PIERRE, S.D. (Dakota News Now) – South Dakota has a special traveler passing through right now. If his journey is successful, he’ll become the first solo canoeist to pass through the country continuously from East Coast to West.
Neal Moore is a published author and former CNN contributor, who has traveled the world as a way to draw inspiration for his work.
“What I’m doing is connecting twenty-two rivers across twenty-two states that’s going to take roughly twenty-two months,” Moore said.
Moore has completed similar journeys down the Mississippi River and up the Columbia River. Despite all his travel, this is his first time ever in South Dakota.
“The rugged natural beauty, I’ve just found the sunsets and sunrises and just the storms that sweep across the river… are unbelievably beautiful… also potentially dangerous.”
Moore has been able to find refugee along his journey with people of similar interests. In addition, he has gotten a little advice.
“I’m his local meteorology guru for wind speed and direction, and other assorted facts about the river,” said Randy Birch, an avid water sports enthusiast.
If successful, Moore’s journey will end at one of America’s most famous landmarks.
“The end game is to come down the Hudson River, to New York City. I plan to circle around the Statue of Liberty, land at Liberty Park in New Jersey. The backdrop is going to be Lady Liberty, with Manhattan behind it.”
Moore has been in South Dakota for about two weeks after coming down from Bismarck, North Dakota. He will be in the state for about two more weeks if everything goes according to plan, and will exit out the Southeastern part of South Dakota going towards Omaha.
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In 1890, “a plucky young Texan” paddled his canoe from New York City to Astoria, Oregon. A staff correspondent for New York’s Mail and Express, R. Elbert Rappleye’s odyssey spanned 6,280 miles and was undoubtedly a first. What’s crazy to consider is that 130 years on, there isn’t a West Coast to East solo, continuous canoe expedition on record. It feels awe-inspiring to traverse the nation by canoe, to span the country with a journalistic eye, and with a bit of luck and success, to pull off a reverse record.
Having paddled and portaged up the Columbia, Snake, and Clark Fork Rivers, I’m currently in North Dakota at Tobacco Gardens Resort & Marina on Lake Sakakawea (on my second cross-country shot). I spent months to plot and plan out the unique cross-country route. It’s amazing, but without knowing about Mr. Rappleye until now, from the rivers and lakes of Idaho and Montana to Lake Chautauqua, Lake Erie, the Erie Canal, the Hudson, and even my final destination of New York City, I’ll be casting my eyes and scribbling in my notebook, from water level, along and upon a number of similar vistas and waterways.
Here is the original article about Rappleye’s voyage from 1891:
R. ELBERT RAPPLEYE, a plucky young Texan educated in New York, has just won the glory of making one of the longest trips on record in a small boat. He crossed the continent from New York to Astoria, Oregon, on the Pacific, a distance, over the necessarily circuitous route of more than 6,200 miles. The canoeist had necessarily to carry his light, but tough, paper craft, Only twelve miles during his protracted voyage. The length of the land voyage was, however, increased by the unnecessary transfer of his boat to Lake Chautauqua and by encountering ice in the Rocky mountains. He paddled down 150 miles of the Missoula river, in Montana, that, the settlers said, never had been successfully navigated before.
The canoeist launched his little boat from the Jersey City Yacht Club on April 10, 1890, and started up the Hudson river. He paddled from the Hudson through the Erie canal and into Lake Erie. It was his intention originally to go from Lake Erie by way of the Miami canal, which connects the lake with the Ohio River; but the citizens of Jamestown, N.Y., prevailed upon him to leave Lake Erie at the nearest point to Chautauqua lake, and transported him to Mayville, whence he was escorted to Jamestown by the Chadaukoin Canoe Club.
Everywhere he touched he was welcomed with enthusiasm and entertained and feasted. Word of his coming was flashed over the wires from town to town, and there were always many to meet him at the landing place. He passed through North and South Dakota, and, on August 30th, visited the camp of Sitting Bull. He reached the divide in the Rocky Mountains in October. Here he was the first necessary portage of the voyage. The battered canoe on which were written the names of hundreds who had helped to welcome the voyager at points along his course, was slid into the Hell Gate river at Missoula, in the presence of a thousand citizens, who cheered its departure for the western coast. The canoeist took a passenger at Missoula, the first in his long course, who was invaluable to him as a guide. He was Frank Whittaker, an old Leadville miner, who left him at Paradise, Montana, where he joined a survey party. He had the company of David W. Low, a young man and enthusiastic canoeist of Missoula, from the time he parted company with his first passenger until he reached Astoria.
