Partial to Home: Connecting us all

Paddling to the Statue of Liberty: Neal Moore’s grand, bittersweet finale

By Birney Imes

The Dispatch

Neal Moore paddles toward the Statue of Liberty on Tuesday concluding a 22-month-long canoe trip that took him on 22 rivers and waterways from the Pacific coast in Oregon to New York Harbor. Birney Imes/Special to The Dispatch

Two years ago as he was beginning a canoe trip that would crisscross America, Neal Moore called a friend, a fellow paddler, who lives on the Hudson River just above New York City. He wanted to know the best time of year to arrive in New York by canoe.

The friend, Ben McGrath, a New Yorker staff writer, said he would consult with a neighbor, who was a more seasoned paddler, and get back with him.

At the time McGrath was completing a book on another long-haul canoeist — one who gave Neal the idea he could travel across the country by connecting rivers and who spent a night in Columbus doing such himself.

The neighbor and Ben agreed, December would be best, after the winds of November and before the snows of winter.

Armed with that information Neal continued the journey he had begun on the Columbia River in Astoria, Oregon, with the vague goal of saying hello to Lady Liberty in New York Harbor sometime in December 2021.

Along the way Neal — an expatriate who in his 30 years abroad was a Mormon missionary and an art dealer in Cape Town and an English teacher in Taipei —  met Americans of every stripe.

They told him their stories; gave him rides to a store for provisions; provided warm meals and a place to sleep. Some even gave him the keys to their cars.

Occasionally his hosts would paddle with him, an afternoon, a day or several days. Neal invited these kindred spirits, these lovers of nature and flowing water, to join him in New York at the completion of his trip for a celebration.

They could, if they wished, paddle with him on his final lap around the Statue of Liberty.

“I chose to end at the Statue of Liberty because her hand is extended to every American,” Neal told a reporter in Pittsburgh. “We as Americans know if we fall we have the strength to get back up. I want to find what unites us. Because we all know what divides us.”

Neal’s welcoming personality and listening skills draw people out. He makes you feel as though you are part of his journey.

There must be scores of people like friends of Beth’s, who met Neal briefly while he was here, who now follow him on his blog (22rivers.com).

When Neal tied up at the dock near the Riverwalk in early April, he was 6,000 miles into his 7,500-mile journey. He said then he was on schedule to reach New York by December.

Neal’s arrival in Manhattan earlier this month was less than auspicious.

Passing under the George Washington Bridge on an ebbing tide, a strong wind turned his canoe around.

Unable to reposition his boat, he paddled the four miles to his destination backwards, which, as he said, was appropriate “because the whole (west-to-east) journey has been the wrong way.”

When waves splashed water into his boat, he put the Coast Guard on notice he might need help.

“They sent a New York Police Department boat that just went roaring right past me and never came back. It just threw one hell of a wake,” Neal told “Adventure Journal.”

On Tuesday morning at Pier 84 at West 44th Street, nine kayakers, outfitted in wetsuits and dry tops to insulate them from the 45-degree water of the Hudson River, prepared to launch.

Neal, who turned 50 just before reaching New York City, would be paddling the 16-foot red Old Town Royalex canoe he has used for the entire trip. He bought the boat on Facebook Marketplace in San Francisco while he was still in Taipei and had a friend pick it up for him.

Along the way, he’s asked benefactors and people he’s met to inscribe the white interior of his canoe with a Sharpie he carries for that purpose. He said those inscriptions, which now cover the canoe’s white interior, helped sustain him during his long and sometimes trying voyage.

Five of the nine kayakers who paddled with Neal had hosted and paddled with him when he passed through their towns.

Among their number was a registered nurse from Kansas City; a retired educator, who is now an environmental activist from Louisville; an educator from Pittsburgh and a Mississippi River guide from Clarksdale.

The morning was unseasonably warm with a slight breeze.

The paddlers would escort Neal down Manhattan’s lower west side before crossing over to the New Jersey shore, past Ellis Island and on to the Statue.

Two motorboats would accompany the group, one for the media and a rescue boat, one of which would take Neal back once he circled Liberty Island.

Ferry traffic increases in the afternoon and accordingly the waters in that stretch of the Hudson grow more turbulent, the guides for the trip said.

As the group approached the Statue around 1:30 p.m., Neal paddled his canoe out ahead of the flotilla.

Describing his mixed emotions as he approached the Statue, Neal said initially he was ecstatic. “The whole trip came back to me in rapid flashes.”

“And then I was crying,” he said.

“It’s been so much more than a physical trip,” he said. “For the biggest part of the trip, I thought it would go on forever.”

