Partial to Home: A day on the Ohio

By Birney Imes 

The Dispatch

A recently completed mural in Madison, Indiana, a small town on the Ohio River, touts what seems to be a community mantra. Recently, screened yard signs have begun appearing around town bearing the phrase, “Just be kind.” Birney Imes/Special to The Dispatch

I’d been paddling for several hours when I stopped to check in with Neal. He was in Rising Sun, Indiana, at a hamburger stand called the Patty Wagon eating an ice cream cone.

Readers may remember Neal Moore, who appeared on the front page of this newspaper back in April. Slim Smith interviewed Neal during a stopover in Columbus on his 7,500-mile coast-to-coast canoe trip across America.

From Columbus Neal would continue up the Tenn-Tom to the Tennessee and then on to the Ohio River.

Before leaving Neal invited me to join him at any point in his journey.

Maybe on the Ohio, I said. There is a lovely stretch of river between Cincinnati and Madison, Indiana, I’ve wanted to paddle.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1785: ”The Ohio is the most beautiful river on earth. Its current gentle, waters clear, and bosom smooth and unbroken by rocks and rapids, a single instance only excepted.“

Jefferson was writing before the age of power plants, casinos and barge terminals, which now clutter the banks of a stream that gets its name from the Seneca meaning “good river.” While stretches of the Ohio are heavily industrialized, the river retains much of its pastoral beauty. Grassy pastures, thick forests and quaint river towns, storybook reminders of another time, slope to the water’s edge.

And so it was on Tuesday under an unrelenting sun and in 90-degree temperatures, I was paddling downstream on the Ohio to meet Neal who, when he was not eating ice cream, was slowly and steadily working his way upstream.

Neal is over 6,000 miles into the journey he started in February, 2020. Our plan was to meet on a small island where we would camp for the night.

A friend had dropped me about six miles downstream from Cincinnati on the Kentucky side of the river at Anderson Ferry, a car and pedestrian ferry that has been in operation since 1817.

Our rendezvous point was 24 miles downstream.

Finally, around 5 p.m., the rain showers I’d been hoping for all day materialized. Only, these were accompanied by wind and lightning. I took refuge at a landing at Petersburg on the Kentucky side of the river.

I was exhausted, the weather had turned bad and I still had six miles more to paddle. Maybe with a few energy bars, some rest and clearing skies, I could make it. Prudence suggested otherwise.

I walked up the steep, unpaved landing and found at the top several blocks of houses and a historical marker commemorating a long defunct distillery from the early 1800s.

I knocked on the front door of the first house I came to and stepped back. A wide-eyed young woman accompanied by a young girl, opened the door. I asked if there was an inn, campground or a B&B nearby. She said her fiancé would know; he was in the backyard.

There I met Shawn Munday, who was washing and waxing a large maroon pickup and a Jeep. We talked for awhile and though he was friendly, he had no ideas about lodging. I thanked him and made a loop around the small settlement before heading back to the landing and my boat.

Shawn in his giant pickup met me at the landing. “Can I give you a ride somewhere?” he said.

I asked if he could take me to nearby Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, a couple miles downstream from our island meeting place.

On the way to Rabbit Hash, Shawn said he was spurred to action when his fiancé’s daughter asked him, “Are you going to help that man?”

Camping opportunities at Rabbit Hash (a movie set of a town arrayed around a 19th century general store; the town has a dog for its mayor) turned out to be non-existent.

I phoned Neal. He said there was a small hotel on the riverfront at Rising Sun across the river. He would call. I apologized to Shawn, who, by now, was committed to seeing us settled for the night.

In anticipation of my having to paddle across the river to Rising Sun, Shawn took me to the landing for the ferry that serves that town’s riverboat casino.

Turns out the hotel was full, but the woman who owned the Patty Wagon said we could camp on a slab of concrete next to her sister’s dock below the hamburger stand. Neal’s ice cream stop turned out to be more fortuitous than either of us could have imagined.

Shawn helped me get my kayak to the river’s edge. By now the wind and rain had subsided. Across the way the lights from the riverboat casino twinkled in the dark. The village of Rising Sun lay several hundred yards downstream.

“Let me know when you get settled,” Shawn called as I paddled out onto the dark river.

