Buffalo Roamer Podcast – For Those Who Seek Adventure: Canoeing Oregon to NYC w/ Neal Moore

#8 Canoeing Oregon to NYC w/ Neal Moore

Buffalo Roamer Podcast – For Those Who Seek Adventure

Listen @ Apple Podcast, Spotify or on the Web

Episode Description

Neal Moore is a journalist, author and adventurer. He is currently on a 2 year cross continent canoe trip from Astoria, Oregon to New York City, dubbed the 22 river project. He shares stories from seeing the country by canoe, grizzly bear encounters on a 60 mile portage, paddling up river, stories from characters met along the way and so much more.

Follow Neal’s Trip Live 

Books by Neal Moore:”Down The Mississippi“; Homelands: A Memoir

Find out more at buffaloroamer.com

ACROSS THE CONTINENT IN A CANOE

In 1890, “a plucky young Texan” paddled his canoe from New York City to Astoria, Oregon. A staff correspondent for New York’s Mail and Express, R. Elbert Rappleye’s odyssey spanned 6,280 miles and was undoubtedly a first. What’s crazy to consider is that 130 years on, there isn’t a West Coast to East solo, continuous canoe expedition on record. It feels awe-inspiring to traverse the nation by canoe, to span the country with a journalistic eye, and with a bit of luck and success, to pull off a reverse record.

Having paddled and portaged up the Columbia, Snake, and Clark Fork Rivers, I’m currently in North Dakota at Tobacco Gardens Resort & Marina on Lake Sakakawea (on my second cross-country shot). I spent months to plot and plan out the unique cross-country route. It’s amazing, but without knowing about Mr. Rappleye until now, from the rivers and lakes of Idaho and Montana to Lake Chautauqua, Lake Erie, the Erie Canal, the Hudson, and even my final destination of New York City, I’ll be casting my eyes and scribbling in my notebook, from water level, along and upon a number of similar vistas and waterways.

Mr. Rappleye’s cross-country canoe route, from East Coast to West, 1890.
Mr. Moore’s cross-country canoe route, from West Coast to East, 2020-2021.

If you’d like to follow my journey, you can check out my Instagram feed here.

Thanks to Norman Miller for the information on R. Elbert Rappleye, and for chronicling all long-distance paddlers to touch the Missouri – and beyond.

Here is the original article about Rappleye’s voyage from 1891:

R. ELBERT RAPPLEYE, a plucky young Texan educated in New York, has just won the glory of making one of the longest trips on record in a small boat. He crossed the continent from New York to Astoria, Oregon, on the Pacific, a distance, over the necessarily circuitous route of more than 6,200 miles. The canoeist had necessarily to carry his light, but tough, paper craft, Only twelve miles during his protracted voyage. The length of the land voyage was, however, increased by the unnecessary transfer of his boat to Lake Chautauqua and by encountering ice in the Rocky mountains. He paddled down 150 miles of the Missoula river, in Montana, that, the settlers said, never had been successfully navigated before.

The canoeist launched his little boat from the Jersey City Yacht Club on April 10, 1890, and started up the Hudson river. He paddled from the Hudson through the Erie canal and into Lake Erie. It was his intention originally to go from Lake Erie by way of the Miami canal, which connects the lake with the Ohio River; but the citizens of Jamestown, N.Y., prevailed upon him to leave Lake Erie at the nearest point to Chautauqua lake, and transported him to Mayville, whence he was escorted to Jamestown by the Chadaukoin Canoe Club.

Everywhere he touched he was welcomed with enthusiasm and entertained and feasted. Word of his coming was flashed over the wires from town to town, and there were always many to meet him at the landing place. He passed through North and South Dakota, and, on August 30th, visited the camp of Sitting Bull. He reached the divide in the Rocky Mountains in October. Here he was the first necessary portage of the voyage. The battered canoe on which were written the names of hundreds who had helped to welcome the voyager at points along his course, was slid into the Hell Gate river at Missoula, in the presence of a thousand citizens, who cheered its departure for the western coast. The canoeist took a passenger at Missoula, the first in his long course, who was invaluable to him as a guide. He was Frank Whittaker, an old Leadville miner, who left him at Paradise, Montana, where he joined a survey party. He had the company of David W. Low, a young man and enthusiastic canoeist of Missoula, from the time he parted company with his first passenger until he reached Astoria.

