A radio conversation with veteran journalist Dennis Webster, WJTN, myself, and the venerable Maggie, on the banks of Lake Chautauqua, Maple Springs, New York.
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 TARA BARNWELL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Talk about huge goals and going after them … meet Neal Moore.
He’s an explorer. He’s an adventurer. He’s an athlete. He’s a journalist and a teacher. He wants to get the story right.
Dubbed “a modern-day Huck Finn” by CNN, Moore is on an adventure of a lifetime.
“I started canoeing from Astoria, Oregon on the Pacific Coast, across our country, down south to Louisiana,” Moore said. “My final destination is Lady Liberty in New York City.”
“My big idea is not only to explore how the rivers and waterways connect but how we, as Americans, connect,” he said. “I’m looking for the ingredients of the American experience.”
That’s a lot of water miles; 7,500 to be exact. Twenty-two rivers and 22 states, all in 22 months. Quite a goal.
“I’ve always been interested in historical communities, those that are rich in history. Plus, I’m a big baseball fan. Cooperstown fit nicely into my schedule,” he said. “I actually hiked here from Little Falls; I left my canoe there and will return for it to continue my journey. I could have gotten a ride here, but I felt like walking here honors this community. I had the chance to step into the rhyme and reason of the village.”
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Moore spent his summers in Hawaii and England.
“My only brother died when I was young, and my parents didn’t want me to grow up without other children around,” Moore said. “We had relatives in Hawaii and England, and I would spend my summers there. I think that’s where my taste for travel and adventure started”.
“I’m an explorer at heart, but my profession is journalism and I teach English in Taiwan,” he said. “I saved money for a year and a half for this trip. I also deal in old relics, photos and books that sell at auction. That helps pay the bills.”
Although Moore was an Eagle Scout, he only completed half of his canoe badge at 12 years old and didn’t get back into a canoe until he was 38.
“I really wasn’t thinking about canoeing at all, but my friend had a dream to canoe up the Amazon River,” he said. “We made a plan to do it together. He ended up backing out but I decided to canoe solo down the Mississippi. That got me back into a canoe.”
His current cross-country canoe journey is a tough trip.
“It’s physically demanding — and mentally demanding as well,” he said.
He’s had some interesting encounters with wild animals. The most memorable was an encounter in the middle of Montana with a grizzly bear.
[And then there was the giant gator down in Louisiana. “I didn’t see the alligator at first,”] he recalled. “When I did, I froze, then I started clapping my hands. He [kept on coming, so I shined my bright diving light, and he] ended up walking away. He had no interest in me.”
A bull shark in Biloxi, Mississippi, did a “bump and bite” on his canoe.
“The shark hit my canoe hard three times, thankfully he wasn’t interested in me either!” he said.
Moore appears accustomed to taking care of things on his own terms.
“My folks cut me off financially after college,” he said. “The good part about that was that every success was mine, but then every failure was mine as well. It gave me confidence in life, I have very few fears. This trip has taught me a lot.”
Moore’s end game is paddling down the Hudson and ending up at the Statue of Liberty on Tuesday, December 14. “The final hurrah and paddle around Lady Liberty will be great. A number of paddlers I’ve met along the way and various NYC-based canoe and kayak clubs will greet me and paddle with me. Then we’ll celebrate in Midtown Manhattan.”
“The Beacon Hand of the Statue of Liberty is extended to all of us. I will earn and have an understanding of what liberty means, not only for this country but for the world at large,” Moore said. “This journey isn’t about me, its about a perfect blend between nature, wilderness and community.”
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.
With Mark Wenzler
You never know who will show up on Chautauqua’s shores, any time of year! Today we’re excited to profile Athenaeum Hotel guest Neal Moore, who is taking brief respite at Chautauqua as he prepares for the tail end of a 7,500-mile canoe trip from coastal Oregon to New York City. Neal’s Chautauqua stop is part of his trip *from* New Orleans — yes, upstream — via the Mississippi, Ohio, Allegheny, Chadakoin and Chautauqua Lake. Chautauqua Climate Change Initiative Director Mark Wenzler, himself a veteran of long-distance solo trips under one’s own power (see his bike trip from Washington, D.C., to Chautauqua in June) spoke to Neal this afternoon about the purpose and findings of his unique two-year voyage.
Read more about Neal’s trip here: https://22rivers.com/
See a map of his nation-spanning route here: https://bit.ly/3fhvOyI
You also might notice some similarities between Neal’s story and our upcoming #CHQ2022 week on “The Wild: Reconnecting with Our Natural World.” Join us next summer! Details are here: http://2022.chq.org/
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
By Sebastian Foltz
Some of us dream about packing up and hitting the road.
