One Year On, and a Look Back to Day One



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

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: “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



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 or follow him on Instagram at @riverjournalist