One Year Canoeing Across America

By Rebecca McPhee

ExplorersWeb

Adam Elliott

Neal Moore has now been canoeing his way across America for an entire year. The 49-year-old freelance journalist first dipped his paddle into the Columbia River in Oregon on February 9, 2020, to begin the long journey to New York. The 12,000km route encompasses 22 rivers and 22 states.

The Route. Image: 22rivers.com

His initial idea was to make this an exercise in slow journalism: For two years, he wanted to “come face to face with America’s soul” throughout the national election and find “positive stories of what unites us”.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 put a swift end to that and other aspects of the trip that he had envisaged. Various friends were to join him for sections of the route. That has fallen through, making it a much more solitary trip and a chance to document a unique moment in history.

Day 1: Getting ready to launch from Pier 39, Astoria, Oregon. Photo: Floyd Holcom/22rivers.com

As the pandemic spread, he continued to make his simple way up and down America’s rivers. “The journey itself—the canoe and my tent and all of my gear—became my home,” he said in a recent interview.

He has completed the first two parts of his three-part journey. The first section, which he called To the Great Divide, ran 1,800km up the Columbia, Snake, and Fork Rivers to the Continental Divide.

For the second section, dubbed To the Big Easy, he canoed 5,200km along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans. He has now begun the final 5,000km section, To Lady Liberty.

He hit the one-year mark while on the Gulf Coast waiting for the winds to die down so he could continue making his way north.

An early morning launch. Photo: Neal Moore

Among the many challenges since he set out: becoming trapped in a cove during a gale on the Columbia River, where mounting waves smashed his canoe against the rocks; on the Snake River, a powerful wind pushed him against the riverbank and sloshed water over the gunwale. More water poured into his open canoe as quickly as he could bail it out. Luckily, the winds changed.

Adam Elliott

The canoeing has been unexpectedly hard on his legs. Though his arms and back were “well-tested and honed” even back when he began, his legs were not accustomed to such long trips. For over a year, they have strained to keep him properly seated against the waves, winds, and current. “This journey is a perpetual all-body workout,” he said. He says that by the time he hits New York, he will be in the best shape of his life.

You can follow the remainder of his journey on Instagram.

One Year On, and a Look Back to Day One

JOURNAL ENTRY for 9 FEBRUARY 2020

ASTORIA, ORE. – PILLAR ROCK, WASH.

There was a heaviness – a weight that I knew came from loss – from seeing so many great old friends as of late and then saying goodbye and driving up the California and Oregon coast with the canoe strapped up atop the rented X-Trail.

Over the Golden Gate Bridge, through the Muir Woods, and along the California and Oregon coastline, I transported my new canoe to Astoria, Ore. Photo by Neal Moore.

I’d looked at the tides on the NOAA site and made the call the day before to launch out at 9:30am.

And I was ready. Awoke at 6:30am, drew a hot bath – my last for some time to come — packed the remaining bags, taped up the resupply boxes for Portland and the Gorge, and went to wake Peter Marsh, friend, resident historian and nautical writer.

The night before my own launch in the “Bunkhouse” at Pier 39 (thanks, Floyd!), I helped Peter Marsh select photos and news clippings for his new book about the launch of WWII craft on this very river. Photo by Neal Moore.

Peter woke quick and together we drove to the Marine Supply Store for some last-minute supplies – 3 dry bags, emergency ropes, carabiners, etc. – and then came back.

I was packed up in no time – my lucky landlubber duffle fitting right into the new dry duffel and I wheeled the first load of gear to the dock.

Wheeling up to launch, Pier 39, Astoria, Ore. Photo by Floyd Holcom.

There’d been an old couple who’d smiled and asked, “How far you going?” when they saw me hauling the canoe. I’d answered, “New York City” with a pride, with a confidence, in a rhyming carefree-wheeling fashion, and they said, “Good lord.”

Friend and “Crab Man” Tom Hilton on Pier 39 gestures through the morning fog, “This way!” Photo by Neal Moore.

I descended the steps onto the dock and then I slipped hard with my muck boots, flying up into the air before landing flat on my back, my wetsuit and right hand and elbow absorbing part of the fall. I knew I was lucky not to have broken my arm, I thought at first I had.

I am still bleeding into the wetsuit. Buck it up, sop it up, bandage it all up in the next town.   