I crossed the river, paddled past the riverboat casino and at the public landing and pulled the kayak on the shore.

As I waited for Neal to emerge from the darkness, a family with young children brandishing fishing gear chattered happily as they clambered over the riprap at the water’s edge. Out in the channel a towboat festooned with colored lights pushed its tow soundlessly upstream. The rain-scrubbed air felt cool and clean.

A long, hot day with its measure of uncertainty seemed headed toward an agreeable conclusion.

Birney Imes

Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.

Bircus Brewing & Circus Mojo hosting adventurer Neal Moore, on a stop on his 7,500-mile paddling trip

NKT – North Kentucky Tribune

Bircus Brewing Co. & Circus Mojo will sponsor a reception for the intrepid adventurer, Neal Moore, who is on a 7,500-mile journey paddling across the US from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Neal is currently paddling up the Ohio River and will arrive in Ludlow Friday evening, July 2.

“Neal’s mission of celebrating resilience resonates with me. Over the past 11 years we’ve hosted circus artists from 42 countries for events here in Ludlow and across the USA. Come kick off Independence weekend celebrating Neal Moore’s American adventure,” said Paul Miller, Founder Circus Mojo & Chief Goof-Officer of Bircus Brewing Co. 
 
Neal began his cross-country journey February 9th, 2020, and will end December 2021 in New York harbor, at the Statue of Liberty.

He will paddle 22 rivers through 22 states before it is over. More here and a map here.  
 
Neal Moore’s adventure across America is “To showcase, highlight and celebrate how our identity, ethnicity and freedom play out across this entire land… What makes Americans tick… Falling down and scraping our shins and getting up drying and our tears and putting our best foot forward.”

Join us Friday evening at the Historic Ludlow Theatre, Home of Bircus Brewing Co. & Circus Mojo for a chance to meet Neal Moore and support his Grandiose Mission. $1 from each Bircus Beer will help fund Neal’s journey with an additional $1 benefiting the local city youth outdoor adventure organization, Adventure Crew, whose mission is to “Open the doors of nature for city teens to strengthen their connection with self and others and create the next generation of healthy outdoor enthusiasts and environmental stewards.”  Live Music, Circus entertainment, craft beer and wood fired pizza kick off at 6 p.m.. 

Neal Moore, dubbed “a modern day Huck Finn” by CNN, is the author of Down the Mississippi and, most recently, Homelands: A Memoir. A nomad, adventurer and storyteller, Neal’s reporting has taken him from Night-market meetings with Chinese cyber-dissidents to mountaintop encounters with approaching super typhoons. His work from North America, Africa and the Far East has appeared in Der SpiegelThe New Yorker and on CNN International.

RSVP with Bircus Brewing here.

A Peace Of My Mind (Podcast)

APOMM

By John Nolter

A Peace Of My Mind: Building community and bridging divides through portraits and personal stories.

Neal Moore is paddling 7,500 miles across the United States. Photo by John Nolter, taken in Columbus, Mississippi.

Neal Moore is a journalist, an adventurer and an expatriate. He is in the midst of a two-year journey, paddling 7,500 miles across the United States. I met him in a coffee shop—by chance—in Columbus, Mississippi and we found time the next day to do an interview.

“So the big idea is to travel from sea to shining sea, connecting the waterways. I’m looking at 22 rivers. The idea is to touch 22 States and make my way across 7,500 miles from the Pacific Coast, to the Continental Divide, to the Gulf of Mexico, to the Great Lakes, to the very feet of the Statue of Liberty. It’s a two year journey.

I’m attempting to connect waterways, but also to connect the stories of everyday Americans, to listen to folks and try to understand what the commonality is, the thread between us that can spin positive and speak to our mutual experience.

I’ve been an expatriate on and off—mainly on—for 30 years. I’ve been living between Africa and East Asia for this time and this is a chance to come back to my own backyard, and to experience it up close and personal. This is a unique way to see the country.

The canoe is the first form of transport and these rivers and waterways are the first thoroughfares in this land and they absolutely connect. And so, to unfurl the map in your mind and then to try to plot out your course, it took a year just to plot the course.

