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”

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.

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

A Peace Of My Mind (Podcast)

APOMM

By John Nolter

A Peace Of My Mind: Building community and bridging divides through portraits and personal stories.

Neal Moore is paddling 7,500 miles across the United States. Photo by John Nolter, taken in Columbus, Mississippi.

Neal Moore is a journalist, an adventurer and an expatriate. He is in the midst of a two-year journey, paddling 7,500 miles across the United States. I met him in a coffee shop—by chance—in Columbus, Mississippi and we found time the next day to do an interview.

“So the big idea is to travel from sea to shining sea, connecting the waterways. I’m looking at 22 rivers. The idea is to touch 22 States and make my way across 7,500 miles from the Pacific Coast, to the Continental Divide, to the Gulf of Mexico, to the Great Lakes, to the very feet of the Statue of Liberty. It’s a two year journey.

I’m attempting to connect waterways, but also to connect the stories of everyday Americans, to listen to folks and try to understand what the commonality is, the thread between us that can spin positive and speak to our mutual experience.

I’ve been an expatriate on and off—mainly on—for 30 years. I’ve been living between Africa and East Asia for this time and this is a chance to come back to my own backyard, and to experience it up close and personal. This is a unique way to see the country.

The canoe is the first form of transport and these rivers and waterways are the first thoroughfares in this land and they absolutely connect. And so, to unfurl the map in your mind and then to try to plot out your course, it took a year just to plot the course.

When I look at rivers, when I look at water, I’ve always found that this is sort of a stabilizing substance. Our bodies are +/- 70% water. The surface of the earth is +/- 70% water. And I think there might be a correlation there. When I was younger, I went to school in Hawaii. Then when I transferred to the university of Utah, I would take off every winter quarter and go back to Capetown. And for the three months I was there—which is their summer—I would just be surfing in the water every single day.

I had all this stress. I had lost my brother as a boy. I had lost my mom. And when I came home, my dad had moved on. It was just me, and I found, when you submerge yourself, and even when you’re near a waterway, that stress washes off.

So, the idea was to paddle the year leading into national elections, and then the full year after, no matter how it would have turned out. What would we look like as a nation the year after national elections?

___

I identify as liberal. I sort of identify as very much as flawed, as well. So I understand that I don’t have all the answers. And the moment that I think that I do, that’s when everything sort of goes topsy-turvy and my personal life sort of gets messed up. And so for me, when you you do unfurl that map of America, and you look at my route, this route that I’ve selected, these 22 rivers and waterways, it’s by and large, all red. The country is very red in these rural locations that I’m finding myself paddling through and stopping off to, to meet folks.

So my thinking going into it is sort of like George Orwell and his masterpiece, Homage to Catalonia where he’s a journalist based in London. This was before his fame, of course, with Animal Farm, with 1984. Well before that, and he puts himself onto a boat and he disembarks in Barcelona and he attaches himself to the losing side of the Spanish Civil War and to an anti-fascist faction known as the POUM. At the end of chapter one, he finds himself on the front, taking a shot at another human being for the first time in his life.

What he says is, “understand that I am biased, but also understand that I am here.” And this is the age before the green screen. But what he’s saying is we have New York journalists, the big name ones, and we have London journalists, the big name ones who say that they’re there during the Spanish Civil War in Spain, and they’re not. They aren’t there and they’re still biased. But as he says, I’m biased, but I’m here.

And so my thinking, looking at the map in that vein and with that exclamation point is to see the country and to learn, and really try to take off the mask of these monikers that we sort of throw on to ourselves. The things that if we let them, can separate us, be it identity politics, be it race, be it religion.

What I’m looking for is that common thread, from coast to coast. What I’m really looking for is the common humanity, and I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it with individuals. I’ve seen it with families. I’ve seen it with communities. And when you see it, and when you’re able to document it, it just blows you away. It’s so profound.

