A hearty hello from the Appalachian Plateau where two rivers: the Big Sandy and the Ohio; and three states: WV, OH and KY, meet.
By Martin Walsh
Neal Moore’s voyage of discovery has survived a close call with a barge and a pandemic. This year, he should complete his 12,000km canoe journey across America. We caught up with Moore while he waited out some rough weather in a Kentucky cottage on the Ohio River.
You have spent nearly 18 months on this trip. How mentally/physically challenging have you found the journey?
Hanging up my paddles in mid-2018 on the first attempt at this route was rough. [A] friend said, “You do realize, Neal, you’re gonna have to start over now.” That took my breath away. But then I thought, Hell yes, what a pleasure to see the Columbia again, to make my way through Montana, to be granted the chance to truly earn my eventual view of Lady Liberty.
The thing is, my crazy route from coast to coast has the chance to be continuous. That is, if my strength, mental state, bodily health, and the flooding, derechos [windstorms], twisters, and COVID –- all the Acts of God that the natural environment might hurl my way — don’t derail me.
I’m stronger now physically and mentally than I’ve ever been. I truly feel that I am in the moment, positive and determined.
We last spoke in November when you were on the Mississippi. What route have you taken over the last eight months and where are you now?
I hopped off the Mississippi at New Orleans. It was just me and a lone waitress at the Clover Grill for Christmas. The place was empty.
After New Year’s, I paddled the Gulf of Mexico between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama, skirting the Mississippi-Alabama barrier islands just off the coast. Then I came up the Tensaw, Mobile, Tombigbee, and Tennessee-Tombigbee to the Tennessee. Here, I changed directions and came down the Tennessee, making my way back to Kentucky, to the Ohio River.
Floods and twisters
Has your route changed from your original plan?
My original route would have taken me up the Tennessee. From there, I’d have taken the Emory to the New River and on up to the Dix River to the Kentucky. Eventually, I would meet the Ohio near Louisville.
I had planned on 50 miles of portaging along historic Byway 27 (the original roadway from Florida to Chicago). I was excited to witness, paddle, and portage this stretch of rural Americana. But en route, I holed up in Demopolis, Alabama. There was flooding before I even arrived, and then two twisters passed through. The first one narrowly missed the historic downtown. These storms swept across multiple states and the flooding was intense. Folks were drowning in the floodwaters up in Nashville.
I called a canoe/kayak outfitter in Knoxville and asked about conditions on the New River in the spring. Sure, it would be gnarly, with multiple class rapids in West Virginia, but I was not sure about her passage through Tennessee and Kentucky. I was told that I might be able to paddle just a mile or two in my open canoe. This would stretch my planned portage of 50 miles to 175 miles.
Avoiding drug dealers
I also spoke with long-distance paddler Towhead Steve, who had come down the entire Tennessee in 2020. He reported that the paddle between the confluence of the Tenn-Tom at Pickwick Lake and Knoxville had super high embankments. This meant that one could only camp at boat ramps. Here, kids were dealing drugs throughout the night.
Alternatively, he said that the paddle from Pickwick Lake to Paducah had glorious sandbars and friendly folks. This new diversion would keep me 100 percent on the water to reach the Ohio.
Are you still on track to reach the Hudson in December?
I had been budgeting an average of 10 miles per day to clear the Erie Canal before she closes in mid-November. Unfortunately, this year she will close early, on October 13. Beyond the now-rushed schedule, high water and flooding mean that locks 8 to 19 (of 34 total locks) are closed. So I might ask permission to navigate outside the season.
With a little luck, I’ll be paddling and locking through a portion. Most days on the Ohio, I’m covering between 20 and 25 miles, so I should make it. If I’m delayed, I’ll be portaging or pulling between Upstate New York towns to the Hudson, probably in snow. No matter how it goes down, I’ll complete the journey.
Sold down the river
You said that COVID curtailed the personal storytelling aspect of your journey. Has this changed as the U.S. has lifted restrictions?