When I look at rivers, when I look at water, I’ve always found that this is sort of a stabilizing substance. Our bodies are +/- 70% water. The surface of the earth is +/- 70% water. And I think there might be a correlation there. When I was younger, I went to school in Hawaii. Then when I transferred to the university of Utah, I would take off every winter quarter and go back to Capetown. And for the three months I was there—which is their summer—I would just be surfing in the water every single day.

I had all this stress. I had lost my brother as a boy. I had lost my mom. And when I came home, my dad had moved on. It was just me, and I found, when you submerge yourself, and even when you’re near a waterway, that stress washes off.

So, the idea was to paddle the year leading into national elections, and then the full year after, no matter how it would have turned out. What would we look like as a nation the year after national elections?

___

I identify as liberal. I sort of identify as very much as flawed, as well. So I understand that I don’t have all the answers. And the moment that I think that I do, that’s when everything sort of goes topsy-turvy and my personal life sort of gets messed up. And so for me, when you you do unfurl that map of America, and you look at my route, this route that I’ve selected, these 22 rivers and waterways, it’s by and large, all red. The country is very red in these rural locations that I’m finding myself paddling through and stopping off to, to meet folks.

So my thinking going into it is sort of like George Orwell and his masterpiece, Homage to Catalonia where he’s a journalist based in London. This was before his fame, of course, with Animal Farm, with 1984. Well before that, and he puts himself onto a boat and he disembarks in Barcelona and he attaches himself to the losing side of the Spanish Civil War and to an anti-fascist faction known as the POUM. At the end of chapter one, he finds himself on the front, taking a shot at another human being for the first time in his life.

What he says is, “understand that I am biased, but also understand that I am here.” And this is the age before the green screen. But what he’s saying is we have New York journalists, the big name ones, and we have London journalists, the big name ones who say that they’re there during the Spanish Civil War in Spain, and they’re not. They aren’t there and they’re still biased. But as he says, I’m biased, but I’m here.

And so my thinking, looking at the map in that vein and with that exclamation point is to see the country and to learn, and really try to take off the mask of these monikers that we sort of throw on to ourselves. The things that if we let them, can separate us, be it identity politics, be it race, be it religion.

What I’m looking for is that common thread, from coast to coast. What I’m really looking for is the common humanity, and I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it with individuals. I’ve seen it with families. I’ve seen it with communities. And when you see it, and when you’re able to document it, it just blows you away. It’s so profound.

When you add up all of these stories, everybody has a story. My thinking is by the time I get to the Statue of Liberty, and approaching her from a rarefied view, coming the wrong way, from the West Coast to the East Coast, I feel like I earned these towns, that I earned the chance for these stories. I want to earn that view. And to really properly understand it, I need to first understand who we are, and what we’re about and how far we’ve come.

___

I think the big surprise for me has been the wildness. A journey like this by and large, you’re pushing yourself out into the wild. And then in so doing, you get to embrace the wildness within. As Max finds out with Where the Wild Things Are, the monster is inside of us. And so to be able to understand that, embrace that and try to deal with that on a personal basis, in concert with nature. When you’re in your canoe, you’re down low in the water, and you see it, you experience nature from a wholly different vantage point.

Every day that I’m out there in nature, every single day, I find myself laughing. It’s this care-free laugh of, I really should be clocking in or clocking out somewhere with a proper job. And I’m not. I’m out here in nature and I’m free. I’m positively free. And there’s something beautiful about that.

I’m generally up an hour before first light. I’m deflating my air pad and rolling up my sleeping bag. I’m packing up inside the tent and taking the tent down. It takes about an hour to an hour and a half. And then I put all of my worldly belongings into my canoe. And I push off. And in that exact moment, it’s just pure perfection.

There’s something so beautiful about that moment where you step off from Terra Firma into the water. Whether I’m headed downstream with the current or whether I’m fighting like hell going upstream, you’re in the moment. I don’t travel with with earbuds in my ears, listening to books on tape or listening to music. Nature herself is my orchestra.

And when you’re paddling, you’re looking out for obstacles at all times. So you’re listening to the water. You’re watching out for boulders. You’re watching for hanging tree limbs.

Whether it be the pandemic or whether it be the headwinds and the tornadoes and the two derechos. There are hard times, but you understand that it’s temporary. You understand that around the bend, that we’re going to be okay.