A longer carry over the divide than would have been necessary in summer had to be made because of the ice in the mountain streams. To make a short portage he would have had to remain all winter in the mountains and start down the Hell Gate when nature broke the ice barriers in the spring. The voyager was not any too soon in reaching Missoula, as the water froze in his wake. When he came out of his tent in the morning to make breakfast, the coffee and water in his tin bucket was solid. Much of the rest of the journey was through snow storms, for the winter had set in earnest. From the Missoula Mr. Rappleye paddled into the Clark fork of the Columbia, and cruised thence into the Pend d’Oreille lake, in northern Idaho. Sliding down the outlet of the lake, the Pend d’Oreille river, the paddler floated into the Columbia river and down to Astoria, where he was joyously greeted by the expectant citizens, who had been reading about his journey for months. He mingled some of the Atlantic that he had taken with him with the Pacific.
Other canoeists who have made celebrated voyages in paper boats are Bishop and McGregor. The former went from Pittsburgh to New Orleans, a distance of 2,600 miles, in 1875; wrote a book about the trip, and had his canoe, the Maria Therese, exhibited at the Centennial Exposition in 1876. McGregor won fame by his cruises on the Baltic, the Jordan, the Nile and the lakes and rivers of Europe.
Mr. Rappleye has called attention, by his trip, to a geographical fact not popularly known – that, barring a few miles, there is an all water route from the Atlantic to the Pacific. He has probably seen more of the United States, and paid less for the privilege, than any man who has ever crossed the continent.
On an “adventure of a lifetime,” Neal Moore is making a 7,500-mile journey across the United States in a canoe connecting rivers from the West Coast to the East Coast.
Moore, 48, left Astoria, Oregon on Feb. 9 and has paddled up the Columbia, Snake and Clark Fork Rivers.
“It is a challenge, but anything in this life that is worthwhile is a challenge,” Moore said.
Moore continued his portage from the Clark Fork River to the Missouri River in a snowstorm Friday to the top of the Continental Divide on MacDonald Pass, a 1,200-foot elevation change that he called “a hell of a climb.” More than a foot of snow accumulated during the night as he camped under a tree.
On Saturday he descended into Helena where he will put into the Missouri River on his way to the Mississippi River and New Orleans. Next year he plans to paddle from New Orleans to Mobile, Alabama then navigate rivers north concluding the journey at the Statue of Liberty.
Moore said he is inspired by the late Dick Conant of Bozeman, an unrivaled long-distance paddler and Navy veteran who went on many grand canoe adventures. “We met on the upper Mississippi River and he planted in my mind that it is possible to connect the rivers across the nation.”
Conant vanished on his last adventure in 2014 on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway headed from the top of the Hudson River to Florida. His canoe was found by a duck hunter, but his body was never found and likely was swept out to sea.
“I looked into connecting rivers across the country when I learned of his death,” Moore said. “This trip is to pay homage to Dick Conant. Some of the route for this journey is what he covered from Mississippi, Alabama and north.”
An amiable man with a big smile, Moore is an explorer, author and journalist who said his trip is all about the stories of people he meets along the way, as well as the adventure.
“The idea for 2020-21 is to travel in a traditional style canoe to chronicle the story of America leading into the election and the year following with an emphasis on the thread that unites us — what it feels like, looks like and tastes like to be an American from Oregon to the Statue of Liberty,” Moore said.
“The first thoroughfares in this country were rivers, the first roads went along these rivers, the first settlements, towns and cities were built along these rivers,” Moore said. “The canoe pays homage to those people who came before us. It is a challenging mode of travel, but is doable. When in the canoe you are down low, inside of the river, nature is all around you in a rugged wilderness. I have a front row ticket to not only nature and adventure, but to the history of America and the stories of all these different people and their experiences.”
With the coronavirus pandemic, Moore said this trip is a self-imposed solitary confinement where he goes days with no human contact. On the Snake, Moore said he didn’t see a human for five days.