Yes, I’m busily meeting characters left, right, and center. The country has opened slowly, and where I am right now, Kentucky, claims to have always been open.
I’m keeping to my mantra of documenting the folks I meet along the way. I’ve dropped the need to walk into a town with a camera to “pull off a story”. Actually, I only have one story in sight. Two river terms we all know, to be sold down the river and to be sent up the river are both negative. In NYC, “the river” is the Hudson, and Sing Sing [Prison] is the destination. I want to try to meet with an ex-offender on their release, to detail and document the gates opening for them to the big wide world, from their perspective, and to see who is there to greet them. To encourage them. To help them fly right.
Has the journey changed your perception of America or Americans? What has surprised you?
Yes, this second attempt was planned to chronicle the year leading into the national elections. I reached Memphis halfway, at 3,750 miles, on November 3 [election day]. The vast majority of the map I’m plying on this journey is solid red. Minus a few blue dots between Portland, Oregon, and NYC.
Funny, I just paddled past my very first Republican flag on a boat on the Ohio River the other day. It featured simply an elephant and the word “Republican”. It is the first Republican banner I’ve seen on this expedition that didn’t scream Trump. Or include a Confederate Flag on the same pole. Or shock with catchy expletives.
A changing America
I think we are coming right as a nation. I took a ride over the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge, the longest continuous bridge over water in the world, as the inauguration played out live. As Amanda Gorman delivered her poem of hope, The Hill We Climb. And what I found on the streets of New Orleans later that day were kids of color in motion, laughing and pulling wheelies on their bikes along lower Bourbon Street. The city, the nation, I myself, could breathe.
I’ve found that folks from all political persuasions appreciate the idea to look for what binds us together as Americans as opposed to what tears us apart. And this is what I’m truly on the lookout for. To highlight, to underscore, to celebrate.
You can follow Moore’s journey on Instagram.
CINCINNATI (WXIX) -One man is canoeing 7,500 miles across the country and made his way to the Queen City Saturday.
Neal Moore says that he is canoeing on this 2-year expedition to “explore how rivers, people, and communities connect.”
“The big idea is to go coast to coast, sea to shining sea to explore and celebrate this great land,” Moore said.
Officials with Moore say that he is more than 6,000 miles and 16 months into the journey.
Moore says that he has about 1500 miles and six more months to go until he reaches New York City.
As he paddles up the Ohio River, he plans on spending the Fourth of July weekend in Cincinnati.
“I’ll be taking in a reds game on the fourth. Just to see the reds stadium right here and the skyline, it’s just remarkable. The history that’s here, the people, the character, the grit. What I’m trying to do is explore how the rivers of this land connect but also as a storyteller how us as people connect,” Moore said.
Moore’s canoe is filled with signatures from people across the country wishing him well as he takes on this expedition.
“I think it is a unique way to experience this great land, the canoe is the first mode of transport these rivers were the thoroughfare to have the chance to come coast to coast to really see the country up close and personal is just a great experience,” Moore said.
Copyright 2021 WXIX. All rights reserved.
CINCINNATI, Ohio (WCPO) — A modern-day Huckleberry Finn on a cross-country canoe journey spent Saturday night in Cincinnati, reflecting on the 16 months he’s spent traversing the United States by water and the six still in front of him before he finishes.
Writer Neal Moore started paddling his canoe in Oregon’s Columbia River and plans to end at Lady Liberty in New York Harbor. It’s a trip, he said, that connects him with the country’s past and helps him understand the journeys undertaken by earlier Americans.
You can watch and read ABC’s entire expedition interview here.
By Birney Imes
I’d been paddling for several hours when I stopped to check in with Neal. He was in Rising Sun, Indiana, at a hamburger stand called the Patty Wagon eating an ice cream cone.
Readers may remember Neal Moore, who appeared on the front page of this newspaper back in April. Slim Smith interviewed Neal during a stopover in Columbus on his 7,500-mile coast-to-coast canoe trip across America.