In many cases on this journey, I’m risking my life. I’m putting myself completely out there. And there’s a strange thing that happens. There’s this strange phenomenon that takes place, when it’s touch and go, when you realize that you’re in a situation that can absolutely end your life, it’s when you feel like you really live. You have to focus. You cannot freak out and you have to see your way through.

And so whenever you have tribulation, you have to have to experience that. Be it the loss of loved ones, be it nature’s temporary fury. You have to soldier through. And by making your way through the hard times, on the flip side of that, when you make the safe harbor, when the sun comes out nice and bright and beautiful, then it’s all the sweeter. It’s all the sweeter because you’ve earned it.

___

I think our greatest strength is empathy. When you stop and you take away these labels that we like to identify ourselves by. When you strip all of that away, what we’re left with is something beautiful. And it’s something I think that we can all connect to. We can all relate to. And if we let ourselves, we can all love in a positive way. That is our common humanity. That is the natural desire to help, to have empathy for our brothers and sisters. And I think from coast to coast, what I’m finding doesn’t always work out that way, but when you’re looking for it, you see It. You see it.

And when you do see it, it strengthens your belief in mankind. And I think it makes you—the would be traveler in this life—a very happy person.”

Discussion questions:

-What is the boldest adventure you have ever embarked on?

-Have you ever placed yourself in harm’s way?

-When have you pushed your physical and psychological limits?

-Have you experienced water in a healing way?

-Do you agree with Neal that empathy is our greatest strength?

-When have you offered empathy? When have you received it?

-When have you had a clear sense of our common humanity?

-When have you experienced wilderness?

-What does Neal mean by the phrase “the wilderness within?”

-If you could set off on a journey, what would you hope to find?

Six Historic Paddling Expeditions To Follow This Year

by Conor Mihell

MEN’S JOURNAL

From the High Arctic to the Southern Ocean, human-powered paddling feats over wild, open water will mark a 2021 for the books. A handful of paddling expeditions are launching in the months ahead, ready to mark new chapters in the annals of the sport. Notably, two trans-Pacific Ocean crossing attempts will be setting off from the mainland U.S. to Hawaii, plus bids across the Drake Passage and through the Northwest Passage. Meanwhile, other endurance paddlers keep plodding novel extended courses closer to home, day by day, including one man‘s circuitous 7,500-mile crossing of North America and an unprecedented, multi-year effort of one woman to paddle 30,000 miles around the entire North American continent.

Chris Bertish’s Trans-Pacific Wing Project

Big-wave surfer and motivational speaker Chris Bertish is following up a 2017 standup paddleboard crossing of the Atlantic Ocean with a bid to make the first-ever trans-Pacific journey by wing foil. You read that right: hydro-foiling across the Pacific Ocean. Bertish plans to set off from Half Moon Bay, CA, in June, on an estimated 3,000-mile, wind-powered trip to Hawaii. Bertish upgraded the super-sized “Flying Fish” SUP he paddled across the Atlantic with hydrofoils for his TransPac Wing Project. Bertish plans to follow prevailing winds and currents in the north Pacific, covering between 40 and 80 miles per day.

Cyril Derreumaux’s Crack at a Legendary Crossing

Cyril Derreumaux giving his custom, 600-pound kayak craft dubbed ‘Valentine’ a winter shakedown prior to his May 30 launch from San Francisco, aiming for Waikiki, likely 70+ days and 2,500+ miles south and west, outside the Gate. Photo by Teresa O’Brien Photography

France-born American Cyril Derreumaux will get a head start on Bertish, departing in May for a solo sea kayak Pacific crossing from California to Hawaii. Derreumaux, who set a Guinness speed record for rowing the same route as part of a four-man team in 2016, will attempt a paddling feat that’s only been accomplished by Ed Gillet (sea kayak) in 1987 and Antonio De La Rosa (SUP craft) in 2019. He’ll paddle a custom-built, live-aboard, solar panel-clad sea kayak that’s sleeker and far more seaworthy than the modified off-the-shelf tandem Gillet piloted over three decades ago. Derreumaux anticipates spending 70 days on the water.

