‘Up the Columbia,’ and beyond: Paddler Neal Moore returns to the rivers on 22-state cross-country trek

Hood River News

By Kirby Neumann-Rea

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Paddler Neal Moore loads up his gear at Port of Hood River on Monday morning, with plans to spend another week in the Mid-Columbia before taking the Columbia east and north to Canada. 

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.

Introducing 22 RIVERS: traveling from Oregon to New York via canoe

Hi, my name is Neal, and in these polarized times, I’m going to re-attempt to paddle from sea to shining sea, taking journalism slow and low down from the view of a canoe, to listen, curate, and re-discover the threads that bind Americans together.

The re-launch will take place this Sunday, February 9th, 2020 along the storied banks of the Columbia River at Astoria, Oregon. And the journey to New York – encompassing 22 rivers, 22 states, and 7,500 miles – will take two years.

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My 7,500-mile canoe route across America from Astoria, Oregon to New York City.

You can view an interactive version of the above map complete with 100 story-stop towns and cities pinpointed along the way here.

So why not come along for the ride? You can follow the journey on Instagram and if you so desire, sign up for and receive my personal newsletters via Substack as I progress across America.

Together, we’ll go behind the stereotypes and observe and absorb and questionTo take up the fight for the sacred Columbia River salmon, step in stride with an ex-offender upon release from the big house, and crouch down low with a hobo on the tracks, train in sight, that whistle bell a’blowin’.

To come face to face with America’s soul.

 

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“A modern-day Huck Finn” — CNN

 

I have previously paddled the length of the Mississippi River from the headwaters at Lake Itasca to New Orleans, resulting in the publication of Down the Mississippi: A Modern-day Huck on America’s River Road by the Mark Twain Museum Press. Armed with a gaggle of cameras and an Old Town canoe, I traversed America’s mightiest river while sourcing, capturing, and dispatching 50 “Human Face of the Great Recession” stories from the epicenter of the United States.

The route 

In 2018, I attempted a similar sojourn, making it from Astoria, Oregon on the Pacific to Lake Sakakawea on the Missouri River, North Dakota – about 1,800 miles in total.

This time around, from early 2020 until New Year’s Day, 2022, I intend to go the distance in a continuous storytelling expedition from Astoria, Oregon, to New York City.

Part One: To the Great Divide: We’re heading for the Continental Divide (yet again) during a time when our nation is truly divided. It’s up the Columbia all the way to British Columbia, up the Pend Oreille, and the Clark Fork to MacDonald Pass in Montana – all upstream and uphill, 1,111 miles. It’s going to be a struggle, but I hope to do it 5 months.

Part Two: To the Big Easy: It’s likely to take at least a week to haul that canoe (plus 300 pounds of gear) over the Continental Divide for 55 miles, but it’ll be worth it to get to Helena, to get back in the water again. Once there, it’s 3,249 river miles down the Missouri and the Mississippi, dodging acres of barges, 1,000 foot tankers, swirling eddies, and the Chain of Rocks to the French Quarter, New Orleans. I believe I can do this stretch in 8 months, partly because I can’t wait to get back to the Preservation Jazz Club in New Orleans.

Part Three: To Lady Liberty: It’s a long, tortuous route of 3,127 river and portage miles to Lady Liberty at the edge of the Atlantic, which I reckon will take 12 months. We’ve got to skirt the Gulf Coast in open, often treacherous water, paddle up the Mobile, Tombigbee, Tombigbee-Tennessee and Tennessee rivers, down the New River, the Cumberland, the Dix and the Kentucky rivers. Up the Ohio, up and down the Kanawha, and up the Allegheny rivers. From Lake Chautauqua, it’ll be uphill and downhill for days over Portage Road to Lake Erie. Then from Buffalo, it’s the Erie Canal, the Mohawk, and down the Hudson to see and know what has always made America great[!] 

More than ever, we need to highlight, understand, and celebrate America’s incredible diversity, to tap into her collective experience.

So, let’s get to it – roll up our sleeves, get our feet wet, and in the spirit of Mark Twain, Light out for the territory.

 

A Glimpse of America’s Soul

“Modern Day Huck Finn” Neal Moore stops in Louisiana

BY JORDAN LAHAYE FONTENOT

COUNTRY ROADS MAGAZINE

Photo by Adam Elliott

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.” 

Keep up with Moore’s journey at 22rivers.com or follow him on Instagram at @riverjournalist

2nd Place at Lawdog’s Gopher Hunt

By Neal Moore

ELLISTON, MT — I entered the half-empty bar and ordered a Bud in a bottle. There were a number of Bigfoot posters inside and when I gestured at them with my thumb the barkeep said something about an annual Bigfoot hunt and how it attracted folklorists from several counties.