Maybe it’s a fantasy about buying a camper and driving the blue highways.
Maybe it’s quitting a job and moving West, dropping everything.
Few of us get to do it. Neal Moore, 49, did.
In some ways, the Los Angeles-born expatriate has been doing it his entire adult life — mostly living abroad in South Africa and Taiwan since age 19. All that time abroad contributed in part to a desire to reconnect with his home country and explore it from coast to coast.
“I’ve always been a fan of the road books,” Moore said, describing some of his inspiration during a phone interview from somewhere between Pittsburgh and East Brady.
You could say he’s doing it backward, going from West to East. You could say he’s doing it in an unconventional way. But he might argue he’s doing it in the most traditional way possible, by canoe.
“I like the idea of the canoe being the first mode of transport,” he said. “The rivers are the country’s first thoroughfare. I thought, what if I did it the wrong way and approached the Statue of Liberty?”
When he’s finished, Moore, will have paddled roughly 7,500 miles from Astoria, Ore., up the Columbia River, down to New Orleans on the Mississippi and up to New York City, including the Ohio and Allegheny rivers and the Erie Canal.
From start to finish, he will have navigated 22 rivers through 22 states. He’s already covered about 6,600 miles.
He hopes to complete his journey in December.
Started in 2020
He started on the Columbia River in February 2020, just prior to the onset of the pandemic in the United States.
“I left Oregon the day it shut down,” he recalls of crossing into Idaho, describing his shelter-in-place as “sheltering-in-canoe.”
The Eagle first caught up with Moore on Aug. 31, as he set out from the boat launch under the Roberto Clemente Bridge in Pittsburgh. A car pulled up to PNC Park with his canoe in tow. Trish Howison, his Pittsburgh host or “river angel,” helped him unload and launch. Then she joined him in her kayak for a portion as he headed up the Allegheny toward the fringes of Butler County.
That’s how it’s worked for Moore. He’s camped, he’s stayed with friends and people he’s met along the way. Sometimes it’s just people who have followed his story and offered to help. Sometimes it includes a cold beer.
Book in works
Finishing at the Statue of Liberty ties into his larger narrative. Moore plans to write a book about his experiences, not just his own, but also those of whom he meets along the way.
He undertook a similar adventure in 2009: canoeing the Mississippi during the financial crisis. A boater that he crossed paths with on that trip sparked the idea to tie in multiple rivers on a larger tour.
Moore said he thinks doing the cross-country trip by water also is a good way to interact with more people along the way.
Watching American news coverage from abroad during the Trump administration inspired him to take on this more-ambitious expedition.
“As a journalist, I was looking at it from the outside,” he said. “I could see the bitterness and that it was getting worse.”
His first attempt at the cross-country paddle was cut short in 2018. Flooding in much of the Northwest — along with a life-threatening capsizing in frigid water in Montana — slowed his travels, so much so that he would not have made his target had he continued.
Rather than pick up where he left off, Moore decided to start over, this time in an election year and, as he would quickly discover, a growing pandemic.
‘What unites us’
“I wanted to drop my preconceived notions about people and party, and listen,” Moore said. “We all know what divides us. I wanted to look at what unites us.”
For the most part, he said he has found that the country is greater than the headlines.
“You find good, honest people who are trying to make things better,” he said of the majority of his interactions. “I found incredible people.”
And the pandemic has only added to his story telling.
“In hard times is when we look out for our neighbors. Friends and community become family.”
But he’s also seen a slice of the nation’s ugliness. Since his 2009 trip down the Mississippi and even his first cross-country attempt in 2018, he said he’s seen the drug culture in homeless camps and other areas increase significantly.
A different person
Camped near a church in Idaho, he heard two addicts threatening to kill each other and the local minister. One demanded Moore exit his tent. The next morning he saw one of the men in a diner and he was a different person, even offering use of his home.
He also has been shouted at.
“I’ve been yelled at. It’s rare,” he said. “People get so worked up over their political identity that they see opposing views as un-American.”
But he said the majority of his experiences have been extremely positive.
“By and large, people are good-natured,” Moore said. “The reality is people have a love of family, community and they absolutely have a love of country. My hope is that those can supersede our division with politics.”
After delays from Tropical Storm Ida, Moore reached East Brady on Monday evening, Sept. 6. He plans to continue up the Allegheny toward Franklin and Oil City this week.
PITTSBURGH, SC, UNITED STATES
Story by 1st Sgt. Michel Sauret
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.