A longer carry over the divide than would have been necessary in summer had to be made because of the ice in the mountain streams. To make a short portage he would have had to remain all winter in the mountains and start down the Hell Gate when nature broke the ice barriers in the spring. The voyager was not any too soon in reaching Missoula, as the water froze in his wake. When he came out of his tent in the morning to make breakfast, the coffee and water in his tin bucket was solid. Much of the rest of the journey was through snow storms, for the winter had set in earnest. From the Missoula Mr. Rappleye paddled into the Clark fork of the Columbia, and cruised thence into the Pend d’Oreille lake, in northern Idaho. Sliding down the outlet of the lake, the Pend d’Oreille river, the paddler floated into the Columbia river and down to Astoria, where he was joyously greeted by the expectant citizens, who had been reading about his journey for months. He mingled some of the Atlantic that he had taken with him with the Pacific.

Other canoeists who have made celebrated voyages in paper boats are Bishop and McGregor. The former went from Pittsburgh to New Orleans, a distance of 2,600 miles, in 1875; wrote a book about the trip, and had his canoe, the Maria Therese, exhibited at the Centennial Exposition in 1876. McGregor won fame by his cruises on the Baltic, the Jordan, the Nile and the lakes and rivers of Europe.

Mr. Rappleye has called attention, by his trip, to a geographical fact not popularly known – that, barring a few miles, there is an all water route from the Atlantic to the Pacific. He has probably seen more of the United States, and paid less for the privilege, than any man who has ever crossed the continent.

Onto the Missouri River

Up against the current of the Columbia, Snake, and Clark Fork Rivers, I’ve slowly but surely fought my way uphill. This past week, I’ve portaged my canoe and gear up and over U.S. Route 12 of the Continental Divide to an elevation of 6,312 feet – encountering an all-day, mid-May snow blast and up top, a migratory grizzly bear – who waltzed on past and paid me no heed.

Today is day 104 of the expedition, I’m safely down the mountain, and as I sit and sip an ice-cold Blackfoot IPA (courtesy of local vets Matt and Mike – cheers, gents!) at “Lakeside on Hauser” bar and restaurant, I’ve at long last got the Missouri River in sight. Lake Hauser is an intensely beautiful place in the world, and come tomorrow, I’ll put into the Missouri River, to experience the pleasure of paddling with the current.

There’s been a little press as of late: Tom Kuglin ran a front-page Sunday story that appeared in Helena’s Independent Record and Missoula’s Missoulian; friend Pat Hansen’s piece appeared in Butte’s Montana Standard and on NBC affiliate KPVI; and out in Saigon, writer Martin Walsh filed a piece about the expedition for Explorersweb.

In Helena, friend Norm Miller, founder of the Missouri River Paddlers’ group, shot a two-part, thirty-minute expedition interview which you can see here:

And so, I paddle forth. Onto the Missouri and later this year, on down to the Mississippi, where I hope to make a turn for Hannibal, before heading downriver to the Gulf and the promise of adventures, characters extraordinaire, and La Nouvelle-Orléans.

Explorer’s goal: Paddle 22 rivers across America in two years

By PAT HANSEN

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Explorer Neal Moore paddles on the Clark Fork River on his way across the U.S. connecting 22 rivers on a 7,500-mile two-year journey. PROVIDED PHOTO.

On an “adventure of a lifetime,” Neal Moore is making a 7,500-mile journey across the United States in a canoe connecting rivers from the West Coast to the East Coast.

Moore, 48, left Astoria, Oregon on Feb. 9 and has paddled up the Columbia, Snake and Clark Fork Rivers.