Freya Keeps Paddling

The global pandemic forced Freya Hoffmeister to take a year off from her attempt to paddle around the North American continent. Instead, she spent 2020 sea kayaking in Norway and Sweden. But the German super-paddler, who has already circumnavigated Australia and South American, got an early start this year, tracing the Sea of Cortez and much of Mexico’s Pacific coast. Pending COVID regulations, Hoffmeister could eclipse the 600-day mark of a 30,000-mile expedition she anticipates will take up to a decade to complete.

Neal Moore’s Final Act

In February, we caught up with long-distance canoeist Neal Moore, who has spent the pandemic year adrift on America’s rivers. After descending the Mississippi River, Moore is headed north, linking waterways up to Lake Erie. This year he’ll aim to complete the third and final “act” of a 7,500-mile solo sojourn at the Statue of Liberty via the Hudson River.

Norman Miller. On the Missouri River in the Gates of the Mountain, Montana

Arctic Cowboys: Northwest Passage

A trio of Texans are waiting out COVID to finalize their plans to make an epic sea kayak journey through the Northwest Passage. West Hansen (who led a National Geographic-sponsored expedition on the Amazon River in 2012), Jeff Wueste and Jimmy Harvey, aka the Arctic Cowboys, will attempt the first documented single-season kayak transit of Canada’s arctic archipelago, with no land crossings—departing from either Pond Inlet on Baffin Island or Tuktoyaktuk at the mouth of the Mackenzie River, depending on COVID regulations. Either way, the journey will span some 1,900 miles with the goal of documenting how climate change is reducing polar ice coverage and opening up the passage of a mythical northern seafaring route. Along the way the team will travel the frigid waters that gave birth to kayaking, exploring waters that have never been paddled in modern times, and making open-water crossings up to 60 miles long.

De La Rosa’s Next Big Ocean Epic

Spanish adventure athlete Antonio De La Rosa has plotted an ambitious triathlon for the austral summer, traveling by standup paddleboard, sail, and overland in Antarctica. De La Rosa will SUP 600 miles from Patagonia to the Antarctic peninsula, across the feared Drake Passage. Then, the recent Eco-Challenge Fiji racer will retrofit his custom-build ocean board for sailing, making a 1,200-mile passage to South Georgia Island—emulating the path of Ernest Shackleton. De La Rosa will then follow Shackleton’s footsteps across mountains and glaciers to finish at the remote outpost on South Georgia’s east coast.

“All the places I haven’t been before”

By TERESA BLAKE

Tupelo Daily Journal

FULTON – Neal Moore smiled as he glanced down at the 16-foot Old Town canoe sitting on the banks of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.

“I call her ‘The Shannon,’” Moore said. “She’s named after a now-defunct bar in Taipei.”

Moore stopped briefly in Fulton at the end of April, roughly 5,000 miles into his canoe trip. He dropped a visitor off on grassy terrain – a small toad – that had hopped aboard along the way, before heading to a tour of the Natchez Trace.

Moore is on the last and final leg of his 7,500-mile expedition across America, paddling 22 rivers across 22 states. It was Feb. 9, 2020, just prior to the pandemic, when he launched his red vessel into the icy waters of the Columbia River in Astoria, Oregon.

“The end game is the Statue of Liberty,” Moore said.

A native of Los Angeles, the 49-year-old freelance journalist describes himself as an internationalist, a nomad of sorts, having lived in America, Africa and East Asia. He typically spends his time traveling between Taipei and Capetown. That is, until he set out to rediscover America … backward nonetheless, from the Pacific west to the Atlantic east.

Hailed a “modern-day Huck Finn,” he spent a year planning the expedition, completely mapping it out using detailed paper navigational charts. He said that although he has it well planned, he has gotten off track once or twice.

“I have cheated every now and again with Google maps,” he said.

The Shannon is loaded with supplies, some 500 pounds worth. Freeze-dried food, water, a tent, and a two-wheeled contraption he uses to harness the canoe to himself and pull it across areas of dry land.

“There are areas that I have to cross to get to the next body of water,” he said. “So, I load the canoe and harness it to myself and pull it to the next destination.”

Moore said at one point he will have to carry the canoe some nine miles, but he has faced tougher circumstances. His canoe has been hit by a shark, smashed into jagged rocks, and had  close calls with a barge and roughly 1,000 pelicans.

