Paddling to find what America means

By Richard Sayer

8 & 322

Oil City’s Gale Boocks wanted to present a gift he received from a famed paddler to Neal Moore, who is paddling across the U.S. Moore made a stop here in the Oil region this past weekend. They met up and this is an account of this connection.

This past weekend a wanderer came through Franklin. A seeker really, a documenter, a man alone but among many; a former missionary on a different kind of mission, a paddler.

Neal Moore set out from Oregon on the Columbia River in a red 16-foot Old Town Penobscot Royalex canoe right around the time the Coronavirus was hitting the states. Being alone in a canoe was taking social distancing seriously, but that wasn’t his motivation. This world traveling ex-patriot author and super curious self-identified middle-aged man was going to explore his country of origin after having been away for so long.

“What I’m trying to do traveling across America is to listen and learn,” Moore said about why he is traveling in what would seem an erratic pattern of 22 rivers across the continental United States from Oregon to the Statue of Liberty where he hopes to land in the middle of December.

His stop in Franklin is 19 months into his journey. Along the way he has chronicled his encounters in dozens of handwritten journals, a blog on his website, and instagram account and countless stories that meander in and out of topic like the rivers he paddles.

In fact, he appears to crave meandering. From the swirls sent behind his paddle that mix and move with the current as they become one with the rhythm of the stream, to the mixture of bird calls intertwined with far off car horn reminders that civilization’s hustle and bustle hasn’t stopped during his journey.

“I think a lot,” Moore said about his average 25 miles a day paddling on the rivers. Each place he visits gives him even more to think about, more people to weave into the fabric of his memories, more conversations about life to ponder the similarities we share despite the differences we hold in our outstretched hand stopping ourselves from getting too close to one another. “Once we put the party politics aside we have so much in common,” he said about his many stops along the way meeting people of all walks of life and political ideologies. “I just try to listen, no judgement.”

When he landed on the shore of the Allegheny near where French Creek comes in this weekend it was the same day an article appeared in The Derrick and Hews-Herald about his stop down river in Emlenton a day or two earlier. Oil City’s Gale Boocks, an avid paddler himself back in the day, saw this article and knew he wanted to meet Moore. The next morning he went to where an old paddler would think to find Moore, but no one was there. He, on a hunch, tried the local B and B appropriately named Peddlers & Paddlers and lo’ and behold there was Moore sitting on the front porch talking with new friends.

Boocks sat and joined the conversation and after chatting awhile it dawned on him that he had something he wanted to pass on to Moore. A paddle he used many times on many rivers that was a gift from a person that could be described as a forefather to the modern paddling world. Moore was very familiar with this legend. Verlen Kruger  paddled over 100,000 miles in his lifetime, spoke many times about paddling all over the world and authored books on the subject. Moore said he had read Kruger’s books and admired him greatly. Boocks, a preacher, performed Kruger’s wedding vows.

Boocks invited Moore over to stay with he and his wife and sit out back to talk about life and the spirit that moves people to do what they do.

Neal Moore sits in Gale Boocks back yard this past weekend during his stop in Franklin and Oil City.  Encounters like this one with Boocks and many others along the way are helping in the journey still to go. Boocks said the main reason he wanedt to meet Moore was to share his knowledge of the upper Allegheny. “It’s not hospitible in places,” Boocks said. “And know where those places are.”

And that’s what they did.

Boocks presented a treasured paddle he had received from Kruger to Moore as a gift. Moore said he never met Kruger. This was quite an honor for him to receive this and vowed to use the paddle as well as eventually find a younger paddler to pass it along to in order to further pay this gift forward. 

Moore departed the next day adding Franklin and his encounters to the list of treasured memories and his scratched notes in his journal.

His goal is to get up north while its still milder temperatures knowing it is best to beat the famed western New York first snows of the year on his way to the Hudson. He is hoping to reach the end of his journey, the Statue of Liberty, by December 14. “I’m approaching her from the American side,” he said, adding that this country is so filled with those whose ancestors approached her from the other side, and that many still are. Adding again to the fabric of who each of us are as Americans.

Moore might realize the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but straight lines are boring and zigzagging is more fun and allows more time for reflection and encounters. Making connections is exactly what this journey is all about for him. How we are connected by water, how we are connected by similarities and sometimes even differences, how we connect to strangers and friends alike. That is what hours alone with one’s thoughts can do, find those connections and add them to ones personal spirit that has grown from the experiences.

Moore embraces serendipitous moments, like meeting Boocks and adding him to his tribe. And he added several other Franklinites as well in his short time. Some, like Chamber director Jodi Baker Lewis also want to meet him again along the journey and join for a few miles of paddling and help him celebrate his arrival and end of this part of his journey.

Given his objective, his journey won’t end at Lady Liberty. He is on a journey to seek beyond his own tribe and try to better understand the tribe of humankind. 

Photo courtesy of Jodi Baker Lewis who met Moore and now wants to paddle along with him during part of his journey sometime after Applefest is over. Connections, fabric, stories. Moore left the next day from Franklin and began posting more photos on his Instagram account.

Not his first try

This was Moore’s second attempt at this journey. The two time cancer survivor set out in 2018, but once in a century flooding brought that journey to an end. He said he is self funding this journey and tries to live minimally, often pitching his tent where allowed or a spot offered. “When you need help and help is offered, it becomes a part your life and your journey.” He said he’s learned over time that people want to help and he also like to help others. He and Boocks talked a great length about the spiritual strength of being in the service of others, a definite shared bond found beyond just the love of paddling on a river.

Understanding America’s heart and soul


Understanding who we are as a people with each stop along the way, Moore examines further the complexities and simplicities that makes Americans, Americans. Sitting on a patio in the back of Gale Boocks‘s house on a Sunday night, waiting for roasted corn and a couple of slabs of meat off the grill, Moore and Boocks shared an experience that can only happen when someone is accepting of a wayward stranger on a long journey. These encounters become beautiful to witness and experience. The many encounters we have in life we take for granted, family, friends, neighbors…. sometimes it takes a stranger to remind us of that we have so much more to learn about each other. And sometimes, how little we know about ourselves.

Moore is getting to know people and by doing so, he is understanding the culture of a place and how each place is different while being the same.

Moore and Boocks inspect the Kruger paddle that Kruger himself made. It is a kevlar paddle that Boocks said” if you were being attacked by a bear and you swung this paddle and hit him, the bear would stop and the paddle would still be able to be used.” When I asked Boocks why he wanted to give this paddle to someone he just met, he said “It just seemed like the thing to do when I found out he was a foller of Verlen.” Moore said he was humbled by the gift adding, “The power of this journey, the people I come in contact with and the nature around me. It builds. I’m in the best shape of my life at 49. I feel stronger everyday.” He said he has be fortunate to stay healthy and during the height of the pandemic last year he was very careful and as soon as he could get the vaccine he found his way off the river to get it.

Carrying people with him and how to follow his journey


Moore has been collecting signatures on the canoe. Some have faded or washed off in the journey, but many remain. All who signed are with him in his strength to go on. He has written also a quote from Richard Bock, the famed auther of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, “Bad things are not the worst thing that can happen to us, nothing is the worst thing that can happen to us.“

Moore tells a story like following a map of rivers with tangents and off-shoots. He has a penchant for describing adventurers of the highest caliber as “badass.” At 49 he is in the best shape of his life and his body and mind have allowed hime to stay focussed for thousands of miles of hard paddling. He is earning the badass title.Follow his journey on his website at https://22rivers.com/storytelling/ or on instagram at ​https://www.instagram.com/riverjournalist/?hl=en

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