“It is a challenge, but anything in this life that is worthwhile is a challenge,” Moore said.

Moore continued his portage from the Clark Fork River to the Missouri River in a snowstorm Friday to the top of the Continental Divide on MacDonald Pass, a 1,200-foot elevation change that he called “a hell of a climb.” More than a foot of snow accumulated during the night as he camped under a tree.

On Saturday he descended into Helena where he will put into the Missouri River on his way to the Mississippi River and New Orleans. Next year he plans to paddle from New Orleans to Mobile, Alabama then navigate rivers north concluding the journey at the Statue of Liberty.

Moore said he is inspired by the late Dick Conant of Bozeman, an unrivaled long-distance paddler and Navy veteran who went on many grand canoe adventures. “We met on the upper Mississippi River and he planted in my mind that it is possible to connect the rivers across the nation.”

Conant vanished on his last adventure in 2014 on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway headed from the top of the Hudson River to Florida. His canoe was found by a duck hunter, but his body was never found and likely was swept out to sea.

“I looked into connecting rivers across the country when I learned of his death,” Moore said. “This trip is to pay homage to Dick Conant. Some of the route for this journey is what he covered from Mississippi, Alabama and north.”

An amiable man with a big smile, Moore is an explorer, author and journalist who said his trip is all about the stories of people he meets along the way, as well as the adventure.

“The idea for 2020-21 is to travel in a traditional style canoe to chronicle the story of America leading into the election and the year following with an emphasis on the thread that unites us — what it feels like, looks like and tastes like to be an American from Oregon to the Statue of Liberty,” Moore said.

“The first thoroughfares in this country were rivers, the first roads went along these rivers, the first settlements, towns and cities were built along these rivers,” Moore said. “The canoe pays homage to those people who came before us. It is a challenging mode of travel, but is doable. When in the canoe you are down low, inside of the river, nature is all around you in a rugged wilderness. I have a front row ticket to not only nature and adventure, but to the history of America and the stories of all these different people and their experiences.”

Camping wild is the best possible place to be during a pandemic, Moore said. PROVIDED PHOTO

With the coronavirus pandemic, Moore said this trip is a self-imposed solitary confinement where he goes days with no human contact. On the Snake, Moore said he didn’t see a human for five days.

Camping wild is the best possible place to be during a pandemic, he said, and that’s why he camps on islands away from people. Because he doesn’t want to cause any COVID-19 problems for friends or acquaintances when he come into town, he wears a mask and practices personal distancing.

“I am not a reporter, but a journalist storyteller. With coronavirus, meeting people is more difficult. I love greasy spoons in small towns because that is where locals go and old-timers can be found telling stories over coffee. With the gradual opening of restaurants I look forward to meeting some of them … at a distance,’’ Moore said. “This is a difficult time for many people, Moore said, but where you find trial and tribulation with the coronavirus, we see people helping others, putting their shoulder to the wheel, rolling up their sleeves and coming together. When I walk the streets of a town, I get the feel of the pulse of the community, and have chance meetings with individuals, these stumble upon stories are always the best.”

A two-time cancer survivor, Moore grew up in Los Angeles and was inspired to become an explorer after reading adventure books. Having lived in Africa and Asia for many years and been on several solo explorations since 2003, he considers himself a citizen of the world.

Documented in his book “Down the Mississippi,” Moore said, “When not on an adventure, I dream. In 2008 I had an epiphany that the best adventure of my life would be in my own backyard — in my own country. That led to a 2009 canoe trip down the Mississippi River from its source to New Orleans.”

Two years ago, Moore attempted to canoe from Astoria to New Orleans, but rivers were at 100-year flood stage. On the St. Regis River he had a brush with death when his canoe capsized in the frigid water after it came in contact with a fallen cottonwood tree and he lost most of his gear. He was able to get to Missoula where he regrouped and then portaged from there to Helena pulling his canoe. He later stopped in North Dakota after more than 1,700 miles.