In spite of it all, he is determined to reach his final destination, the Statue of Liberty. But it’s not really about the destination, it’s about the journey.

Moore is documenting his river voyage, discovering places, and meeting people along the way. His end game is to write a book.

“You make connections along the way through what’s called river talk,” he said in a previous interview documented on his website, www.22rivers.com. “So there is a long-distance traveling community that I’m pretty well tied into. People have really opened their arms. But at other times, it’s the stumble-upons, people, and stories that you encounter. As a storyteller, I love those.”

Moore’s style of journalism has been described as “slow and low down from the view of a canoe.” For two years, he wanted to come face to face with America’s soul and find stories to unite.

Moore has authored two books, including his 2009 journey through the Mississippi River in “Down the Mississippi,” and “Homelands,” which recounts his experiences as a 19-year-old Mormon missionary in Capetown, South Africa. His work has been featured in The New Yorker, Der Spiegel, a German-language publication, and on CNN International.

He is chronicling his 22 rivers expedition on his website and via Instagram @riverjournalist.

He’ll continue his journey up the Tenn-Tom, through the Great Lakes, and on to the Hudson River.

Until then, he is taking in all the sights and documenting his adventure. While in North Mississippi, he has enjoyed a Paul Thorn concert, been introduced to the press at The Commercial Dispatch, and toured the Natchez Trace.

When asked about his favorite place out of his worldly, nomadic travels, Moore was quick to answer.

“All the places I haven’t been before.”

An Ode to the Ambitious Traveler

By Neal Moore

The one and only Trips magazine

I picked up my first copy of TRIPS magazine at a “safari & travel” Banana Republic store of yesteryear. I was a kid, it was the late 1980s, and I can say – as oddball as this might sound – that I’ve spun the globe with it ever since. Its mantra of what travel can (and should) look and feel and taste like, open-mindedness-wise, sense-of-curiosity-wise, and being-alive-wise – “to get as deep inside a culture as constraints of language and understanding will allow” – has helped form my take, my very own spin on this world.

There was only ever one issue produced – so the Spring 1988 edition serves as both the debut and finale edition. I lost my original copy a long time back and have since given away many more, so I try to snag one every chance I get (thanks eBay). I like to think of TRIPS as a bible of adventure, a relic of expedition, and an unadulterated view into the “safari & travel” vision of Mel & Patricia Ziegler, founders of the long-abandoned (original) Banana Republic. 

Tara Sendelback of GPF in the Travel Books section of Banana Republic (March, 1988) – Photo by Richard Lee, Detroit Free Press.

The Zieglers, both retired journalists with the San Francisco Chronicle, hired their friends, established ink-slingers to write the magazine’s copy. It was clearly a labor of love.

Flip the pages, and the articles will transport you in search of the soul of Hawaii with National Geographic journalist Marguerite Del Giudice; hurl you into Apartheid-era South Africa with Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, and Esquire writer Mark Jacobson; bike alongside His Majesty, the King of Tonga with screenwriter, actor and novelist Charlie Haas; and Ride to the Back of Beyond (of Australia) with photographs by Hakan Ludwigsson and text by Newsweek’s Tony Clifton.

Mel Ziegler, Banana Republic founder and editor-in-chief of TRIPS magazine on a trip to Burma (in 1988). Photo credit: Patricia Ziegler.

The magazine was likely the first to introduce The Thorn Tree Forum into print, an idea picked up and popularized by Lonely Planet eight years later in 1996.  “…It was, effectively, Kenya’s first postal system,” explains the Zieglers, referring to an old thorn tree in the courtyard of the New Stanley Hotel in Nairobi where travelers used to pin their urgent, cryptic messages. “We borrowed the name for this column. Items will be culled from letters, news clippings, documents, anything concise and interesting that crosses our desk. Travelers’ tales, tips, observations, complaints, and cultural artifacts are welcome.”  

To get the oddball rolling, first-hand travel tips from veteran travelers were offered – from “How to turn a golf ball into a drain plug for overseas bathtub,” to “Create a travel journal as you go: Mail postcards to yourself!”

I love them all – the sketches, the travelogues, the photos, the irony, the off-the-beaten-track discoveries. One of my favorite travel tales, penned by Sports Illustrated/human interest writer Gary Smith, whisks the reader onto a Portugal-bound train chockablock with banana and fish smugglers.