When you add up all of these stories, everybody has a story. My thinking is by the time I get to the Statue of Liberty, and approaching her from a rarefied view, coming the wrong way, from the West Coast to the East Coast, I feel like I earned these towns, that I earned the chance for these stories. I want to earn that view. And to really properly understand it, I need to first understand who we are, and what we’re about and how far we’ve come.

___

I think the big surprise for me has been the wildness. A journey like this by and large, you’re pushing yourself out into the wild. And then in so doing, you get to embrace the wildness within. As Max finds out with Where the Wild Things Are, the monster is inside of us. And so to be able to understand that, embrace that and try to deal with that on a personal basis, in concert with nature. When you’re in your canoe, you’re down low in the water, and you see it, you experience nature from a wholly different vantage point.

Every day that I’m out there in nature, every single day, I find myself laughing. It’s this care-free laugh of, I really should be clocking in or clocking out somewhere with a proper job. And I’m not. I’m out here in nature and I’m free. I’m positively free. And there’s something beautiful about that.

I’m generally up an hour before first light. I’m deflating my air pad and rolling up my sleeping bag. I’m packing up inside the tent and taking the tent down. It takes about an hour to an hour and a half. And then I put all of my worldly belongings into my canoe. And I push off. And in that exact moment, it’s just pure perfection.

There’s something so beautiful about that moment where you step off from Terra Firma into the water. Whether I’m headed downstream with the current or whether I’m fighting like hell going upstream, you’re in the moment. I don’t travel with with earbuds in my ears, listening to books on tape or listening to music. Nature herself is my orchestra.

And when you’re paddling, you’re looking out for obstacles at all times. So you’re listening to the water. You’re watching out for boulders. You’re watching for hanging tree limbs.

Whether it be the pandemic or whether it be the headwinds and the tornadoes and the two derechos. There are hard times, but you understand that it’s temporary. You understand that around the bend, that we’re going to be okay.

In many cases on this journey, I’m risking my life. I’m putting myself completely out there. And there’s a strange thing that happens. There’s this strange phenomenon that takes place, when it’s touch and go, when you realize that you’re in a situation that can absolutely end your life, it’s when you feel like you really live. You have to focus. You cannot freak out and you have to see your way through.

And so whenever you have tribulation, you have to have to experience that. Be it the loss of loved ones, be it nature’s temporary fury. You have to soldier through. And by making your way through the hard times, on the flip side of that, when you make the safe harbor, when the sun comes out nice and bright and beautiful, then it’s all the sweeter. It’s all the sweeter because you’ve earned it.

___

I think our greatest strength is empathy. When you stop and you take away these labels that we like to identify ourselves by. When you strip all of that away, what we’re left with is something beautiful. And it’s something I think that we can all connect to. We can all relate to. And if we let ourselves, we can all love in a positive way. That is our common humanity. That is the natural desire to help, to have empathy for our brothers and sisters. And I think from coast to coast, what I’m finding doesn’t always work out that way, but when you’re looking for it, you see It. You see it.

And when you do see it, it strengthens your belief in mankind. And I think it makes you—the would be traveler in this life—a very happy person.”

Discussion questions:

-What is the boldest adventure you have ever embarked on?

-Have you ever placed yourself in harm’s way?

-When have you pushed your physical and psychological limits?

-Have you experienced water in a healing way?

-Do you agree with Neal that empathy is our greatest strength?

-When have you offered empathy? When have you received it?

-When have you had a clear sense of our common humanity?

-When have you experienced wilderness?

-What does Neal mean by the phrase “the wilderness within?”

-If you could set off on a journey, what would you hope to find?

An Ode to the Ambitious Traveler

By Neal Moore

The one and only Trips magazine

I picked up my first copy of TRIPS magazine at a “safari & travel” Banana Republic store of yesteryear. I was a kid, it was the late 1980s, and I can say – as oddball as this might sound – that I’ve spun the globe with it ever since. Its mantra of what travel can (and should) look and feel and taste like, open-mindedness-wise, sense-of-curiosity-wise, and being-alive-wise – “to get as deep inside a culture as constraints of language and understanding will allow” – has helped form my take, my very own spin on this world.

