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?
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
It was always going to be a schlep. While the odyssey’s contorted route – from west [the Pacific coast] to south [the Gulf of Mexico] to north [the Great Lakes] to east [Lady Liberty] – was selected to follow the seasons, to have the chance to be continuous, to make it so, there would inevitably be places where one would need to heave-ho. And the Erie Canal was invariably going to be one of those places.
I got word back in July of this year that the Erie Canal was going to shut down navigation early, on October the 13th. And so, I made the calculation – a barter with myself, and with this voyage – to paddle half of the 350-mile Erie Canal and to portage half.
A balance in all things.
So I had the pleasure to paddle between Buffalo and Syracuse, 170 miles. For the remaining 170 miles, from Syracuse to Waterford, New York – where the Mohawk meets the Hudson – I’d portage along the old Tow Path and the Bicycle Trail.
Which I thought was appropriate, being the spot where mules and horses once hauled barges of goods back and forth before and just after the advent of the nation’s first railroad, which ran and rattled along this very corridor.
Forty-three miles into the march, when I got to Rome, New York, the spot on the map where the first shovel full of earth was dug for the canal on July 4, 1817, the place is known as “The Oneida Carrying Place”.
One can trace the history of this ancient path back in time.
For centuries Indigenous Americans, traders, soldiers, and travelers have crossed over this very path. It is here that goods and ideas were exchanged.
As it turns out, the boats of the Oneida and the European fur traders who came after were flat bottomed, making it easier to lift, to drag and to roll underneath with logs.
In time, with my expedition wheels fastened firmly underneath my canoe and gear, I made the confluence of the Mohawk and the Hudson River. I here pitched my tent, to take in the beauty, to make peace with the final river to be, and to say fare thee well to my old friend, the Mohawk. And with her, my tenure along the Erie Canal.
This week’s episode of Inside Appalachia is all about how we interact with water and our rivers. We’ll hear from people who make their living on the water — like Marvin L. Wooten, a longtime river boat captain. He started working in the riverboat industry in 1979. “I got two job offers the same day, and I took this job,” Wooten said. “My dad always said the river will always be there. So that’s what I’ve chosen to make my living at.”
And we’ll meet Neal Moore, who’s been canoeing for 17 months, on a journey that will cover 7,500 miles coast to coast. Moore hopes to wrap up his 22-month-long trip this December at the Statue of Liberty in New York. Recently, he made his way into Appalachia. “For many days, I’m in the canoe from from first light until last light,” Moore told Inside Appalachia producer Roxy Todd on a recent stop along the Kanawha River in Charleston, West Virginia.
“I sort of have to find my landlubber legs when I when I step onto a dock like this at times. But for the most part, I actually feel pretty strong,” Moore said.
One year on the water and I find myself in New Orleans, the end of the second leg of my “22 Rivers Expedition” across these United States. It’s been a wild year for one and all, and for me, there’s been no exception. Weeks into my cross country paddle the Covid-19 pandemic hit. After discussing with trusted friends and colleagues, I determined that with the canoe as my only home, sheltering in place meant continuing the journey. New Orleans represents 4,400 river and portage miles behind me, leaving another 3,100 to go next year to make NYC. Cheers for everybody’s encouragement, friendship, and support. It absolutely means the world.
A man canoeing the nation’s rivers from the Pacific to the Atlantic wants to share a story about how interconnected both they and the Americans living and working on them are.
Neal Moore, 48, expects to be midway through his 7,500-mile journey this week when he reaches Memphis, Tenn. He saved money from a year and a half of teaching English in Taiwan to afford his two-year journey, which he purposely planned for the year before and the year after the election for the American president.
Moore was raised in Los Angeles, Calif., but he has lived much of his adult life overseas. He spent time as a missionary in South Africa, as an aid worker and, among other adventures, trekked across northern Ethiopia with a donkey named Gopher. Eleven years ago, he canoed down the Mississippi River, and it left an impression on him. Now he is expanding upon that voyage by solo canoeing 22 rivers in what he said is believed to be the longest continuous solo canoe trip ever undertaken from coast to coast across the United States.
“The idea is to come back to my home country and see it up close and personal and coast to coast, to see old friends and meet new friends along the way,” Moore said.
Moore left the West Coast, paddling up the Columbia River and past Portland, Ore., on February 9. He is in a red, 16-foot Old Town Penobscot canoe. He hopes to canoe around Ellis Island in New York Harbor to complete his journey by the end of 2021.
Moore picked the year before and after the election as a time to travel in part because of the deep political divisions in the country. At a time others are focusing on differences, he said he hopes to shed light on what brings people together, instead.