He spent the past two years living in Taiwan where he taught English to earn money to finance his adventure.

Portaging around dams or for long distances when rivers are running high is part of Neal Moore’s journey. PROVIDED PHOTO

On April 23, when Moore first entered the Clark Fork River out of Lake Pend Oreille on the Idaho/Montana border, the water was flowing 5,000 cubic feet per second. He paddled until evening when a severe lightning storm was approaching and he made camp on a large island.

“I’d taken the canoe and other heavy gear at least 30 feet away from the water, up and onto the island, and made camp several hundred feet further away,’’ Moore said. “Come first light, the water had risen significantly and strong, deep currents had replaced the rocks where the canoe had been the night before. They were all gone.”

Moore said that during the night Avista Power released water from the Noxon dam and water was flowing at 30,000 cfs. He notified the sheriff he was okay and Avista employees in a jet boat recovered the canoe that had overturned and most of the equipment that had floated downstream.

After portaging past the dam, Moore put into the Clark Fork River.

“I’ve been dreaming about paddling (the Clark Fork) for many years. It’s magnificent and wild, and incredibly beautiful,” Moore said.

To follow his journey: 22rivers.com; Facebook – Neal Moore; Instagram.com/riverjournalist

Journalist portages canoe through Helena on 7,500-mile cross country paddle

Helena Independent Record / The Missoulian

By Tom Kuglin

HAVE CANOE — WILL TRAVEL

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Freelance journalist Neal Moore makes his way down MacDonald Pass west of Helena on Saturday toting his canoe. Moore left the West Coast three months ago on his second attempt of his 22 Rivers project to paddle from Oregon to New York. Gary Marshall, BMGPHOTOS.COM

Neal Moore says he couldn’t live with himself if he didn’t try again.

Moore, 48, made his way over the Continental Divide near Helena on Saturday toting a canoe filled with his belongings. The two-day trek over MacDonald Pass amid a mid-May winter blast and grizzly bear encounter comes nearly three months after he started his journey from the West Coast – a 7,500-mile adventure he hopes will culminate two years from now when he paddles around the Statue of Liberty in New York.

“I had been a traveler for most of my life,” he said. “When you start traveling internationally, you meet other travelers, and the question is always, ‘What’s next?’

Moore is originally from Los Angeles, but has lived overseas in Africa and Taiwan for decades. He considers himself somewhat of a “citizen of the world,” enjoying returning to his home country to document his adventures as a freelance journalist.

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Neal Moore passes a snow fence on MacDonald Pass on Saturday as he begins his decent into Helena. He will launch on the Missouri River in the coming days. Gary Marshall, BMGPHOTOS.COM

 

He floated the Mississippi River chronicling the economic downturn in 2009 for CNN and his work has also appeared in the New Yorker and Der Spiegel. Long distance paddling and storytelling are two of his great passions.

“It happens to be two things I’m good at,” he joked. “I’m not good at a lot of things but I can go long distances in a canoe and I can story tell. The actual physical nature, day-in-day-out nature of it, mixed with the chance to stumble upon stories is sort of challenging, it’s fun and it’s a real adventure.”

It was on the Mississippi that he befriended fellow paddler Dick Conant of Bozeman. Conant spent years paddling across the country in his canoe and offered invaluable advice.

“When I started out on the Mississippi River like a lot of other long distance paddlers, I was going as fast as I possibly could,” Moore said. “What Dick taught me was to slow down, it’s not a race and to just enjoy the journey and learn the history of the places you’re passing by.”

Moore’s 22 Rivers project is the second attempt at his latest adventure. He paddled up the Columbia and Snake rivers, portaged for about 100 miles, and after crossing the Divide will launch on the Missouri River in a few days. He plans to float the length of the Missouri and Mississippi to New Orleans where he will then connect rivers north to New York and his ultimate goal of the Statue of Liberty.