Camping wild is the best possible place to be during a pandemic, he said, and that’s why he camps on islands away from people. Because he doesn’t want to cause any COVID-19 problems for friends or acquaintances when he come into town, he wears a mask and practices personal distancing.
“I am not a reporter, but a journalist storyteller. With coronavirus, meeting people is more difficult. I love greasy spoons in small towns because that is where locals go and old-timers can be found telling stories over coffee. With the gradual opening of restaurants I look forward to meeting some of them … at a distance,’’ Moore said. “This is a difficult time for many people, Moore said, but where you find trial and tribulation with the coronavirus, we see people helping others, putting their shoulder to the wheel, rolling up their sleeves and coming together. When I walk the streets of a town, I get the feel of the pulse of the community, and have chance meetings with individuals, these stumble upon stories are always the best.”
A two-time cancer survivor, Moore grew up in Los Angeles and was inspired to become an explorer after reading adventure books. Having lived in Africa and Asia for many years and been on several solo explorations since 2003, he considers himself a citizen of the world.
Documented in his book “Down the Mississippi,” Moore said, “When not on an adventure, I dream. In 2008 I had an epiphany that the best adventure of my life would be in my own backyard — in my own country. That led to a 2009 canoe trip down the Mississippi River from its source to New Orleans.”
Two years ago, Moore attempted to canoe from Astoria to New Orleans, but rivers were at 100-year flood stage. On the St. Regis River he had a brush with death when his canoe capsized in the frigid water after it came in contact with a fallen cottonwood tree and he lost most of his gear. He was able to get to Missoula where he regrouped and then portaged from there to Helena pulling his canoe. He later stopped in North Dakota after more than 1,700 miles.
He spent the past two years living in Taiwan where he taught English to earn money to finance his adventure.
On April 23, when Moore first entered the Clark Fork River out of Lake Pend Oreille on the Idaho/Montana border, the water was flowing 5,000 cubic feet per second. He paddled until evening when a severe lightning storm was approaching and he made camp on a large island.
“I’d taken the canoe and other heavy gear at least 30 feet away from the water, up and onto the island, and made camp several hundred feet further away,’’ Moore said. “Come first light, the water had risen significantly and strong, deep currents had replaced the rocks where the canoe had been the night before. They were all gone.”
Moore said that during the night Avista Power released water from the Noxon dam and water was flowing at 30,000 cfs. He notified the sheriff he was okay and Avista employees in a jet boat recovered the canoe that had overturned and most of the equipment that had floated downstream.
After portaging past the dam, Moore put into the Clark Fork River.
“I’ve been dreaming about paddling (the Clark Fork) for many years. It’s magnificent and wild, and incredibly beautiful,” Moore said.
Neal Moore says he couldn’t live with himself if he didn’t try again.
Moore, 48, made his way over the Continental Divide near Helena on Saturday toting a canoe filled with his belongings. The two-day trek over MacDonald Pass amid a mid-May winter blast and grizzly bear encounter comes nearly three months after he started his journey from the West Coast – a 7,500-mile adventure he hopes will culminate two years from now when he paddles around the Statue of Liberty in New York.
“I had been a traveler for most of my life,” he said. “When you start traveling internationally, you meet other travelers, and the question is always, ‘What’s next?’
Moore is originally from Los Angeles, but has lived overseas in Africa and Taiwan for decades. He considers himself somewhat of a “citizen of the world,” enjoying returning to his home country to document his adventures as a freelance journalist.
“It happens to be two things I’m good at,” he joked. “I’m not good at a lot of things but I can go long distances in a canoe and I can story tell. The actual physical nature, day-in-day-out nature of it, mixed with the chance to stumble upon stories is sort of challenging, it’s fun and it’s a real adventure.”
It was on the Mississippi that he befriended fellow paddler Dick Conant of Bozeman. Conant spent years paddling across the country in his canoe and offered invaluable advice.
“When I started out on the Mississippi River like a lot of other long distance paddlers, I was going as fast as I possibly could,” Moore said. “What Dick taught me was to slow down, it’s not a race and to just enjoy the journey and learn the history of the places you’re passing by.”