“It’s the ties that bind us together,” Moore said. “It’s looking at what we have in common.”
Part of the journey travels the same rivers explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark traveled on their Corps of Discovery expedition, although Moore notes he is doing so in reverse, in part to avoid the onerous task of paddling up the Missouri River.
“The big idea as I’m on, along and in these rivers is to be able to try to document stories and talk to people from all walks of life, different ethnicities, different immigrant tales, the idea being when you string all these rivers, when you string all of these stories together, you’ll have the story of America.”
Moore is recording the stories of many of the people he meets on the trip and compiling them into a book. People may follow his journey and donate at 22rivers.com as well as purchase books on past adventures, which help fund future ones. He is also documenting his trip on Instagram at @riverjournalist.
Moore’s route so far took him from the Columbia River to the Snake River. He then portaged 200 miles due north to Lake Pend Oreille in northern Idaho, where he caught the mouth of the Clark Fork River and went up past Missoula to the town of Garrison in western Montana. From there he portaged 60 miles over the Continental Divide to Helena and the Missouri River. He came down the Missouri to the Mississippi, pausing to paddle upriver 116 miles to Hannibal, Mo., hometown of Mark Twain. He paddled to the confluence of the Ohio River, then took another detour, paddling 50 miles upstream to Paducah, KY.
“I was just really keen to get a taste of the Ohio River and also to see the mouth of the Tennessee since I’ll be on the Ohio and the Tennessee next year,” Moore said.
Moore then paddled back down the Ohio to the Mississippi and is traveling downstream. When he reaches the Gulf of Mexico, he will then skirt it 150 miles to Mobile, Ala., before taking the Mobile and Tombigbee rivers, the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and the Tennessee River, eventually catching the New River near Knoxville, Tenn., and then the Cumberland River. From there, he said, he will take the Dix River and then the Kentucky River through Frankfort before dumping out into the Ohio River just downriver from Cincinnati, Ohio.
Moore will then paddle up the Ohio River to Pittsburgh, Pa. He plans to take a side tour on the Kanawha River to see West Virginia because he has never been there.
“What I’m really excited about are parts of the country I haven’t been to before,” Moore said.
He will return to Pittsburgh and then catch the Allegheny to upstate New York, and at Chautauqua Lake will portage on a road named Old Portage Road about 10 miles. He plans to skirt the edge of Lake Erie to just above Buffalo. From there the Erie Canal will turn into the Mohawk, which dumps into the Hudson River around Albany, N.Y.
“Then I’ll ride the Hudson right on down to New York City,” he said. “The end game will be the Statue of Liberty. You can’t land there, but you can paddle around there.”
Moore said unlike 11 years ago, he is equipped with a marine radio, which should help with communicating with towing vessels and other boats. He promises to do all he can to stay out of the way of passing tows and doesn’t normally canoe at night, spending most nights in his tent, usually on a nearby island or sand bar.
Although he is on a very different trip than that taken by others up and down the country’s rivers, Moore said once again there is something that connects him to many of the others who choose to spend their time on them.
“Coming from Los Angeles and then based in a place like Taipei, it just really feels liberating,” he said. “It feels great to be out in the wild, whether it’s the extreme highlands or lowlands of Ethiopia or whether it’s in and along these major rivers, which by and large are extremely rural. It’s an exciting feeling to be out there surrounded by nature.”
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.
Up against the current of the Columbia, Snake, and Clark Fork Rivers, I’ve slowly but surely fought my way uphill. This past week, I’ve portaged my canoe and gear up and over U.S. Route 12 of the Continental Divide to an elevation of 6,312 feet – encountering an all-day, mid-May snow blast and up top, a migratory grizzly bear – who waltzed on past and paid me no heed.
Today is day 104 of the expedition, I’m safely down the mountain, and as I sit and sip an ice-cold Blackfoot IPA (courtesy of local vets Matt and Mike – cheers, gents!) at “Lakeside on Hauser” bar and restaurant, I’ve at long last got the Missouri River in sight. Lake Hauser is an intensely beautiful place in the world, and come tomorrow, I’ll put into the Missouri River, to experience the pleasure of paddling with the current.
In Helena, friend Norm Miller, founder of the Missouri River Paddlers’ group, shot a two-part, thirty-minute expedition interview which you can see here:
And so, I paddle forth. Onto the Missouri and later this year, on down to the Mississippi, where I hope to make a turn for Hannibal, before heading downriver to the Gulf and the promise of adventures, characters extraordinaire, and La Nouvelle-Orléans.