A full color banner of the illusive Sasquatch was staring me down with the caption, Reigning Hide and Seek World Champion. It was all a bit weird, and the day was just too pretty, so I stepped back outside to take in the vista.

Across from U.S. 12 was a set of railroad tracks and a series of undulating green mountains that stretched right up to the Continental Divide, each dotted with larkspur and Douglas firs and lodgepole pines. There were huge rolling clouds and a bright blue sky and a succession-play of light and shadows as the clouds scuttled by along the road.

I was in Big Sky country.

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Photo by Neal Moore. Inside the Lawdog’s Saloon, home of an annual “Bigfoot” and “Gopher” hunt for the past couple decades.

Here in the parking lot was a lineup of Harley Davidsons, American flags, 4×4 ATVs and just up from where I stood, a glistening “Lawdog’s Saloon” commercial sign with a bulldog and placard lettering that spelled out Gopher Hunt.

I was wondering what that could be about when, as if on cue, a slew of laughing kids arrived. Their pickups skidded to a halt and swaggering through the dust kicked up from the road they emerged with gopher tails in hand, hauling them in through the front swinging saloon doors by the armful, in great heaps up and onto the bar.

I came back inside and in time asked one of the lads about his haul.

“Hunting is who I am,”18-year-old Cameron Johnson told me. The kid was big on smiles but you could tell that he meant it, that he meant more than the pursuit of gopher.

Cameron was soon joined by friends Bridger and Tristan. An inseparable trio — you can tell when boys complete each other’s sentences — I would soon learn had taken second place.

I asked if we could step outside for an interview, if they could tell me what the hell a gopher hunt was?

“We come to the bar to sign up,” started Cameron. “And shoot gophers all day long until five and then…”

“…Make sure you cut the tails off…” added Bridger.

“…And then, yeah, you gotta cut the tails off – that’s how they get the count,” completed Tristan.

But the boys readily admitted they’d been late on the draw.

Cameron shrugged when they brought this up. “Well, we got here at twelve and it started at eight.”

“In the morning,” said Tristan.

“Yeah, eight in the morning,” continued Cameron. “So, we were a little bit behind, but we still got second.”

I had already overheard them. The boys had won $50 plus the promotional Coors and SKYY shirts they were now wearing.  But I asked them anyway.  “How many did you shoot? Did I hear fifty?”

“Yeah,” confirmed Cameron. “We shot fifty.”

“And then you bring the tails back, onto the bar?”

“Yeah, you bring them back,” continued Cameron. “And Mike, the owner, counts them. And he tells you what kind of place you get.”

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Photo by Neal Moore. The Lawdog’s Saloon commercial sign lights up in the parking lot in preparation for a night of drinking and singing and counting gopher tails.

“So, fifty gophers – 2nd place.  Do you think if you’d have been here on time, you could have got 1st?”

All three nodded.

“Yeah, we would’ve,” settled Cameron.  “’Cause he dropped his gun on a rock, too.”

Cameron and Tristan motioned to Bridger.

As if to explain, Bridger said, “Yeah, that’s what happens.”

“He knocked his scope off,” reported Tristan. “So, we had to – it was pretty much two shooters there.”

By this time, I was desensitized to the wholesale slaughter of the local gopher population, weighing it out in my mind that here in Montana, this must be a rite of Spring. And I found myself feeling bad for the kid with the wispy beard and the aw-shucks grin. So I tried to shift the blame to the weather.

“I overheard somebody talk about the tall grass. That we’d had a lot of rain here. Tall grass,” I motioned with my hands to Bridger, demonstrating growing grass. “That interfered with the gopher hunting, right?”

“Oh yeah, definitely.”

“You couldn’t really see them too much,” said Cameron. “They ain’t much taller than the grass, so.”

“Yeah, you’re out in the field tryin’ to kill gopher, and they’re layin’ in the grass after you kill them, and you can’t see them.”

“What do you shoot gophers with?”

“Me and Tristan here, we’re shootin’ .17s and Bridger’s shootin’ a .22.”

I nodded as if I concurred, as if I knew exactly what they were talking about.

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Photo by Neal Moore. An unused entry form for the Annual Gopher Hunt, a tradition in these parts stretching years back — although this is a first for Mike Jacobson, the newly minted owner of the Lawdog’s, soon to be renamed the Spotted Dog Saloon.

“Okay – lessons learned for next year?  What would you do differently?”

The three boys hung their heads.

“Ah, show up on time,” said Cameron.

“Yeah, we’d show up on time for sure,” said Tristan.

Bridger brought his head up. “Don’t drop your gun.”

“And make sure you have plenty of ammo,” said Tristan.