Later that evening about 35 people gathered for a reception at the Manhattan Kayak Club.

Ben McGrath, the “The New Yorker” staff writer who gave Neal scheduling advice, was one of several who spoke. Ben’s  piece about Neal’s trip was published in the magazine’s Dec. 20 issue (“After 7,500 Miles, A Long-Haul Paddler Floats Into Town”).

Ben noted how Neal had brought together our geographically disparate group, most of whom did not know one another prior to this event.

We were from Mississippi, Oregon, Montana, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Indiana and New York.

“He connected us all and made us friends,” he said.

Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.

Now we paddle for the people, for all creation

By John Ruskey

“The Belly of North America, Sea to Shining Sea”, 30 x 38, watercolor, John Ruskey
Now we Paddle for the People, for all Creation ~ by John Ruskey

I am the river
but I am lonely
where are the people?  
where is creation?

1

A young man set off in a red canoe to find out, 
to paddle for the people — and all creation
in this great nation, from sea to shining sea
stroke to the east, stroke to the west

leaving the waters of the big whales
following inland watery trails
he started up the big river Woody Guthrie sang about
“Oh, it’s always we’ve rambled, this river you & I

All along your green valleys I will work until I die”
I see wind surfers and ocean-going freighters
but where are the salmon?  And those who followed the fish?
The First Nation peoples traded up and down the coast and the big rivers of the west 

in their dugout canoes carved from western red cedar 
and the Mississippian people carved theirs from cinnamon cypress  
and did the same up and down the meandering muddy waters
of the great heart of this continent,

connecting big bony mountain ranges on either side,
and the salty sweet Gulf of Mexico in her belly
The people of the North Woods stripped giant birches of their skin
and crafted the sleekest, fastest, and finest vessels ever

European sailors entering the St. Lawrence Seaway 
were amazed at how nimble the birch bark canoes scooted over the water 
and now in a red canoe named Shannon, derived from that same tradition
a young man starts chopping his paddle left and right

back & forth, north & south, east & west
stroke to the one you love the best, stroking
with unrefined, but dedicated determination 
and rhythm, and swirls, up and down the same rivers

and now we paddle for the people, now we paddle for creation
Continue reading “Now we paddle for the people, for all creation”

Neal Moore Finishes Two-Year Solo Canoe Journey With a Pack Of New Friends

Neal Moore ended his 22-month solo canoe journey across America yesterday at the head of a small flotilla of friends he’d made along the way. The well wishers came from all over the country to share this moment with Moore, who led the way to the Statue of Liberty in the red Old Town canoe he’d spent nearly two years paddling and portaging from the Pacific to New York City.

Friends cam from Astoria, Oregon, where he started paddling 675 days before, from Clarksdale and Columbus, Mississippi and Louisville, Kentucky. A media boat followed the paddlers, carrying more well-wishers, as well as reporters from the New York Times, the New Yorker and Professional Mariner magazine. …

You can read Jeff’s entire expedition interview at Adventure Journal here.

The Carrying Place

By Neal Moore

It was always going to be a schlep. While the odyssey’s contorted route – from west [the Pacific coast] to south [the Gulf of Mexico] to north [the Great Lakes] to east [Lady Liberty] – was selected to follow the seasons, to have the chance to be continuous, to make it so, there would inevitably be places where one would need to heave-ho. And the Erie Canal was invariably going to be one of those places.

I got word back in July of this year that the Erie Canal was going to shut down navigation early, on October the 13th. And so, I made the calculation – a barter with myself, and with this voyage – to paddle half of the 350-mile Erie Canal and to portage half.

A balance in all things.

So I had the pleasure to paddle between Buffalo and Syracuse, 170 miles. For the remaining 170 miles, from Syracuse to Waterford, New York – where the Mohawk meets the Hudson – I’d portage along the old Tow Path and the Bicycle Trail.

Detail of an Oneida portage and paddlers, Fort Stanwix National Monument, Rome, New York. Photo by Neal Moore.

Which I thought was appropriate, being the spot where mules and horses once hauled barges of goods back and forth before and just after the advent of the nation’s first railroad, which ran and rattled along this very corridor. 

Forty-three miles into the march, when I got to Rome, New York, the spot on the map where the first shovel full of earth was dug for the canal on July 4, 1817, the place is known as “The Oneida Carrying Place”.

“The name of this portage trail between two river systems is the ‘Oneida Carrying Place.’ It served as a major east-west route linking the Atlantic to the Great Lakes when waterways were the lifeblood of trade.” Display at Fort Stanwix National Monument, Rome, New York. Photo by Neal Moore.

