By TERESA BLAKE
FULTON – Neal Moore smiled as he glanced down at the 16-foot Old Town canoe sitting on the banks of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.
“I call her ‘The Shannon,’” Moore said. “She’s named after a now-defunct bar in Taipei.”
Moore stopped briefly in Fulton at the end of April, roughly 5,000 miles into his canoe trip. He dropped a visitor off on grassy terrain – a small toad – that had hopped aboard along the way, before heading to a tour of the Natchez Trace.
Moore is on the last and final leg of his 7,500-mile expedition across America, paddling 22 rivers across 22 states. It was Feb. 9, 2020, just prior to the pandemic, when he launched his red vessel into the icy waters of the Columbia River in Astoria, Oregon.
“The end game is the Statue of Liberty,” Moore said.
A native of Los Angeles, the 49-year-old freelance journalist describes himself as an internationalist, a nomad of sorts, having lived in America, Africa and East Asia. He typically spends his time traveling between Taipei and Capetown. That is, until he set out to rediscover America … backward nonetheless, from the Pacific west to the Atlantic east.
Hailed a “modern-day Huck Finn,” he spent a year planning the expedition, completely mapping it out using detailed paper navigational charts. He said that although he has it well planned, he has gotten off track once or twice.
“I have cheated every now and again with Google maps,” he said.
The Shannon is loaded with supplies, some 500 pounds worth. Freeze-dried food, water, a tent, and a two-wheeled contraption he uses to harness the canoe to himself and pull it across areas of dry land.
“There are areas that I have to cross to get to the next body of water,” he said. “So, I load the canoe and harness it to myself and pull it to the next destination.”
Moore said at one point he will have to carry the canoe some nine miles, but he has faced tougher circumstances. His canoe has been hit by a shark, smashed into jagged rocks, and had close calls with a barge and roughly 1,000 pelicans.
In spite of it all, he is determined to reach his final destination, the Statue of Liberty. But it’s not really about the destination, it’s about the journey.
Moore is documenting his river voyage, discovering places, and meeting people along the way. His end game is to write a book.
“You make connections along the way through what’s called river talk,” he said in a previous interview documented on his website, www.22rivers.com. “So there is a long-distance traveling community that I’m pretty well tied into. People have really opened their arms. But at other times, it’s the stumble-upons, people, and stories that you encounter. As a storyteller, I love those.”
Moore’s style of journalism has been described as “slow and low down from the view of a canoe.” For two years, he wanted to come face to face with America’s soul and find stories to unite.
Moore has authored two books, including his 2009 journey through the Mississippi River in “Down the Mississippi,” and “Homelands,” which recounts his experiences as a 19-year-old Mormon missionary in Capetown, South Africa. His work has been featured in The New Yorker, Der Spiegel, a German-language publication, and on CNN International.
He is chronicling his 22 rivers expedition on his website and via Instagram @riverjournalist.
He’ll continue his journey up the Tenn-Tom, through the Great Lakes, and on to the Hudson River.
Until then, he is taking in all the sights and documenting his adventure. While in North Mississippi, he has enjoyed a Paul Thorn concert, been introduced to the press at The Commercial Dispatch, and toured the Natchez Trace.
When asked about his favorite place out of his worldly, nomadic travels, Moore was quick to answer.
“All the places I haven’t been before.”