“About hunting in general,” I shifted.  “It’s sort of like, from what I’ve been told, a spiritual experience. What would you say about hunting in general?”

“Hunting,” offered Cameron. “Well, it’s a great time. It’s who we are,” the boy said, bringing his me to a we. “You do it for a pastime.  Well, I almost failed school because of hunting. Like, it’s what I love to do.”

And Tristan was nodding. “It’s something you hear about, and you think, yeah, that’s cool. But then you go out and do it and it’s a totally different experience.”

“Yeah,” said Cameron. “No one really knows until they’re out there. With a bow and elk.”

Bridger was looking left out of the conversation, so I prompted him back in.

“Okay, Bridger, what would you say?”

“Well, I don’t hunt much. I rifle hunt. I’ve never been bow huntin’.  Bow huntin’s a lot different.  I don’t know, I don’t hunt a lot.”

“Okay, but today you did?”

“Yeah, I shot some gophers.”

I brought my final question back out to the group. “How would you explain how you feel when you’re out there?”

“It feels a lot different,” Cameron said, referring to his beloved elk.  “They’re a lot bigger than you. There’s way more out there than just yourself. There’s just so much more to experience. And you see the views of stuff, you know, on the internet. You see pictures of animals. But you go out there, and it’s just so much more surreal.”

“You see people in the city talkin’ about it,” said Tristan. “And they’re, you know, surrounded by concrete and steel, and once they come out here, they just can’t describe how beautiful it is.”

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Photo by Neal Moore. From left to right, 2nd place Gopher Hunt winners Cameron Johnson, Bridger Wheat and Tristan Terrell pose for a picture outside the Lawdog’s Saloon.

For Cameron, for all three of these boys, hunting and the great outdoors was their freedom, their release, their adrenaline rush.

“Until they’ve got an elk sniffin’ on their back they just don’t know what it’s like,” Cameron told me. “When you’re bow huntin’ and they’re all around you at twenty yards. It’s a little crazy. It’s intense. It gets your blood pumpin’ for sure.”

 

This story was made possible by Andre de Kock.

A brush with the wild

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CC Fish & Wildlife Service

Here on the Columbia I’m keeping my eyes and my heart open to everything nature and natural. The river itself in all of its glory, the currents and sky and the cliffs. My days are spent observing the whirl of an eagle, the thump of a badger, the jump of a fish — the life underneath and around and above as I paddle upriver.

Just past the town of Wanapum I was aiming to make camp on a beautiful stretch of island when I startled a deer amongst the sage, sand and prickly pear cactus – the second I’d seen the very same day. I paddled myself on and shortly thereafter just under the dense and jungle-like trees and laid out on top of a patch of tall grass was a broad snout and large nose pad and a small set of ears pointed straight up. The beast was substantial — larger than the coyotes I was raised around in the foothills of Southern California. I believe it was a Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) – the very first I’ve ever encountered in the wild. It sat up and stared, watching me intently. It never did flinch and the moment was amazing. We locked eyes as I paddled slowly past and I knew that this island belonged to him.

I made camp on a nearby sandbar and late into the night came the Call of the Wild. A solitary wolf singing up to the vault of heaven and night sky. It’s moments like this that I wish I could share with you. But the fact is I never did reach for my camera or attempt to capture audio. It would have spoiled the moment. What excites me more than anything is the promise of more wildlife to come. As I begin to enter genuine backcountry into north-east Washington, Idaho and Montana. As I begin to feel wild myself.

Connected by Water

I had the pleasure to meet up with Bud Herrera of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. Bud is an Umatilla, a fisherman and entrepreneur who lives near the Rufus Landing Recreation Area where I recently made camp. We traded goods (he told me with a laugh, just like 150 years ago).

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He gave me a beaded salmon necklace so that other Native Americans I meet along my journey will know that I’m a friend, dried salmon for energy, which he called “gold”, and his own personal copy of Shadow Tribe: The Making of Columbia River Indian Identity by Andrew H. Fisher.  I gave what I could: organic coffee, a honeycrisp apple, and the promise of a signed copy of my previous expedition memoir, Down the Mississippi.

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I am excited to come back to Rufus to document Bud’s story and those of his tribal elders.  The Umatilla are a Native American tribe that traditionally inhabited the Columbia Plateau along the Umatilla and Columbia rivers, a civilization dating back millennia. Bud told me that salmon is gold and that we as a world are all connected by water.  Heartfelt words from a humble and wise new friend.

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Hood River News: A voyage by canoe across America

A7_Neal_Moore_t800Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea

From the Pacific to the Atlantic coast, Neal Moore (pictured) will travel a total of 7,500 miles across America in the next two years, by both canoe and land, to document and connect stories of diversity.