Patricia Ziegler, Banana Republic’s founder, on camelback in the Australian Outback (in 1988). Photo Credit: Mel Ziegler.

I’ve hiked with TRIPS across Tigray, Ethiopia, adventured with it into the dusty dorps of the Klein and Groot Karoo of Southern Africa, listened to the call to prayer through wooden shutters with it in Islamic West Luxor, and gotten lost with it in the back alleys of Bangkok, Hong Kong and Taipei — some of the places I’ve called home. These days, I find myself canoeing with this tried and trusty and true companion across America, most days carefully stowed away in my dry bags, and on days like today, taken out to peruse and inspire.

After all this time, the magazine remains a jolt to the system. It hurls one back to a now-bygone era when travel was fun – to the late 1980s, to be precise, before Banana Republic was taken over by the Gap – when the company had a climate desk “so that no matter which way the wind blows, you’ll arrive becalmed,” along with a travel bookstore, “to attract the ambitious adventurer – with or without armchair.”

Neal Moore’s Two-Year Canoe Journey Across America and Into the Light

Fourteen months ago in Astoria, Oregon, Neal Moore shoved off in his 16-foot Old Town canoe, bound for the Statue of Liberty, some two years and 7,500 miles ahead. The 49-year-old had come home after nearly 30 years abroad to rediscover America and share the stories of its people in a style of journalism all his own, “slow and low down from the view of a canoe.” …

You can read Jeff’s entire expedition interview at Adventure Journal here.

Larger than a cover band and smaller than Elvis

Off old Highway 12 in rural eastern Mississippi, I was invited to take in an out-of-doors socially-distanced “barn” concert with Tupelo-based Paul Thorn and the folk duo Ordinary Elephant. My Columbus-based host, the photographer Birney Imes, is old friends with Thorn (he shot his latest album cover) so when Thorn got to telling his trademark stories between songs about trailer parks and old flames and preachers that just might be wrong, he referenced my journey. He explained I’d paddled a canoe 5,000 miles out of 7,500, and then, after a dramatic pause, after all the oohs and aahs from the crowd, he quipped, “Neal must have a downright terrible home life. … Or maybe he just really likes to be in a canoe.” I’ve been looking forward to live music on this journey, and these guys, the whole night was just awesome.

Singer-songwriter Paul Thorn sings to an out-of-doors small gathering at “The Barn” in rural eastern Mississippi. Photo by Neal Moore.

Making the news

A misbehaving minister and a crazy canoeist share a recent Sunday front page of The Dispatch in Columbus, Miss. Thanks to Slim Smith for the interview, Birney Imes for the photo (and awesome digs above the historic Dispatch offices), along with the ever-talented Tom Hudson for introducing me to the press. They do it old school here in Columbus, Miss., a fourth-generation family newspaper business with a 1950s printing press. She spits out an impressive 200 papers a minute, and once loaded onto trucks, a whopping 14,000+ copies will travel to six counties by morning.

A proof-copy of The Dispatch, Sunday, April 11, 2021

Discovering America in reverse

Moore’s cross-country canoe trip makes stop in Columbus

By Slim Smith

THE DISPATCH

Long-distance canoeist Neal Moore stands next to his 16-foot Old Town canoe after an outing on the Buttahatchee Thursday afternoon near Caledonia. Moore is paddling from Oregon to New York City via a network of 22 rivers, and is taking a break in Columbus after paddling up the Tenn-Tom Waterway from Mobile. He plans to continue north to the Tennessee River and on to the Ohio. He expects to conclude his 7,500-mile journey in December. Courtesy photo/Birney Imes

Neal Moore admits he’s going about this all backwards.

Two hundred years ago, Lewis and Clark made their way west across the North American continent on a  well-supplied expedition of discovery.

Moore is doing it backwards — from west to east —  with only a canoe and the supplies he can fit inside it. The 7,500-mile trek began on Feb. 9, [2020] when Moore, 49, paddled out into the Columbia River in Astoria, Oregon. He expects to complete the journey in December at the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.

Now, on the third and final leg of his journey, Moore stopped to rest and explore in Columbus this week before resuming his journey up the Tennessee-Tombigbee River and on up through the Great Lakes and the Hudson River.