Moore’s 22 Rivers project is the second attempt at his latest adventure. He paddled up the Columbia and Snake rivers, portaged for about 100 miles, and after crossing the Divide will launch on the Missouri River in a few days. He plans to float the length of the Missouri and Mississippi to New Orleans where he will then connect rivers north to New York and his ultimate goal of the Statue of Liberty.
Moore suspended his first voyage two years ago after paddling and portaging more than 1,700 miles from Oregon to North Dakota. That trip included a potentially life threatening crash on the St. Regis River when a snag caused his canoe to tip and belongings to scatter.
Moore felt he must return to attempt the trip again but debated whether to begin where he left off or depart again from the West Coast. The ability to link the rivers together in one journey proved to be the deciding factor.
“I don’t think I could’ve lived with myself if I didn’t try it again. To start over again, and I had friends argue it both ways of whether to continue where I left off or to try again,” from the West Coast,” he said. “It came down to my own thinking and this crazy dream route. The route I selected, it had the chance to be continuous.”
Moore holds a degree in English literature – he teaches English in Taiwan – and also learned about filmmaking while at the University of Utah. He shoots videos, writes and photographs his adventures on the website www.22rivers.com and Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/riverjournalist/.
“It’s sort of a personal project and it’s something that might get picked up by news agencies or not, it might result in a book, but I’m not doing it for that reason,” he said.
“The actual thinking is to touch America, to try to come across to see it firsthand and experience the rawness and the transformation.”
As with nearly all aspects of life these days, the COVID-19 pandemic has proven a powerful influence on Moore’s project. Many campgrounds are closed and “river angels” who offer assistance to long distance paddlers have had to alter the help they can provide.
The river itself offers a sort of “solitary confinement” that lends itself well to traveling during the pandemic. Where he has stopped to see friends, he has distanced himself by camping in a garage or travel trailer and staying out of homes.
For Moore, COVID-19 is now part of the story he hopes to tell.
“My thinking now is it’s actually still possible to chronicle stories,” he said. “You meet up with people who are really interesting characters and have something to say. The thinking now is to have this time and to underscore what’s working with what people are facing with the virus as well as the economic fallout.”
While he understands the hardship many currently face, Moore also hopes to find inspiring stories.
“The whole thing with journalism is that it’s positive journalism as well … to find and highlight the American collective of what’s working and to find and highlight these unique and interesting characters,” he said.
Journalist and voyager Neal Moore is used to the strange looks and skeptical questions when he tells people he is paddling the Columbia River on the first stage of a solo canoe expedition overland to New York City.
“Why would you want to go to New York City?” a Montana rancher once disbelievingly asked Moore. In Hood River this week, he got similar reactions.
“I tell people, it’s not New York City itself — that’s the destination, It’s what I find along the way. I’m on the lookout for stories that connect and unite us, not divide us,” said Moore, who embarked aboard his fully-laden 16-foot canoe from Astoria on Feb. 9.
Moore chronicles his adventure on 22Rivers.com — a reference to the number of rivers he plans to follow, along with some overland portaging, to reach Astoria, Queens, New York in about two years. Moore said his timeline is open-ended, due to encounters with weather and water conditions he must prepare for, and the range of human contact he relishes.
With “22 Rivers, 22 States and 7,500 Miles Across America By Canoe,” Moore was en route east this week from Hood River after spending four days here. He planned stops in the Memaloose and The Dalles areas, and then to Rufus, where he will connect with friend Bud Herrera, a Umatilla tribal member who serves on the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission.
The new cross-country paddle is his second attempt; in April 2018 he traveled through Hood River and by autumn 2018 made it as far as North Dakota before his second boat and second set of portaging wheels gave out and he decided to regroup.
This year, he considered returning to the same location in the Dakotas and picking up where he left off, but preferred to do the entire route uninterrupted — more or less. Moore did break up his journey three weeks in by getting a ride from Cascade Locks back to Astoria in order to attend the annual Fisherpoets gathering there. He had friends reading at Fisherpoets, and learning about peoples’ lives and experiences on the river is part of Moore’s ongoing journey as a freelance journalist, film-maker and explorer.
“I know the recipe I found in Hood River County is that of collaboration and people trying to connect with each other, and in this part of the world, all up the Columbia, I’m finding that the salmon and all that it means is the central defining point,” Moore said.
He has also traveled the length of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers solo by canoe and has written extensively on the experiences, including the book “Down the Mississippi.”