 

Hood River News

Over the past eight years, former CNN [citizen] journalist Neal Moore has not traveled, but has lived in Africa and China to try and understand different cultures instead of just experiencing them.

Now, he’s on a mission to understand ours in America.

However, his voyage to understanding America is unique in a way that connects himself with the origins of this country.

In 2008, Moore had this idea that, “What if the greatest adventure was in your backyard?”

Not literally in “your backyard,” but instead the backyard of this country: rivers.

“Before we had roads, we had rivers,” said Moore. “To really understand where we come from, my journey relies on using the nation’s rivers with my choice of transportation being a canoe, as that’s how I feel is the best way is to learn about the origins of this country as I am putting myself in the shoes of those before us.”

In a two-year expedition, Moore’s solo journey by canoe stretches 7,500 miles across the country.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Moore’s access to outdoor recreation growing up was a hard thing to come by.

But what helped him to venture out of the city was becoming a Boy Scout.

Moore, who is an Eagle Scout, had his first experience with canoeing at summer camp at the age of 12.

That experience, along with his passion for storytelling, helped lead him to the 7,500-mile voyage he currently is on.

The mission of Moore’s journey is to document and understand stories of diversity from Astoria to Queens, New York, to find the “common amongst us all,” said Moore.

Moore started his two-year voyage early last month in Astoria because of its “rich history of diversity,” said Moore.

Astoria is home to the first U.S. settlement west of the Rockies, and saw some of the nation’s earliest migration with Chinese immigrants.

And with Queens being one of the more diverse places in this country, Moore’s decision to highlight these two cities as a start and end will help him discover “the common between our nation,” he said.

“By taking my canoe through the rivers of this country and connecting the stories from Astoria to Queens, I’m trying to give face to a country that’s split into two,” said Moore.

However, it won’t be easy.

Moore’s expedition will take him across 22 different rivers and states, including the Columbia River, where he’s currently paddling.

“The Gorge is a different animal,” said Moore. “It’s like nothing I have experienced river-wise.”

Not only will canoeing across the country be a difficult task — Moore already feels he has developed arthritis from paddling his canoe 152 miles into this journey — but trying to understand a country and the people within it in a short period of time will show itself as a challenge.

Although that’s what makes this journey achievable for Moore.

“When you push yourself outside of your comfort zone, you must make new connections and it puts yourself in new situations that you wouldn’t be in otherwise,” said Moore. “That’s what makes you grow.”

Moore split his journey up into three parts: to the Great Divide, the Big Easy, and to Lady Liberty.

Moore hopes to complete the first 1,086 miles of his journey to the Great Divide in two to three months. To follow and learn more about Moore’s journey visit 22rivers.wordpress.com/about-the-voyage.

Wheels!

Friend David Brown at Precision Rail of Oregon helped me put together some wheels to connect rivers on my journey across America (see the yellow lines on my route to see where I’ll need to haul the canoe and gear). The wheels are loosely based on Steve Posselt’s design, a long distance kayaker who just paddled down the coast of Australia — who told me he’s portaged for over 1000 miles in his career. Amazing!

The Daily Astorian: Spinning a story

Freelance journalist sets off on 7,500 mile canoe odyssey

By Elleda Wilson

The Daily Astorian

Published on March 9, 2018 12:01AM

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Neal Moore, a freelance journalist called “a modern-day Huck Finn” by CNN, set off from Pier 39 in Astoria last Saturday to start his two-year 7,500 mile cross-country canoe expedition. But his mission is more than the journey — along the way he wants to “spin a story of the human face of the economic situation. And in Astoria, I’d love to start out with a good one.”

To that end, he wanted to interview Astorians “from the Nordic, Finnish and/or Chinese-American community who run a business. … The idea is to speak about the first settler inhabitants of the town (these three cultures), and see what they’re up to today.”

Regina Willke at the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce helped him set up interviews, and he was off and running. He talked to Liisa Penner, Pam, Julie, and Lori Lum, Robbie, Roger, Ron, and Flora Law, Berit and Yorgen Madsen, Saara Matthews, and Sari Vedenoja. Floyd Holcom was Neal’s departure consultant, advising him on the tides and safest time to leave, and local writer Peter Marsh took the photo shown of the actual takeoff.

The Astoria interviews will be the first of his 100 stories across America, which will turn up on his blog at tinyurl.com/NealMoore in a few months. Photos are already up on his Instagram account at instagram.com/alittlewake, and you can also follow his travels at fb.me/alittlewake

“The town has been so very hospitable and friendly,” he recalled of our fair city. Apparently Astoria made as good an impression on Neal as its residents.