Paddling through the pandemic to see the country from water level “up close and personal at this interesting time.”
You can read Corey’s entire expedition interview at The New York Times here.
Paddling through the pandemic to see the country from water level “up close and personal at this interesting time.”
You can read Corey’s entire expedition interview at The New York Times here.
Paddling to the Statue of Liberty: Neal Moore’s grand, bittersweet finale
By Birney Imes
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.
You can read Jeff’s entire expedition interview at Adventure Journal here.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
By Taylor Epps
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.
“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.
By Richard Sayer
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.
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.
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.
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
PITTSBURGH – If you could choose any mode of transportation to travel across America, would you pick a canoe?
Neal Moore chose exactly that, opting for a two-mile-an-hour, paddle-powered vessel on the riverways, instead of the comforts of a cozy RV coasting the major highways. His trip will have taken nearly two years once he reaches his finish line.
Moore began his journey in Portland, Oregon, in February 2020, and he plans to take a victory lap around the Statue of Liberty in New York City by the end of this year.
Once he finishes his journey, Moore will have paddled more than 7,500 miles across the United States. Along his route, Moore crossed through many locks and dams on the riverways operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
In late August 2021, Moore stopped in Pittsburgh for a weekend, before continuing north on the Allegheny River. We caught up to him under the Robert Clemente Bridge for an interview to ask about his journey.
The interview below has been edited for brevity and clarity.
PITTSBURGH DISTRICT: What have you discovered about yourself during the past 18 months you have spent on the water, so far?
NEAL MOORE: Part of the journey is pushing yourself out into nature, and the other part is that you, yourself are enveloped by nature. You have to embrace the wildness within yourself as well. This journey – it’s just been an awesome experience. It’s the perfect blend between town and country. I’m dreaming about these rivers. The islands that I’m going to sleep on. I feel stronger. My body is moving from strength to strength. Mentally, I’m clearer. I’m happy every single day. I find myself laughing on the river, just at the ridiculousness of how beautiful it is, and how free I feel.
PD: You’re turning 50 somewhere along this journey, right?
NM: I’ll turn 50 just before I hit New York City.
PD: How does that hit you as part of the journey, turning 50 during the journey?
NM: Some people might look at a crazy journey like this, like a midlife crisis. But I see it as a celebration. Every single day is a gift. I’m a cancer survivor. I’ve gone through two bouts of cancer, and I realized that this stage in my life right now – I’m healthy. I’m free and clear, cancer-wise. I just feel really, really privileged to be able to have this time, and every single day, every single moment to highlight and underscore the importance of that, and to truly make the most of it.
PD: What have you discovered about our nation, or the American people, during the journey?
NM: Part of the journey is exploring how the waterways of this land connect from West Coast to East Coast. The end game is the beacon hand of the Statue of Liberty. I’m also looking to explore how we, as Americans, connect. I’m looking for the positive ingredients of what it takes to be an American, from people from all walks of life, backgrounds, ethnicities, and to really highlight those positive stories. When times are tough – like we’ve seen this past year with COVID – this is when people roll up their sleeves. This is when people look out for the people around them. I love the word empathy, because when times are tough, the community has a chance to become family.
PD: What has been your favorite region or body of water you have navigated so far?
NM: The easy answer is my favorite bodies of water are all the places I haven’t seen yet. I am so excited about the Allegheny River. I’m excited about the Chadakoin. I’m excited about Lake Chautauqua, Lake Erie, the Erie Canal, and of course to have the privilege of coming down the Hudson.
But looking back I really have been touched by the places that have surprised me with the wildness and the ruggedness. The Clark Fork River in western Montana is ridiculously beautiful. It is wild and rugged, and you’re surrounded by nature. The stretches of the Missouri are wild and scenic. It just blows you away. In the North Dakota and South Dakota region – the Missouri River – this is where “Dances with Wolves” was filmed. You have these sunrises and sunsets that are awesome. One more surprise for me was the Gulf of Mexico. I decided to make my way out to the barrier islands, off the coast of Mississippi and Alabama. Stringing those islands together out there, I was escorted by a pod of dolphins. This canoe was hit by a bull shark. You just have nature everywhere, and it’s a phenomenal experience.
PD: How has the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers helped you with navigation access, and how has the organization been involved in your journey?
NM: The Army Corps, from my experience, especially on the Ohio River, I’ve just been bowled over by the professionalism, by their service to country. A lot of folks are ex-military with the corps, and they show just a life of service. They’re interested in the journey. They have lots of questions. The first thing they say is, ‘Do you need anything? Feel free to call back with your marine radio if you have any problems whatsoever.’ Just some practical advice I find with river travel, you should listen to locals. It could be a kid fishing on the side of the river. It could be an old timer. For me, it is absolutely the Army Corps of Engineers.
One of the lock masters (on the Ohio who knew I was coming) raises chickens and goats, and he wanted to make sure he had breakfast ready for me when I got there. At another lock, I had to charge my marine radio, and they had me come up. The folks are friendly and professional. Navigation has been so much easier thanks to them. It’s been a privilege to be able to lock through.
PD: What do you think connects the American people the same way these rivers connect our land?
NM: By the time I reach the Statue of Liberty, the big idea is that thread by thread, story by story, when you add them all up, the indigenous American culture, the African American experience, the Latino experience, the immigrant experience, each story is unique and special, but when you bring them together: this is America. We are the microcosm of the world. We are the melting pot. It underscores and celebrates our humanity. New York is the most diverse place on the planet. My journey started with stories of diversity in Oregon, and I’ll finish off with stories of diversity in New York City.
PD: Once you complete this journey, who will you be? What will this journey make you? And what will you remember?
NM: That’s a great question. I think – I know I’m going to be in the best shape of my life. I’m going to be just newly-minted at 50 years old. I’m going to be in a unique position to not just speak about the American experience, but to really have an understanding. That understanding comes from listening, from really dropping my preconceived ideas about people and places and cultures and whatnot, and really listening and documenting my way across the land. By the time I get to New York City, I think I’m going to be and feel strong, both in body and spirit.
I’m hoping to be an example as well. If an average, middle-aged guy can make this ridiculous, epic journey from coast to coast, then no matter what struggles other people are going through – be it illness, be it hard time with the economy, be it COVID, be it anything life tends to hurl at you – we can overcome. We have the strength, and the strength is not ‘me.’ The strength is the people around me. The strength is the nature of these waterways and the nation as a whole. To push yourself out there, out of your comfort zone, you have the opportunity to learn and to grow. It takes a community.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.