Moore, who is writing a book about his cross-country adventure, makes notes in his journal. Courtesy photo/Birney Imes

Moore’s journey follows a circuitous route including 22 rivers, which he has chosen as the name of his journey and the book he plans to write about the experience.

He may have started two years ago, but he’s been an adventurer since his teens, when to satisfy his mother’s deathbed wish Moore went on a Mormon mission — a rite of passage for young Mormon males.

Moore arrived in South Africa as a missionary, but while his religious work ended quickly, his love of roaming the world has remained.

“I’m sort of a nomad,” Moore said. “I move back and forth between Taipei and Capetown, but I generally use them as a springboard to other places.”

Yet for all his world-traveling, Moore began to be drawn back to his home country about 12 years ago when he ran across a book called “Mississippi Solo,” by Eddy Harris, just as the Great Recession was beginning.

A freelance journalist, Moore saw how the media was reporting the recession and was convinced it was the wrong approach.

“They were going to the great financial centers, going to expensive restaurants and talking to people and saying, ‘This is what’s happening,’” Moore said. “I said to myself, ‘That’s not the story. The story is in middle America.’”

Inspired by Harris’ book, Moore made his own expedition down the Mississippi River, using the stories of the people he met along the way to frame the story of the recession.

“Part of the idea for the trip I’m on now is that the most incredible adventure of one’s life can be in one’s own backyard,” Moore said. “Having spent nearly a lifetime abroad, looking for adventure and going from culture to culture and continent to continent to find it (inspired me) to come back to my home county and really experience it raw and up close and real. It’s a unique way to reconnect with a part of who I am.”

Neal Moore, an expatriate American who calls Taipei his home, has returned to the U.S. to take a 7,500-mile canoe trip spanning 22 rivers. Now on the last leg of a journey that began in Oregon and will end at the Statue of Liberty in December, Moore stopped to rest for a few days on his journey up the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. Courtesy photo/Patrick Tenny

Planting the seed

It was on that 2009 canoe trip down the Mississippi that Moore encountered someone who would plant the seed for Moore’s current adventure, a man whose life as a river traveler also included a stop in Columbus.

Dick Conant, a colorful canoeist who became an almost mythological figure among river travelers, is believed to have died in 2014 in North Carolina. Conant met New Yorker magazine writer Ben McGrath, who decided to turn Conant’s story into a book, which is set to be published this fall.

“I met Dick at the Brainard Portage on the upper Mississippi,” Moore said. “He was on the greatest adventure of his life. When I asked him what his plans were, he said he was connecting rivers to travel all over the country. My jaw just hit the floor when he told me that. I didn’t know it was possible. All those years, that idea was in my head like a mantra, that you can string these rivers together, that they connect, that it’s absolutely doable.”

COVID-19, which arrived about the time More was beginning his odyssey, has limited his visits with friends along his routes, but he’s been able to tap into a loose network of kindred spirits on his journey, breaking up the isolation of the travel.

“You make connections along the way through what’s called river talk,” he said. “If you’re a jerk upriver, people hear about it downriver. But it works the other way, too. If you’re nice and genuine, people hear about that. So there is a long-distance traveling community that I’m pretty well tied into. People have really opened their arms. But at other times, it’s the stumble-upons, people and stories that you encounter. As a storyteller, I love those.”

As he grows closer to the end of his long journey, Moore said he’s come to realize that it’s as much a story about the past as it is the present.

“You touch base with the immigrant experience, the Chinese in the Northwest, the African American experience in the Delta,” Moore said.

Moore said an encounter with a Native American near the beginning of the journey, gave him a perspective that has traveled with him.

“He said, ‘You’re going the wrong way, but doing it this way will allow you to document the destruction caused by the white man, sort of in reverse. Two hundred years ago, Lewis and Clark came right through here and my people helped them. There is a first people on every single one of these waterways you will travel.’”

Moore said that conversation convinced him the journey isn’t just west to east, but across the American eras.

“Part of this for me is that you sort of see where we’ve come from, how far we’ve come and who we have become,” he said.

Neal Moore’s cross-country canoe trip has helped him realize that “the most incredible adventure of one’s life can be in one’s own backyard.” Courtesy photo/Byron Lannoye