Moore suspended his first voyage two years ago after paddling and portaging more than 1,700 miles from Oregon to North Dakota. That trip included a potentially life threatening crash on the St. Regis River when a snag caused his canoe to tip and belongings to scatter.

Moore felt he must return to attempt the trip again but debated whether to begin where he left off or depart again from the West Coast. The ability to link the rivers together in one journey proved to be the deciding factor.

“I don’t think I could’ve lived with myself if I didn’t try it again. To start over again, and I had friends argue it both ways of whether to continue where I left off or to try again,” from the West Coast,” he said. “It came down to my own thinking and this crazy dream route. The route I selected, it had the chance to be continuous.”

Moore holds a degree in English literature – he teaches English in Taiwan – and also learned about filmmaking while at the University of Utah. He shoots videos, writes and photographs his adventures on the website www.22rivers.com and Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/riverjournalist/.

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A truck passes Neal Moore on MacDonald Pass on Saturday. Gary Marshall, BMGPHOTOS.COM

“It’s sort of a personal project and it’s something that might get picked up by news agencies or not, it might result in a book, but I’m not doing it for that reason,” he said.

“The actual thinking is to touch America, to try to come across to see it firsthand and experience the rawness and the transformation.”

As with nearly all aspects of life these days, the COVID-19 pandemic has proven a powerful influence on Moore’s project. Many campgrounds are closed and “river angels” who offer assistance to long distance paddlers have had to alter the help they can provide.

The river itself offers a sort of “solitary confinement” that lends itself well to traveling during the pandemic. Where he has stopped to see friends, he has distanced himself by camping in a garage or travel trailer and staying out of homes.

For Moore, COVID-19 is now part of the story he hopes to tell.

“My thinking now is it’s actually still possible to chronicle stories,” he said. “You meet up with people who are really interesting characters and have something to say. The thinking now is to have this time and to underscore what’s working with what people are facing with the virus as well as the economic fallout.”

While he understands the hardship many currently face, Moore also hopes to find inspiring stories.

“The whole thing with journalism is that it’s positive journalism as well … to find and highlight the American collective of what’s working and to find and highlight these unique and interesting characters,” he said.

A Spartan Life

By Neal Moore

Along the Snake River at Nisqually John Landing, Wash.


Brian Bensen stands astride his makeshift home with pride. Bensen was my neighbor at Nisqually John Landing, Wash. Photo by Neal Moore.

Brian Bensen is a minimalist, a fisherman, a hunter, and a survivor. He lives along the banks of this river, of multiple rivers, out of a 7’ x 12’ motorcycle toy-hauler he lovingly calls his house. Attached are a quartet of solar panels, a trio of car batteries, an AC/DC converter, a drop-down bed, an air conditioner, a TV and DVD player, pots and pans and knives and forks, a bottle of Purell hand sanitizer, a tarp, and a blanket hanging off of his higgledy-piggledy back shower featuring Marilyn Monroe. Bensen has spent the last three years shifting this home, along with a Kawasaki 650 off-road motorcycle that clamps down inside, an aluminum jet boat, and a GMC truck to pull them from camp to camp, Gypsy-style. “If you look, especially in the Northwest, in the twelve Western states,” he says, “there are campgrounds that are beautiful where you can spend 14 days, no money involved.” He laughed at the thought, at all the memories of Lolo Pass in the summers and this very spot on the Snake piled with snow come the winter. “And that’s about as long as I want to be in one place anyway.” Bensen is sixty-two and he’s been on the move for all of them. Civilization calls his elemental lifestyle homeless, but he calls it sweet freedom.

 

“I consider myself the king of campin’ because I’m off the grid,” he says. “I’ve been at it three years, perfected a lot of things. Literally, if I have to, I can survive. With nothin’. No help from nobody.” Although there are contradictions to being labeled a minimalist when you have a Kawasaki 650, he might be forgiven because he wants to trade it in for an electric scooter. But either way, he is still a minimalist. And that’s part and parcel of Spartan.