Moore, 48, is a California native who has lived and worked in Cape Town and a total of about 16 years in Taipei, Taiwan, as a teacher and journalist. He returned to Taipei in autumn 2018.
Back on the Columbia and with 21 more rivers to touch, north and east, Moore plans to assemble new stories along the way, as well as circle back with people from Hood River County that he met and blogged about two years ago, including Gladys Rivera, who he met in 2018 and has since been appointed to Hood River City Council, the first Hispanic woman ever to serve on council.
Frequently asked if he plans a book or other compilation of his journey, Moore said he is open to the prospect but “I’m mainly in this for the experience.” He enjoys reconnecting with friends he made on the first third of the intended trans-continental route, and meeting new people and telling their stories.
His 22 Rivers route will take him to Trail, B.C. via the Columbia, and then south again via the Pend Oreille River, connecting later with the Missouri and Mississippi, then through a maze of southeast U.S. and Appalachian rivers back up through the Ohio River system, the Great Lakes, and down the Hudson — to Astoria, Queens.
When the Down the Mississippi author and adventurer Neal Moore set out for the second great expedition of his lifetime in February of 2020, he had no idea that his two-year, 7,500-mile documentarian trek by canoe would wind up navigating a nation mid-pandemic.
The original plan was to exercise slow journalism while covering the distance of twenty-two rivers and twenty-two states—from Astoria, Oregon to New York City—all in order to “come face to face with America’s soul.” “The idea was to go, from coast to coast, within two years—leading into the national elections and the aftermath thereof,” said Moore. “What I’m trying to do is to look for positive stories of what unites us as a country.”
And while the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated some logistical matters of Moore’s trip—and in many ways made it more solitary—he admits to the value of being in a position to document this particular America, this particular moment in history. “If anything, this has enhanced the storytelling,” he said. “It’s during hard times when people and families and communities really step up, and I’ve been able to witness a lot of that.”
After completing the first of three “Acts” mapping his path—a 1,111 mile upstream and uphill journey up the Columbia, Snake, and Fork rivers to MacDonald Pass in Montana, completed in ninety-seven days—Moore headed 3,249 miles down the Missouri and the Mississippi, pointing straight towards our own Big Easy. And in mid-December, so close to the end, he made a stop in the Red Stick. Over the course of five days, he made the obligatory stops: beers in a Spanish Town backyard, three meals at Poor Boy Lloyds, breakfast at Louie’s. And from his Hilton room downtown, he spent most evenings looking out at the river, which he’s come to know quite well. And as an outsider, he observed that Baton Rougeans know her too: “The residents of Baton Rouge have relationships, with this river and with nature, and with each other—neighbors in Spanish Town who are friends and actually know each other—you just don’t see that in lots of larger cities.”
Just before our press date, Moore told me this on his cell phone, windblown on an island in Old Man River and shooting for New Orleans, where he would complete Act II and spend the holidays, mostly alone. “But I’m very excited about it, this solitary experience of New Orleans,” he said. “I’ve learned that traveling solo, you’re open. You’re more open to observations, to potential new friendships, to stepping out of your comfort zone, seeing things from a unique perspective.”
(GREAT FALLS) Neal Moore is a writer and a freelance journalist, but he also gives himself the title of “explorer.”
From the Pacific Coast all the way to the Atlantic Coast, Neal is working his way across 22 rivers in 22 states, totaling 7,500 miles, both paddling and walking his canoe.
He has been an expatriate for years, spending time in both Asia and Africa. But he realized the greatest adventure of all might be in his own home country.
His goal for this trip is to see the different cultures that make up the United States and highlight who we are as Americans.
He started his journey in Astoria, Oregon, where he came up the Columbia River, up the Spokane River, to the Clark Fork River, then finally had to walk his canoe over the Continental Divide.
Now, he’s right here in Great Falls, where he will be going with the current on the Missouri River.
Neal says, “To come across the country in a natural way with nature all around you and then to be able to connect and listen to folks all across the country is just a really exciting idea.”
Neal previously canoed the Mississippi River in 2009 during the great recession and wrote a book of his travels. The book is called: Down the Mississippi. He will have a book reading in Fort Benton on Friday, July 13th at the Public Library from 3:30-5:00 PM.