One can trace the history of this ancient path back in time. 

For centuries Indigenous Americans, traders, soldiers, and travelers have crossed over this very path. It is here that goods and ideas were exchanged.

Beauty along the trail. First light at Little Falls, New York. Photo by Neal Moore.

As it turns out, the boats of the Oneida and the European fur traders who came after were flat bottomed, making it easier to lift, to drag and to roll underneath with logs. 

In time, with my expedition wheels fastened firmly underneath my canoe and gear, I made the confluence of the Mohawk and the Hudson River. I here pitched my tent, to take in the beauty, to make peace with the final river to be, and to say fare thee well to my old friend, the Mohawk. And with her, my tenure along the Erie Canal.

Arrival to the end of the Erie Canal at the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson rivers. Selfie by Neal Moore.

Oregon-to-NYC via canoe, with a hike to Cooperstown

By TARA BARNWELL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Talk about huge goals and going after them … meet Neal Moore.

He’s an explorer. He’s an adventurer. He’s an athlete. He’s a journalist and a teacher. He wants to get the story right.

Dubbed “a modern-day Huck Finn” by CNN, Moore is on an adventure of a lifetime.

“I started canoeing from Astoria, Oregon on the Pacific Coast, across our country, down south to Louisiana,” Moore said. “My final destination is Lady Liberty in New York City.”

“My big idea is not only to explore how the rivers and waterways connect but how we, as Americans, connect,” he said. “I’m looking for the ingredients of the American experience.”

That’s a lot of water miles; 7,500 to be exact. Twenty-two rivers and 22 states, all in 22 months. Quite a goal.

“I’ve always been interested in historical communities, those that are rich in history. Plus, I’m a big baseball fan. Cooperstown fit nicely into my schedule,” he said. “I actually hiked here from Little Falls; I left my canoe there and will return for it to continue my journey. I could have gotten a ride here, but I felt like walking here honors this community. I had the chance to step into the rhyme and reason of the village.”

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Moore spent his summers in Hawaii and England.

“My only brother died when I was young, and my parents didn’t want me to grow up without other children around,” Moore said. “We had relatives in Hawaii and England, and I would spend my summers there. I think that’s where my taste for travel and adventure started”.

“I’m an explorer at heart, but my profession is journalism and I teach English in Taiwan,” he said. “I saved money for a year and a half for this trip. I also deal in old relics, photos and books that sell at auction. That helps pay the bills.”

Although Moore was an Eagle Scout, he only completed half of his canoe badge at 12 years old and didn’t get back into a canoe until he was 38.

Neal’s 7,500-mile interactive canoe route across America: https://bit.ly/3fhvOyI

“I really wasn’t thinking about canoeing at all, but my friend had a dream to canoe up the Amazon River,” he said. “We made a plan to do it together. He ended up backing out but I decided to canoe solo down the Mississippi. That got me back into a canoe.”

His current cross-country canoe journey is a tough trip.

“It’s physically demanding — and mentally demanding as well,” he said.

He’s had some interesting encounters with wild animals. The most memorable was an encounter in the middle of Montana with a grizzly bear.

[And then there was the giant gator down in Louisiana. “I didn’t see the alligator at first,”] he recalled. “When I did, I froze, then I started clapping my hands. He [kept on coming, so I shined my bright diving light, and he] ended up walking away. He had no interest in me.”

A bull shark in Biloxi, Mississippi, did a “bump and bite” on his canoe.

“The shark hit my canoe hard three times, thankfully he wasn’t interested in me either!” he said.

Moore appears accustomed to taking care of things on his own terms.

“My folks cut me off financially after college,” he said. “The good part about that was that every success was mine, but then every failure was mine as well. It gave me confidence in life, I have very few fears. This trip has taught me a lot.”

Moore’s end game is paddling down the Hudson and ending up at the Statue of Liberty on Tuesday, December 14. “The final hurrah and paddle around Lady Liberty will be great. A number of paddlers I’ve met along the way and various NYC-based canoe and kayak clubs will greet me and paddle with me. Then we’ll celebrate in Midtown Manhattan.”

“The Beacon Hand of the Statue of Liberty is extended to all of us. I will earn and have an understanding of what liberty means, not only for this country but for the world at large,” Moore said. “This journey isn’t about me, its about a perfect blend between nature, wilderness and community.”