When folks less fortunate come around, Bensen is happy to share. “Just heat up the coffee if you want,” he told his neighbors, a homeless couple from the neighboring trailer at Nisqually John Landing here in Whitman County. “The heater is right there. The creamer and honey, it’s on the shelf.”


Detail of Bensen’s collapsible kitchen. Push comes to shove, Bensen’s going to provide for himself, and he’s going to give to others. “I figure if things get really, really bad – especially after what I seen at Walmart a couple weeks ago, I can always feed myself. Feed as many weary travelers as I can.” Photo by Neal Moore.

 


Detail of Bensen’s solar panels attached to the side of his toy-hauler-cum-home. Photo by Neal Moore.

The world around Bensen, around us all, finds itself in a gut punch of a downward spiral and we don’t yet know what bottom will look like. When asked what advice he might have for others, for people that will soon find themselves, not by choice, but by necessity, out of doors, he thought and then raised his head and his voice like a preacher. “My advice to you if you find yourself in that situation, first off, it’s one day at a time. Think of nothin’ but base survival. And then modify it. That’s what I did. I started out with one panel and one battery – so I could afford about two hundred bucks. And then once I got to know the system, I continued to learn, to graduate farther and farther.”

Bensen bought most of his hardware at Home Depot in the 75% off rack. The solar panels, each twenty-five watts, came from Harbor Freight. The solar system is capable of 14.4 volts. The whole setup with the control module and lights, because he’s a preferred member and he had a coupon, was $149. On top of the trailer are coils that go back and forth in plastic garden tubing which Bensen reckons can handle between eleven and thirteen gallons of water. It’s mounted on a 30-gauge galvanized steel sheeting roof. It gets hot in the summer. So hot, he had to add a cold-water line to mix it. “So, the whole setup you’re looking at – I probably don’t have 2 grand into it, including the power and the trailer – the whole nine yards.”


Brian Bensen shows a passerby the inside of his trailer at Nisqually John Landing, Wash. He calls breaking camp “riggin’ down”. He can rig this trailer down to move on to the next camp in forty minutes. Photo by Neal Moore.

It’s easy to glorify, but difficult to understand a truly Spartan lifestyle. The Spartans of ancient Greece lived with their armaments. They were warriors. They lived with physical emphasis. The emphasis was on combat. Bensen, who was born into the Home of Truth satanic cult in Moab, Utah, was raised up with the group’s, and later his family’s strict and simple ways. He is missing his left eye, and he told me his step-father, who he says he could never please, once yelled at him: “An eye for an eye? No! Somebody takes one eye, you gotta take both.” Bensen has been fighting for as long as he can remember, he’s been scrapping his way to happiness and freedom since he left home, his family and the commune at age thirteen. He admits to an “illustrious life,” including stints on the oil rigs, cowboying like a vaquero, raising his family as a single parent rough and on the road with a child in one arm and a “Will Work for Food” sign in the other, along with stretches in multiple county jails.

The road forward for Bensen and his menagerie of vehicles is fraught with Covid-19-related closures. His favorite camping spot, Heller Bar, surrounded by semi-arid mountain peaks and an entry point for power boats into Hells Canyon, recently denied him entry. Soon after we met, all free camps in Idaho closed their swinging gates. While I was here at Nisqually John Landing, state park rangers came by to cordon off the bathroom, and there are rumors of this camp, of all free camps in Washington following suit.

“I never go hungry because I’ve always got food around. Once the snow melts, and it gets warm, I get up into the mountains. If they block off the roads, I’ll take my Kawasaki – they can’t stop me. Man, there’s wild berries and wild lettuce. It’s a paradise. I eat a lot of fish because I am ‘the master of disaster spin-caster’.”

Bensen’s got itchy feet by nature, and you never know what’s coming next. When his wheels and his boat and his trailer are not in motion, his mind is. “I can literally go wherever I want, whenever I want, for however long I want,” he told me. “My goal for this winter is – I’m headin’ down to Yuma. And wanderin’ around the desert lookin’ for the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. For somethin’ to do. To entertain myself.”