There were other people watching and they greeted me without a word as I walked past with a nod of the head. A grunged-out looking young dude, an employee at Rogue Brewery, when I walked past for more gear, laughed hard, too hard. He yelled “OUCH!” as an insult and then he looked away.

Floyd found me and together with Peter, we went down to launch. Floyd asked how I was and I just repeated to myself: Breathe – remember to breathe.

Then I was in. We’d loaded the canoe and pushed it into the water, and away I went – first with a false start for the camera, and again for real.

The joy, the sheer giddy joy of launching and paddling into adventure. It was overwhelming, and I struggled to describe it as I spoke into my camera.

The tankers were blowing their fog horns, a thick layer of fog had rolled in and blocked out all visibility. But I knew the fog would lift, and as it did, I found myself enveloped by brilliant bright sun.

A tanker blows its fog horn in the thick of it, a few nights post-launch. Photo by Neal Moore

I rounded Tongue Point and progressed onward and in time, in time arriving to the Washington shore I spotted my first bald eagle on this trip, and then a tree full/thick with them.

I saw two crosses this day. One was made of tools, of wrenches and it said “Sonny.” The cross of wrenches lorded over the water, keeping Sonny’s memory alive. As the river ebbed and flooded, first one way, and then the other, I snapped a picture of Sonny’s memorial.

A testament to a handyman-mariner? Photo by Neal Moore.

The second cross was made of sticks, and the austere, sticky, thorny trees all around it, all gnarled with no life to them at all, it highlighted/underscored the finality, the death, of the un-named.

And then another. Somebody else had died on or near the river. An unmarked crossed stick cross, a testament to the dangers of the Lower Columbia River. Photo by Neal Moore.

Up to Pillar Rock and the old cannery, and there was Leon Gollersrud, an older gent with white hair and a shaky mouth.

Pillar Rock Cannery owner/caretaker Leon Gollersrud poses in front of his “what-not” wall. A lumberjack by trade, he reckons the cannery dates back to at least 1876 on account of a brick with that date he found inside. Photo by Neal Moore.

“I proclaim you welcome to Pillar Rock!” he bellowed in friendship, and brought me up to his shack, a man cave, where he’d already got a fire to keep us warm.

On to a tour of the old cannery, and we made our way back. He bade me good night, for he was tired.

Only my first day out, and, Jesus, so am I.

Photographic Essay: By Light of the Full Wolf Moon

LMRD 821, Friday, Feb 5, 2021
The Lower Mississippi River Dispatch
“Voice of the Mississippi River”