Adventurer stops in Buffalo this week on cross-country canoe trip

By Taylor Epps

ABC Affiliate WKBW

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — A taste of adventure is making it’s way to Buffalo this week, as Lake Erie gets a visit from a unique traveler. Neal Moore has been dubbed a “Modern Day Huckleberry Finn” for his adventures. Right now, he’s in the middle of a canoe trip from Oregon to New York City, crossing 22 states along the way.

“To explore how rivers, people and communities connect, in search of that which unites us as a nation,” Moore said. “To applaud America, our differences and our commonalities from the West Coast to the Statue of Liberty.”

It all started in February 2020 with the goal of listening, documenting and celebrating America. He is 19 months and 7,000 miles into a 22-month, 7,500-mile journey across America.

When the pandemic hit in 2020 he was already on his way to travel through 22 states. Wherever he is in the country, he wakes up at first light, and gets right on the water.

“It’s a moment of release and a moment of pure freedom,” said Moore.

When night falls, he’ll have a quick meal of freeze dried food and set up camp with his tent.

He’s now 19 months in to this routine. Neal will be in Buffalo for two days and will continue his journey on the Erie Canal.

“So I’ll slowly make my way across New York State to Albany to meet the Hudson, which I’ll have the pleasure of being able to come down to New York City,” said Moore.

Mother nature makes canoeing across country for about two years quite interesting. Moore has come across a bull shark, an alligator, a grizzly bear and more. But possibly the scariest is the water itself.

When he got to Lake Erie, he asked some locals in Westfield at Barcelona Beach for advice.

“What do you think about a canoe onto the open lake to make my way to Buffalo,” asked Moore.

The answer: get ready to swim.

He and a friend had to come to shore after waters in Lake Erie got rough a few days ago—so rough they almost didn’t make it in. The water knocked them down and pushed the canoe on top of them. They had to wait for a wave to set them free.

He’ll finish with a few scrapes here and there, but Moore says it’s all part of the journey.

“Nature is one part of it, but really it’s the people,” said Moore.

He says the real goal of this trip was to learn about this country through the people, collecting signatures along the way.

Taylor Epps
Moore collects signatures of friends and well wishers

“Folks who I meet up with, new friends, they sign the boat and wish me good luck on the journey,” said Moore.

He’s met with people of all ages, races and origins and says when you piece it all together, you get the story of America.

“In this country we can all listen to, we can all learn the people around us can be our friends as opposed to our adversaries,” said Moore.

He’ll rest here in the 716 for a few days then embark on the next 500 miles. He estimates he’ll get to the Statue of Liberty around December.

You can follow his journey on his interactive mapwebsite and his Instagram.

Neal Moore Details 7,500-mile Canoe Ride That Landed Him Momentarily at Chautauqua

THE CHAUTAUQUA INSTITUTION

With Mark Wenzler

You never know who will show up on Chautauqua’s shores, any time of year! Today we’re excited to profile Athenaeum Hotel guest Neal Moore, who is taking brief respite at Chautauqua as he prepares for the tail end of a 7,500-mile canoe trip from coastal Oregon to New York City. Neal’s Chautauqua stop is part of his trip *from* New Orleans — yes, upstream — via the Mississippi, Ohio, Allegheny, Chadakoin and Chautauqua Lake. Chautauqua Climate Change Initiative Director Mark Wenzler, himself a veteran of long-distance solo trips under one’s own power (see his bike trip from Washington, D.C., to Chautauqua in June) spoke to Neal this afternoon about the purpose and findings of his unique two-year voyage.

Read more about Neal’s trip here: https://22rivers.com/

See a map of his nation-spanning route here: https://bit.ly/3fhvOyI

You also might notice some similarities between Neal’s story and our upcoming #CHQ2022 week on “The Wild: Reconnecting with Our Natural World.” Join us next summer! Details are here: http://2022.chq.org/

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

Expat documenting the American experience passes through region

By Sebastian Foltz 

The Butler Eagle

Neal Moore, 49, sets out from the launch under the Roberto Clemente Bridge in Pittsburgh. Moore’s travels will take him from Oregon to New York while he travels up and down some of the nation’s biggest waterways. He passed through Pittsburgh on his way to East Brady on Aug. 31.
SEB FOLTZ/BUTLER EAGLE

Some of us dream about packing up and hitting the road.

Maybe it’s a fantasy about buying a camper and driving the blue highways.

Maybe it’s quitting a job and moving West, dropping everything.

Few of us get to do it. Neal Moore, 49, did.

In some ways, the Los Angeles-born expatriate has been doing it his entire adult life — mostly living abroad in South Africa and Taiwan since age 19. All that time abroad contributed in part to a desire to reconnect with his home country and explore it from coast to coast.