 

Due North

When I entered the Tri Cities of Eastern Washington on the Columbia River the governor closed the state down. So instead of continuing upriver, I swerved my expedition up and onto the Snake River to make Idaho.

ADVENTURE JOURNAL: What Happens When A Pandemic Hits Mid-Way Through Your Cross-Country Paddle?

It took 9 days of solitary paddling to get across the border and into Lewiston, Idaho.  I’ve taken some days here to heal my hands (both index fingers), which I’d bludgeoned my second night out on the Snake.

I’ve now begun a 200-mile portage due north. I’ll be hiking, portaging, and paddling my canoe to link the Snake and Clark Fork Rivers of northern Idaho.

My selected route will take me 200 miles from Lewiston up the “Rails to Trails” White Pine Scenic Byway (Hwy 3), along the St Joe River, across Coeur d’Alene Lake, and finally up Hwy 95 to Sandpoint.

From there I’ll skirt the top of Lake Pond Oreille to catch the mouth of the Clark Fork, my next major river heading east. I’ll be in an essential state of isolation, camping wild and off the road as much as possible.

I’ll be in touch when and where I can.  I hope to make Sandpoint, Idaho in the coming days.  Then the Clark Fork, a spectacularly rugged river where I will self-quarantine before reaching Missoula.

 

Video animation courtesy Frank Boks.

Roll On, Columbia, Roll On

Astoria, Ore.  A version of this story first appeared in the “22 Rivers” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here

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Ray Roberson of Saint Maries ID finishes a set at FisherPoets Gathering in the Voodoo Room. Feb. 29, 2020. Astoria, Ore. Photo by Neal Moore.

When Jon Lee and his band Slimeline kicked into “Roll On Columbia” the tightly packed crowd at Astoria Brewing Company joined in. It was FisherPoets weekend at the mouth of the Columbia River, an annual gathering of grizzled fisher folk from Alaska to California who come to celebrate their craft with prose and poetry and song. Old and young here know Guthrie’s ditty by heart, and Lee, a descendant of over a century of Chinese cannery workers in Astoria, sang it with gusto.

But the Columbia no longer rolls – thanks in colossal part to the Grand Coulee Dam for which “Roll on Columbia” was penned – and this was Lee’s point: to encourage debate.

Lee had asked his friend Scott McAallister, a commercial fisherman from Juneau, Alaska, to interrupt him half way through. And so he did. The duo yelled back and forth for some time in pre-scripted fashion. McAllister arguing that Guthrie was a tool of the Corp of Engineers who never cared for the Columbia or the men and women who worked her. And Lee, that Guthrie, who could do no wrong, was being ironic.

“Ha, that would be the ultimate,” Robbie Law, Lee’s cousin and member of Slimeline, later told me. “To have the Bonneville Power Administration pay for you writing subversive lyrics.”

As big a boon as Alaska is for fishermen today, the Columbia River was once bigger. “It was just a wealth of big trees and salmon and water,” Lee said. “It should have sustained us. But we squandered it. It should have lasted forever.”

Lee’s friend, the writer Victoria Stooppiello, was born and raised in the Lower Columbia region. Her father, grandfather, and great-uncle were commercial fishermen their whole lives. In an essay titled “Denial is Not a River” she conjured the folly of over-logging and the damned dams and renewable energy through the lens of an economic enterprise zone.

Many of the professional fisher folk had a streak of activist in them. For they rhymed not only about the joys of the salmon runs of Bristol Bay, a region of Southwest Alaska, but the need for the EPA to reverse its recent verdict to allow the National Environmental Policy Act permitting process to consider mining it.

To once and for all disallow Pebble Mine, a porphyry copper, gold, and molybdenum mineral deposit project that will replace the sanctity of the salmon and these waters for the bounty that lies underneath.