Neal actually got the inspiration to do this trip from a gentleman from Bozeman that he met during his trip on the Mississippi in 2009. He taught Neal a lot of things, including slow down and enjoy the adventure. He taught him how to connect rivers on a journey, and if two rivers do not connect, you have land wheels on your canoe to haul it to the next water source.
WENATCHEE — Neal Moore has had many adventures living overseas on and off for about 25 years, but an idea came to him in 2009.
“I had this epiphany,” he recalled. “What if the greatest adventure of my life was in my own backyard, so to speak?”
So he paddled down the Mississippi River, ultimately producing 50 stories of how people were coming together and making it through the recession.
Now, the Los Angeles native is back in his canoe – this time, with an even bigger journey in mind. His trip as planned will span 22 waterways, 22 states and 7,500 miles.
The goal is to connect 100 stories from 100 cities and towns to tell the story of America.
From his start in Oregon, Moore arrived in Wenatchee on Friday. He had never been here before.
“You’ve got the wine country, you’ve got this arid landscape with this intensely beautiful river cutting through,” he said in an interview Saturday. “(Friday) I spent the whole day walking downtown, trying to get a feel for the place. I’m not sure exactly what’s going to happen with the story — or if there will be a story — but the people that I’m meeting are just incredible. People who are transplants but have been here for 20 years.”
He left Wenatchee on Monday and will travel to Idaho and Montana next.
Moore was out of the United States for the last six years, but he saw that everyone was paying attention to Washington, D.C., especially after the November 2016 presidential election.
“But then the second question mark that I’ve observed has been, what about the rest of America?” he said. “That’s where this journey comes into play. The idea is to come from the Pacific Coast to the Continental Divide to the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes to the Statue of Liberty. … My thinking is to sort of highlight who we are as Americans – what we look like, how we tick, how the American experiment ticks — and to show the very best of us.”
Some cities are part of Moore’s plan, but he’s also discovering places for stories as he travels. He’s gotten some recommendations on people to talk to from organizations like museums and chambers of commerce.
He said he doesn’t want to create a script or put a spin on a story, but rather to listen and document what he learns.
“It’s not about man against nature,” he said. “It’s not about X number of days to come across the country in record fashion. It’s more about the communities and the people. The highlight, for me, is not to turn the camera on myself so much, but to turn the camera on the communities and be able to highlight their stories.”
Moore mostly camps but sometimes stays with friends of friends.
He said he chose to canoe rather than drive to honor the country’s first peoples and first thoroughfares. It also allows him to take his time with the project, he added.
“With the paddling, combined with the journalism, you feel like you’ve earned these towns,” he said. “You’re paddling, sometimes for days and days, and the story ideas are swirling around in your mind. Then you step into a town, and you’re so excited to be there, and now you’re trying to pull off a story of international consequence. It’s a challenge on top of the physical challenge.”
In addition to writing, Moore takes still photographs and videos. His ultimate plan is to turn the stories into a book.
He expects to complete his journey by December 2019.
JOURNALIST Neal Moore at the Hood River marina with his Navarra canoe, shortly after his arrival in Hood River. Moore hit the Columbia River again April 9 and two days later it cracked during portage around The Dalles Dam. Moore found a new, stronger (and lighter by six pounds) canoe through a private seller in White Salmon and expected to continue his journey by Thursday.
Chance encounters can sometimes be life changing in grandiose or miniscule ways. You may not realize at the moment of the encounter, but years later, you may look back and say, “Hey, if I hadn’t responded to Kirby’s call and connected with Neal Moore, we may have missed the opportunity of having our youth featured in a story in the New Yorker, a documentary on CNN or a book detailing a canoe voyage across America.” The journey of 7,500 miles from sea to shining sea is described as a “voyage of discovery into the depths of America’s soul.” Moore’s desire is to tell the stories of the diverse communities he encounters along the way in an effort to “understand and celebrate individuals, families and communities rising above themselves.” What was to be a brief stop in Hood River turned into a week of discovery for Moore and the community.
I have always believed that building relationships is key to living life fully. I don’t believe in fate, but I do believe that if you are open to interacting and potentially forming a relationship with those you meet, your life will be enriched. Much can be learned about yourself, about those you meet and the way they perceive the surrounding environment.