From Columbus Neal would continue up the Tenn-Tom to the Tennessee and then on to the Ohio River.
Before leaving Neal invited me to join him at any point in his journey.
Maybe on the Ohio, I said. There is a lovely stretch of river between Cincinnati and Madison, Indiana, I’ve wanted to paddle.
Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1785: ”The Ohio is the most beautiful river on earth. Its current gentle, waters clear, and bosom smooth and unbroken by rocks and rapids, a single instance only excepted.“
Jefferson was writing before the age of power plants, casinos and barge terminals, which now clutter the banks of a stream that gets its name from the Seneca meaning “good river.” While stretches of the Ohio are heavily industrialized, the river retains much of its pastoral beauty. Grassy pastures, thick forests and quaint river towns, storybook reminders of another time, slope to the water’s edge.
And so it was on Tuesday under an unrelenting sun and in 90-degree temperatures, I was paddling downstream on the Ohio to meet Neal who, when he was not eating ice cream, was slowly and steadily working his way upstream.
Neal is over 6,000 miles into the journey he started in February, 2020. Our plan was to meet on a small island where we would camp for the night.
A friend had dropped me about six miles downstream from Cincinnati on the Kentucky side of the river at Anderson Ferry, a car and pedestrian ferry that has been in operation since 1817.
Our rendezvous point was 24 miles downstream.
Finally, around 5 p.m., the rain showers I’d been hoping for all day materialized. Only, these were accompanied by wind and lightning. I took refuge at a landing at Petersburg on the Kentucky side of the river.
I was exhausted, the weather had turned bad and I still had six miles more to paddle. Maybe with a few energy bars, some rest and clearing skies, I could make it. Prudence suggested otherwise.
I walked up the steep, unpaved landing and found at the top several blocks of houses and a historical marker commemorating a long defunct distillery from the early 1800s.
I knocked on the front door of the first house I came to and stepped back. A wide-eyed young woman accompanied by a young girl, opened the door. I asked if there was an inn, campground or a B&B nearby. She said her fiancé would know; he was in the backyard.
There I met Shawn Munday, who was washing and waxing a large maroon pickup and a Jeep. We talked for awhile and though he was friendly, he had no ideas about lodging. I thanked him and made a loop around the small settlement before heading back to the landing and my boat.
Shawn in his giant pickup met me at the landing. “Can I give you a ride somewhere?” he said.
I asked if he could take me to nearby Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, a couple miles downstream from our island meeting place.
On the way to Rabbit Hash, Shawn said he was spurred to action when his fiancé’s daughter asked him, “Are you going to help that man?”
Camping opportunities at Rabbit Hash (a movie set of a town arrayed around a 19th century general store; the town has a dog for its mayor) turned out to be non-existent.
I phoned Neal. He said there was a small hotel on the riverfront at Rising Sun across the river. He would call. I apologized to Shawn, who, by now, was committed to seeing us settled for the night.
In anticipation of my having to paddle across the river to Rising Sun, Shawn took me to the landing for the ferry that serves that town’s riverboat casino.
Turns out the hotel was full, but the woman who owned the Patty Wagon said we could camp on a slab of concrete next to her sister’s dock below the hamburger stand. Neal’s ice cream stop turned out to be more fortuitous than either of us could have imagined.
Shawn helped me get my kayak to the river’s edge. By now the wind and rain had subsided. Across the way the lights from the riverboat casino twinkled in the dark. The village of Rising Sun lay several hundred yards downstream.
“Let me know when you get settled,” Shawn called as I paddled out onto the dark river.
I crossed the river, paddled past the riverboat casino and at the public landing and pulled the kayak on the shore.
As I waited for Neal to emerge from the darkness, a family with young children brandishing fishing gear chattered happily as they clambered over the riprap at the water’s edge. Out in the channel a towboat festooned with colored lights pushed its tow soundlessly upstream. The rain-scrubbed air felt cool and clean.
A long, hot day with its measure of uncertainty seemed headed toward an agreeable conclusion.
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.