WENATCHEE — Neal Moore has had many adventures living overseas on and off for about 25 years, but an idea came to him in 2009.
“I had this epiphany,” he recalled. “What if the greatest adventure of my life was in my own backyard, so to speak?”
So he paddled down the Mississippi River, ultimately producing 50 stories of how people were coming together and making it through the recession.
Now, the Los Angeles native is back in his canoe – this time, with an even bigger journey in mind. His trip as planned will span 22 waterways, 22 states and 7,500 miles.
The goal is to connect 100 stories from 100 cities and towns to tell the story of America.
From his start in Oregon, Moore arrived in Wenatchee on Friday. He had never been here before.
“You’ve got the wine country, you’ve got this arid landscape with this intensely beautiful river cutting through,” he said in an interview Saturday. “(Friday) I spent the whole day walking downtown, trying to get a feel for the place. I’m not sure exactly what’s going to happen with the story — or if there will be a story — but the people that I’m meeting are just incredible. People who are transplants but have been here for 20 years.”
He left Wenatchee on Monday and will travel to Idaho and Montana next.
Moore was out of the United States for the last six years, but he saw that everyone was paying attention to Washington, D.C., especially after the November 2016 presidential election.
“But then the second question mark that I’ve observed has been, what about the rest of America?” he said. “That’s where this journey comes into play. The idea is to come from the Pacific Coast to the Continental Divide to the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes to the Statue of Liberty. … My thinking is to sort of highlight who we are as Americans – what we look like, how we tick, how the American experiment ticks — and to show the very best of us.”
Some cities are part of Moore’s plan, but he’s also discovering places for stories as he travels. He’s gotten some recommendations on people to talk to from organizations like museums and chambers of commerce.
He said he doesn’t want to create a script or put a spin on a story, but rather to listen and document what he learns.
“It’s not about man against nature,” he said. “It’s not about X number of days to come across the country in record fashion. It’s more about the communities and the people. The highlight, for me, is not to turn the camera on myself so much, but to turn the camera on the communities and be able to highlight their stories.”
Moore mostly camps but sometimes stays with friends of friends.
He said he chose to canoe rather than drive to honor the country’s first peoples and first thoroughfares. It also allows him to take his time with the project, he added.
“With the paddling, combined with the journalism, you feel like you’ve earned these towns,” he said. “You’re paddling, sometimes for days and days, and the story ideas are swirling around in your mind. Then you step into a town, and you’re so excited to be there, and now you’re trying to pull off a story of international consequence. It’s a challenge on top of the physical challenge.”
In addition to writing, Moore takes still photographs and videos. His ultimate plan is to turn the stories into a book.
He expects to complete his journey by December 2019.