can remember, he’s been scrapping his way to happiness and freedom since he left home, his family and the commune at age thirteen. He admits to an “illustrious life,” including stints on the oil rigs, cowboying like a vaquero, raising his family as a single parent rough and on the road with a child in one arm and a “Will Work for Food” sign in the other, along with stretches in multiple county jails.

The road forward for Bensen and his menagerie of vehicles is fraught with Covid-19-related closures. His favorite camping spot, Heller Bar, surrounded by semi-arid mountain peaks and an entry point for power boats into Hells Canyon, recently denied him entry. Soon after we met, all free camps in Idaho closed their swinging gates. While I was here at Nisqually John Landing, state park rangers came by to cordon off the bathroom, and there are rumors of this camp, of all free camps in Washington following suit.

“I never go hungry because I’ve always got food around. Once the snow melts, and it gets warm, I get up into the mountains. If they block off the roads, I’ll take my Kawasaki – they can’t stop me. Man, there’s wild berries and wild lettuce. It’s a paradise. I eat a lot of fish because I am ‘the master of disaster spin-caster’.”

Bensen’s got itchy feet by nature, and you never know what’s coming next. When his wheels and his boat and his trailer are not in motion, his mind is. “I can literally go wherever I want, whenever I want, for however long I want,” he told me. “My goal for this winter is – I’m headin’ down to Yuma. And wanderin’ around the desert lookin’ for the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. For somethin’ to do. To entertain myself.”