Photos & Text by JOHN RUSKEY

Neal Moore:
22 Rivers, 22 States, 22 Months

During the light of the Full Wolf Moon, I was able to join Neal Moore for a short portion of his 22 Rivers project, in which he is paddling 22 Rivers across 22 States in 22 Months, from Astoria Oregon to the Statue of Liberty.
The west end of Cat Island is getting slammed by hurricanes and tropical storms, in places old woods are getting snapped over and covered in water.
We paddled over a forest of piney stumps in the high tide of the approaching full wolf moon.
Writer Boyce Upholt (l) jumped on board with Neal Moore (r) and myself (taking photo). Here we are making breakfast behind the wind protection of our camp tables. The Full Wolf Moon is setting behind us. Special thanks to Hank Baltar for land support!
Cordelling up the beach: We paddled (and cordelled) with Neal out and around Cat Island, the furthest west of the Mississippi barrier islands.
Cordelling is the ancient voyageur canoe tradition of pulling your vessel upstream — or in this case, down the beach against the wind.
Wild Island: we experienced the raw elements of nature: the wind, the waves, the sun, the water, and their effects upon creation.
The gales blew through with typical winter fierceness throughout trip, one night almost burying our 24′ long Cricket canoe!
I was sleeping next to canoe, in what i thought was a protected harbor in the lee of the canoe, with my head tucked deep within the folds of my mummy bag, and my face mask in place. But my sleeping bag filled with sand and I was forced to retreat inland and into the protection of the longleaf piney woods where Boyce was camped.
The ever cheerful Neal Moore stayed planted in the face of the wind in his trusty Moss Tent.
I slept out under the stars — and the howling light of the Full Wolf Moon.
Smuggler’s Cove: over the dunes behind camp, birds of prey thrived in a large inlet known as Smuggler’s Cove. Each avian has it’s own method of fishing: white pelicans circle on the water, pelicans dive in groups, osprey and eagles drop in like missles, individually, from on high.
The sand makes a temporary record of the passage of the wind and time — including the tracks of birds, animals, insects, blowing leaves, and a few visiting humans.
the shell of a horseshoe crab
the remains of a dead dolphin (we reported this carcass to the IMMS — the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies)
dolphin tail vertebrate
grasses growing in the stumps of pine trees snapped in previous hurricanes
mysterious lines and etchings, this one dileneated by the wind-waves of the previous night, later covered by a fresh layer of sand ripples
a tracing made by layers of mud and sand — looks like an aerial view of some of the bends of the Mississippi River
blue holes created by the surges of previous storms
the ever-enchanting patterns of sand grasses and their shadows
a living wind tunnel laboratory: every solid mass creates its own distinctive wind shadow, here with pieces of shell, and bits of plastic
we too are sculpted and wizened by the sun and wind, each in our own way
I prefer busted shells for the intimate glimpse into the secrets of marine architecture — revealing the patterns of the universe hidden within — like a representation of a galaxy, or maybe an x-ray of the interior swirlings of a whirlpool
we unburied Cricket canoe from the waves of sand that covered its sides…
…and set out into the waves
and now the brave and wide-eyed Neal Moore continues on down the coast, and then up the rivers of Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee…
…as he begins the long upstream paddle into the Ohio River valley, and across the eastern divide into the Great Lakes, and then into the Hudson Valley — for arrival at America’s beacon of hope and freedom: the Statue of Liberty — in December 2021
Bon Voyage Neal! Our “paddle’s up” and the power of the howling Full Wolf Moon be with you!

~~~

You can follow Neal Moore’s 22 Rivers Expedition on the expedition website https://22rivers.com

A Glimpse of America’s Soul. Dubbed “a modern-day Huck Finn” by CNN, adventurer/storyteller Neal Moore’s work from North America, Africa, and the Far East has appeared in The New Yorker, Der Spiegel, and on CNN International.