Closer to Astoria, the presenters here assembled were passionate about the Columbia River, reflecting on the over-fishing that led to smaller fish and lessened runs, along with other obstacles the salmon now face.

As one fisher poet concluded at the gathering’s farewell event on Astoria’s fabled Pier 39, referring to the dams and the engineers who built them, “Sometimes it seems instead of one apple, we’ll devour the whole damned tree … So, it’s time to step back and take a long sober look, and conclude, Mama Mia. Let’s go back to the software, and try to come up with what’s really a good idea.”

‘Up the Columbia,’ and beyond: Paddler Neal Moore returns to the rivers on 22-state cross-country trek

Hood River News

By Kirby Neumann-Rea

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Paddler Neal Moore loads up his gear at Port of Hood River on Monday morning, with plans to spend another week in the Mid-Columbia before taking the Columbia east and north to Canada. 

Journalist and voyager Neal Moore is used to the strange looks and skeptical questions when he tells people he is paddling the Columbia River on the first stage of a solo canoe expedition overland to New York City.

“Why would you want to go to New York City?” a Montana rancher once disbelievingly asked Moore. In Hood River this week, he got similar reactions.

“I tell people, it’s not New York City itself — that’s the destination, It’s what I find along the way. I’m on the lookout for stories that connect and unite us, not divide us,” said Moore, who embarked aboard his fully-laden 16-foot canoe from Astoria on Feb. 9.

Moore chronicles his adventure on 22Rivers.com — a reference to the number of rivers he plans to follow, along with some overland portaging, to reach Astoria, Queens, New York in about two years. Moore said his timeline is open-ended, due to encounters with weather and water conditions he must prepare for, and the range of human contact he relishes.

With “22 Rivers, 22 States and 7,500 Miles Across America By Canoe,” Moore was en route east this week from Hood River after spending four days here. He planned stops in the Memaloose and The Dalles areas, and then to Rufus, where he will connect with friend Bud Herrera, a Umatilla tribal member who serves on the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission.

The new cross-country paddle is his second attempt; in April 2018 he traveled through Hood River and by autumn 2018 made it as far as North Dakota before his second boat and second set of portaging wheels gave out and he decided to regroup.

This year, he considered returning to the same location in the Dakotas and picking up where he left off, but preferred to do the entire route uninterrupted — more or less. Moore did break up his journey three weeks in by getting a ride from Cascade Locks back to Astoria in order to attend the annual Fisherpoets gathering there. He had friends reading at Fisherpoets, and learning about peoples’ lives and experiences on the river is part of Moore’s ongoing journey as a freelance journalist, film-maker and explorer.

“I know the recipe I found in Hood River County is that of collaboration and people trying to connect with each other, and in this part of the world, all up the Columbia, I’m finding that the salmon and all that it means is the central defining point,” Moore said.

He has also traveled the length of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers solo by canoe and has written extensively on the experiences, including the book “Down the Mississippi.”

Moore, 48, is a California native who has lived and worked in Cape Town and a total of about 16 years in Taipei, Taiwan, as a teacher and journalist. He returned to Taipei in autumn 2018.

Back on the Columbia and with 21 more rivers to touch, north and east, Moore plans to assemble new stories along the way, as well as circle back with people from Hood River County that he met and blogged about two years ago, including Gladys Rivera, who he met in 2018 and has since been appointed to Hood River City Council, the first Hispanic woman ever to serve on council.

Frequently asked if he plans a book or other compilation of his journey, Moore said he is open to the prospect but “I’m mainly in this for the experience.” He enjoys reconnecting with friends he made on the first third of the intended trans-continental route, and meeting new people and telling their stories.

His 22 Rivers route will take him to Trail, B.C. via the Columbia, and then south again via the Pend Oreille River, connecting later with the Missouri and Mississippi, then through a maze of southeast U.S. and Appalachian rivers back up through the Ohio River system, the Great Lakes, and down the Hudson — to Astoria, Queens.