There was only ever one issue produced – so the Spring 1988 edition serves as both the debut and finale edition. I lost my original copy a long time back and have since given away many more, so I try to snag one every chance I get (thanks eBay). I like to think of TRIPS as a bible of adventure, a relic of expedition, and an unadulterated view into the “safari & travel” vision of Mel & Patricia Ziegler, founders of the long-abandoned (original) Banana Republic. 

Tara Sendelback of GPF in the Travel Books section of Banana Republic (March, 1988) – Photo by Richard Lee, Detroit Free Press.

The Zieglers, both retired journalists with the San Francisco Chronicle, hired their friends, established ink-slingers to write the magazine’s copy. It was clearly a labor of love.

Flip the pages, and the articles will transport you in search of the soul of Hawaii with National Geographic journalist Marguerite Del Giudice; hurl you into Apartheid-era South Africa with Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, and Esquire writer Mark Jacobson; bike alongside His Majesty, the King of Tonga with screenwriter, actor and novelist Charlie Haas; and Ride to the Back of Beyond (of Australia) with photographs by Hakan Ludwigsson and text by Newsweek’s Tony Clifton.

Mel Ziegler, Banana Republic founder and editor-in-chief of TRIPS magazine on a trip to Burma (in 1988). Photo credit: Patricia Ziegler.

The magazine was likely the first to introduce The Thorn Tree Forum into print, an idea picked up and popularized by Lonely Planet eight years later in 1996.  “…It was, effectively, Kenya’s first postal system,” explains the Zieglers, referring to an old thorn tree in the courtyard of the New Stanley Hotel in Nairobi where travelers used to pin their urgent, cryptic messages. “We borrowed the name for this column. Items will be culled from letters, news clippings, documents, anything concise and interesting that crosses our desk. Travelers’ tales, tips, observations, complaints, and cultural artifacts are welcome.”  

To get the oddball rolling, first-hand travel tips from veteran travelers were offered – from “How to turn a golf ball into a drain plug for overseas bathtub,” to “Create a travel journal as you go: Mail postcards to yourself!”

I love them all – the sketches, the travelogues, the photos, the irony, the off-the-beaten-track discoveries. One of my favorite travel tales, penned by Sports Illustrated/human interest writer Gary Smith, whisks the reader onto a Portugal-bound train chockablock with banana and fish smugglers.

Patricia Ziegler, Banana Republic’s founder, on camelback in the Australian Outback (in 1988). Photo Credit: Mel Ziegler.

I’ve hiked with TRIPS across Tigray, Ethiopia, adventured with it into the dusty dorps of the Klein and Groot Karoo of Southern Africa, listened to the call to prayer through wooden shutters with it in Islamic West Luxor, and gotten lost with it in the back alleys of Bangkok, Hong Kong and Taipei — some of the places I’ve called home. These days, I find myself canoeing with this tried and trusty and true companion across America, most days carefully stowed away in my dry bags, and on days like today, taken out to peruse and inspire.

After all this time, the magazine remains a jolt to the system. It hurls one back to a now-bygone era when travel was fun – to the late 1980s, to be precise, before Banana Republic was taken over by the Gap – when the company had a climate desk “so that no matter which way the wind blows, you’ll arrive becalmed,” along with a travel bookstore, “to attract the ambitious adventurer – with or without armchair.”

Neal Moore’s Two-Year Canoe Journey Across America and Into the Light

Fourteen months ago in Astoria, Oregon, Neal Moore shoved off in his 16-foot Old Town canoe, bound for the Statue of Liberty, some two years and 7,500 miles ahead. The 49-year-old had come home after nearly 30 years abroad to rediscover America and share the stories of its people in a style of journalism all his own, “slow and low down from the view of a canoe.” …

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