~~~

You can read some of Boyce Upholt’s writing here: http://www.boyceupholt.com “exploring the wild at the end of the world & exploring the world at the end of the wild”

~~~

A Glimpse of America’s Soul

“Modern Day Huck Finn” Neal Moore stops in Louisiana

BY JORDAN LAHAYE FONTENOT

COUNTRY ROADS MAGAZINE

Photo by Adam Elliott

When the Down the Mississippi author and adventurer Neal Moore set out for the second great expedition of his lifetime in February of 2020, he had no idea that his two-year, 7,500-mile documentarian trek by canoe would wind up navigating a nation mid-pandemic. 

The original plan was to exercise slow journalism while covering the distance of twenty-two rivers and twenty-two states—from Astoria, Oregon to New York City—all in order to “come face to face with America’s soul.” “The idea was to go, from coast to coast, within two years—leading into the national elections and the aftermath thereof,” said Moore. “What I’m trying to do is to look for positive stories of what unites us as a country.” 

 And while the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated some logistical matters of Moore’s trip—and in many ways made it more solitary—he admits to the value of being in a position to document this particular America, this particular moment in history. “If anything, this has enhanced the storytelling,” he said. “It’s during hard times when people and families and communities really step up, and I’ve been able to witness a lot of that.” 

After completing the first of three “Acts” mapping his path—a 1,111 mile upstream and uphill journey up the Columbia, Snake, and Fork rivers to MacDonald Pass in Montana, completed in ninety-seven days—Moore headed 3,249 miles down the Missouri and the Mississippi, pointing straight towards our own Big Easy. And in mid-December, so close to the end, he made a stop in the Red Stick. Over the course of five days, he made the obligatory stops: beers in a Spanish Town backyard, three meals at Poor Boy Lloyds, breakfast at Louie’s. And from his Hilton room  downtown, he spent most evenings looking out at the river, which he’s come to know quite well.  And as an outsider, he observed that Baton Rougeans know her too: “The residents of Baton Rouge have relationships, with this river and with nature, and with each other—neighbors in Spanish Town who are friends and actually know each other—you just don’t see that in lots of larger cities.” 

Just before our press date, Moore told me this on his cell phone, windblown on an island in Old Man River and shooting for New Orleans, where he would complete Act II and spend the holidays, mostly alone. “But I’m very excited about it, this solitary experience of New Orleans,” he said. “I’ve learned that traveling solo, you’re open. You’re more open to observations, to potential new friendships, to stepping out of your comfort zone, seeing things from a unique perspective.” 

Keep up with Moore’s journey at 22rivers.com or follow him on Instagram at @riverjournalist

First Year of the 22 Rivers Expedition

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.

Neal Moore Interview: 12,000km by Canoe Across The U.S.

By Martin Walsh

ExplorersWeb

Photo: Neal Moore

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.

Leaving Bismarck, North Dakota with a fully laden canoe. Photo: Neal Moore

But COVID-19 hit weeks into my expedition. Although I cleared the state of Oregon the day before it officially shut down, by the time I got to eastern Washington on March 23, the Washington governor issued a statewide stay-at-home order and the U.S.-Canada border closed down. So instead of progressing further into Washington along the Columbia as intended, I went the Snake River [a federal waterway].

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.

Moore found himself trapped in a small cove trying to protect his canoe. Photo: Neal Moore

When the wind and the waves picked up even more, I called for assistance in case it got even worse, which it did. The waves soon swamped the canoe, and I lost some gear. The Corp of Engineers sent out a couple of young rangers. The fresh-faced kid, who looked like a teenager, was giving orders to the other kid with a beard. They loaded up my canoe, my gear and myself onto their craft, and halfway across the river, both of their boat’s motors gave out. All other boats had got off the river by this stage, and as the waves propelled us upriver, I thought to myself, Who rescues the rescuers? And if anything happens to these kids, it’ll be my fault.

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.

A post-rescue selfie. Photo: Neal Moore

Any other major difficulties or close calls?

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.

It’s not all choppy water and close calls. Tranquil water in the Warren Slough, just off the Columbia River. Photo: Neal Moore

Another close call came as I paddled six days up the Mississippi from its confluence with the Missouri, just above St. Louis. I would have liked to have made camp on the bigger islands here, but they were inhabited by people who did not want visitors. I was told later that they make meth along here and to stay away from these folks.

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.

A Mississippi Map Turtle lies disoriented near St. Louis. Photo: Neal Moore

But it was nearly dark as I approached, and I realized that there were a whole lot of pelicans on the spot I’d wanted to call home for the night — over 1,000 of them and more incoming. They were nervous, so I gave them space, but then the wind picked up directly against me. The rain fell sideways and I was pushed out into the channel. I was fighting like hell for at least a half an hour to make the shore.

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.

Downtown Tat, a Memphis native, poses with his flag in the run-up to the national elections. Photo: Neal Moore

What challenges do your big portage sections present?

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.

Moore portages down after a snowfall. Photo: Gary Marshall, BMGphotos.com

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.

Canoeist Halfway Through Coast-To-Coast River Trip

BY SHELLEY BYRNE

The Waterways Journal

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.

Caption for photo: Neal Moore is traveling 22 rivers over the course of two years on his trip from the West Coast to the East Coast. Along the way he is gathering stories about what unites people together despite deep divisions, including those of American politics. Last week, as the nation went to the polls for the presidential election, he was halfway through his 7,500-mile journey. (Photo by Patrick Tenny)

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.”

Neal Moore retraces the steps of Lewis and Clark, part 2

By Les Winkeler

THE SOUTHERN ILLINOISAN

Neal Moore uses detailed charts of the Mississippi River to plot stopping points and possible campsites while canoeing across the country. He is in the middle of a 22-month, 7,500 mile journey that will take him from Oregon to Ellis Island. Photo by Les Winkeler, THE SOUTHERN ILLINOISAN

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.

Outdoors | Neal Moore retraces the steps of Lewis and Clark

By Les Winkeler

THE SOUTHERN ILLINOISAN

Neal Moore’s campsite in Grand Tower. He is on a 7,500 mile journey, traveling with only what will fit in his canoe. Photo by Les Winkeler, THE SOUTHERN ILLINOISAN

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.”

Moore. Photo by Les Winkeler, THE SOUTHERN ILLINOISAN

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.

les.winkeler@thesouthern.com

618-351-5088

On Twitter: @LesWinkeler​