“I’ve always been a fan of the road books,” Moore said, describing some of his inspiration during a phone interview from somewhere between Pittsburgh and East Brady.

You could say he’s doing it backward, going from West to East. You could say he’s doing it in an unconventional way. But he might argue he’s doing it in the most traditional way possible, by canoe.

“I like the idea of the canoe being the first mode of transport,” he said. “The rivers are the country’s first thoroughfare. I thought, what if I did it the wrong way and approached the Statue of Liberty?”

When he’s finished, Moore, will have paddled roughly 7,500 miles from Astoria, Ore., up the Columbia River, down to New Orleans on the Mississippi and up to New York City, including the Ohio and Allegheny rivers and the Erie Canal.

From start to finish, he will have navigated 22 rivers through 22 states. He’s already covered about 6,600 miles.

He hopes to complete his journey in December.

Neal Moore, 49, carries his canoe to the boat launch by PNC Park in Pittsburgh Aug. 31. Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle 08/31/21

Started in 2020

He started on the Columbia River in February 2020, just prior to the onset of the pandemic in the United States.

“I left Oregon the day it shut down,” he recalls of crossing into Idaho, describing his shelter-in-place as “sheltering-in-canoe.”

The Eagle first caught up with Moore on Aug. 31, as he set out from the boat launch under the Roberto Clemente Bridge in Pittsburgh. A car pulled up to PNC Park with his canoe in tow. Trish Howison, his Pittsburgh host or “river angel,” helped him unload and launch. Then she joined him in her kayak for a portion as he headed up the Allegheny toward the fringes of Butler County.

That’s how it’s worked for Moore. He’s camped, he’s stayed with friends and people he’s met along the way. Sometimes it’s just people who have followed his story and offered to help. Sometimes it includes a cold beer.

Neal Moore, 49, loads his canoe at the boat launch under the Clemente Bridge in Pittsburgh Aug. 31. Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle 08/31/21

Book in works

Finishing at the Statue of Liberty ties into his larger narrative. Moore plans to write a book about his experiences, not just his own, but also those of whom he meets along the way.

He undertook a similar adventure in 2009: canoeing the Mississippi during the financial crisis. A boater that he crossed paths with on that trip sparked the idea to tie in multiple rivers on a larger tour.

Moore said he thinks doing the cross-country trip by water also is a good way to interact with more people along the way.

Watching American news coverage from abroad during the Trump administration inspired him to take on this more-ambitious expedition.

“As a journalist, I was looking at it from the outside,” he said. “I could see the bitterness and that it was getting worse.”

His first attempt at the cross-country paddle was cut short in 2018. Flooding in much of the Northwest — along with a life-threatening capsizing in frigid water in Montana — slowed his travels, so much so that he would not have made his target had he continued.

Rather than pick up where he left off, Moore decided to start over, this time in an election year and, as he would quickly discover, a growing pandemic.

Neal Moore, 49, gets ready to launch his canoe at the boat launch under the Clemente Bridge in Pittsburgh Aug. 31. Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle 08/31/21

‘What unites us’

“I wanted to drop my preconceived notions about people and party, and listen,” Moore said. “We all know what divides us. I wanted to look at what unites us.”

For the most part, he said he has found that the country is greater than the headlines.

“You find good, honest people who are trying to make things better,” he said of the majority of his interactions. “I found incredible people.”

And the pandemic has only added to his story telling.

“In hard times is when we look out for our neighbors. Friends and community become family.”

But he’s also seen a slice of the nation’s ugliness. Since his 2009 trip down the Mississippi and even his first cross-country attempt in 2018, he said he’s seen the drug culture in homeless camps and other areas increase significantly.

“River Angel” Trish Howison of McCandles helps Neal Moore carry his boat to the launch at PNC Park Aug. 31. Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle. 08/31/21

A different person

Camped near a church in Idaho, he heard two addicts threatening to kill each other and the local minister. One demanded Moore exit his tent. The next morning he saw one of the men in a diner and he was a different person, even offering use of his home.

He also has been shouted at.

“I’ve been yelled at. It’s rare,” he said. “People get so worked up over their political identity that they see opposing views as un-American.”

But he said the majority of his experiences have been extremely positive.

“By and large, people are good-natured,” Moore said. “The reality is people have a love of family, community and they absolutely have a love of country. My hope is that those can supersede our division with politics.”

After delays from Tropical Storm Ida, Moore reached East Brady on Monday evening, Sept. 6. He plans to continue up the Allegheny toward Franklin and Oil City this week.

His travels can be followed through his website, 22rivers.com and on Instagram @riverjournalist.