Back to Kirby’s phone call. It came at a somewhat inopportune time. I was in the emergency room with my youngest granddaughter waiting for the doctor to come in and do an examination. She had exhibited some painful symptoms that morning at school which suggested appendicitis. Aya is a wisp of a second grader, who seldom complains about physical discomfort. She reminds me of a willow sapling, tall and slender, physically strong, swaying in the breeze, family roots and love grounding her. Seldom do tears well up from monkey bar blisters or brother’s inadvertent kicks or pokes. Insensitive remarks or inequitable treatment are another matter, turning on a fire hose of tears. All turned out well. No appendicitis or nasty flu bug detected. Rest and relaxation were the words from the wise doctor and we followed the orders precisely.
I visited with Kirby briefly, hearing tidbits about a man he hoped I would speak with, a man who had paddled upstream from Astoria on a journey of discovery. These tiny morsels of information intrigued me, and I said “Sure, have him give me a call.”
That afternoon Neal Moore gave me a call and I learned a little bit more of his journey. It would be 7,500 miles across American, from “sea to shining sea.” He would chronicle his journey and document through film, newspaper article and book the stories of small towns and big cities along the way. These were stories of hope and inspiration that underscored the spirit of our country and its remarkable diversity. I was all in at this point, and agreed to meet at the library the next morning, spending a day introducing him to the people and places that would showcase our community.
As I pulled up in front of the library, I could see a soggy young man standing on the steps in the pouring rain. My bad. The library didn’t open for another hour. We sought refuge in my home in Odell. Over several cups of coffee and a plate of chocolate chip cookies, we began a lengthy conversation about Hood River and the people who make this such a beautiful place to live.
Neal said he had enough stories to research that would take him through the weekend, but he hoped I could connect him with a place to stay and store his life possessions now packed in his canoe on the marina. I first offered my home, but thought better of it when I realized that the people he would need to talk to lived down the valley and transportation by canoe is limited in that respect. We pondered this transportation dilemma and agreed to meet later in the day after I went to my blood donation appointment. I was optimistic that I could find someone willing to house him for the next few days.
As I waited in line for my Rapid Pass review at the Red Cross station, I began texting folks living in town, and who are connected to activism, the theme Moore chose to highlight. Let me tell you, a lot of networking gets done at a blood drive. Like-minded people seem to extend their hands and hearts as well as their arms to give life to others. After a few “out of town” replies to my texts, who before my astonished eyes would appear, but an angel in fashionista clothing, Barbara Young. We chat. “Sounds interesting,” she says. “We have an RV in the driveway he could use. It would be better than the pouring rain camping on the rivers edge.” Relief. A warm place to stay and one of the connecting hubs of activism in our community. After a brief call to her husband Gary, Barb learns that they have plans the next three days.
I move behind the “veil of secrecy,” a curtain used by the Red Cross staff to review my health history. Suddenly I hear Barb’s sweet voice calling. “Hey Maija. I am waiting here with Paul Blackburn and he says he has a room.”
I am ushered to my donor bed and the needle is inserted, blood filling the bag rapidly. At the precise moment I finish, Paul plunks down on an adjacent gurney. I fill him in on a few details and the connections begin to fall into place. The Blackburn/Dillon household is full of activism and connections for our intrepid paddler.
The following days are a whirlwind of conversations with Gorge Ecumenical Ministries, Latinos in Accion, The Next Door, Somos Uno … From there, he is on to the individual activists’ stories, Vicky, Gracy, Adriana, Montserrat, and Cristina. Moore has to extend his time in Hood River another three days to make all these connections. He has just scratched the surface.
Moore’s story begins in a community where helping hands, hearts and arms are extended willingly and compassionately. It is the story of many generations who have met discrimination and adversity head on, inspiring a new generation of movers and shakers.
My story is the story behind the story; of the list of friends and acquaintances who began making the connections for Moore to meet our youth, our dreamers, our student activists. These students passionately believe that all lives matter, that our schools should be safe, that people of every age, gender, ethnicity, and faith should be respected. Their belief has been transformed into action, raising their voices, mobilizing their peers, proposing solutions to the problems plaguing our society.
I like the story behind the story that Neal Moore will tell. It is the story of our community at its finest moment, day in and day out.