Neal Moore has now been canoeing his way across America for an entire year. The 49-year-old freelance journalist first dipped his paddle into the Columbia River in Oregon on February 9, 2020, to begin the long journey to New York. The 12,000km route encompasses 22 rivers and 22 states.
His initial idea was to make this an exercise in slow journalism: For two years, he wanted to “come face to face with America’s soul” throughout the national election and find “positive stories of what unites us”.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 put a swift end to that and other aspects of the trip that he had envisaged. Various friends were to join him for sections of the route. That has fallen through, making it a much more solitary trip and a chance to document a unique moment in history.
As the pandemic spread, he continued to make his simple way up and down America’s rivers. “The journey itself—the canoe and my tent and all of my gear—became my home,” he said in a recent interview.
He has completed the first two parts of his three-part journey. The first section, which he called To the Great Divide, ran 1,800km up the Columbia, Snake, and Fork Rivers to the Continental Divide.
For the second section, dubbed To the Big Easy, he canoed 5,200km along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans. He has now begun the final 5,000km section, To Lady Liberty.
He hit the one-year mark while on the Gulf Coast waiting for the winds to die down so he could continue making his way north.
Among the many challenges since he set out: becoming trapped in a cove during a gale on the Columbia River, where mounting waves smashed his canoe against the rocks; on the Snake River, a powerful wind pushed him against the riverbank and sloshed water over the gunwale. More water poured into his open canoe as quickly as he could bail it out. Luckily, the winds changed.
The canoeing has been unexpectedly hard on his legs. Though his arms and back were “well-tested and honed” even back when he began, his legs were not accustomed to such long trips. For over a year, they have strained to keep him properly seated against the waves, winds, and current. “This journey is a perpetual all-body workout,” he said. He says that by the time he hits New York, he will be in the best shape of his life.
You can follow the remainder of his journey on Instagram.