Adventurer Moore stops in Madison, Ind.
on his canoeing voyage across America
He says he enjoys meeting 'characters' along the way
(July 2021) – A canoe is so small against the expansive Ohio River that it appears to be just a dot on the horizon. The winds blow, and the sun beats down on a hot humid day. Another day, the rain is relentless, sometimes for multiple days. That summer rain turns to sleet and snow when the temperature drops in the fall and winter months. An open canoe leaves the canoeist exposed to many weather variables.
Neal Moore knows it all. He travels solo in a 16-foot Old Town Penobscot canoe. It is not just a sport or hobby. It is his home and his only means of personal transportation. He is traveling on the final leg of what he calls a three-act journey to cross the United States completely by canoe.
“I wanted to do ‘sea to shining sea’ via the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes,’ Moore said. “Our country is connected by our rivers and by our people.”
That journey started on Feb 9, 2020, in Astoria, Ore., about 100 river miles from Portland. There, the Pacific Ocean meets the mouth of the Columbia River. Moore organized his 7,500-mile trip into three sections: Act I, “To the Great Continental Divide;” Act II, “To the Big Easy, New Orleans;” Act III, “Up to the Great Lakes and on to Lady Liberty.” He plans to reach the Statue of Liberty in December in time to celebrate his 50th birthday. While it is possible the journey may extend into January, his goal will be within reach by his milestone birthday.
Photo courtesy of Norman Miller
Neal Moore, originally from Los Angeles, explores the nation's waterways as he canoes from the West Coast to New York City.
He landed in Milton, Ky., via the Ohio River in mid-June, on his way to the Great Lakes. He looked for a place to buy breakfast. The Dairy Queen was not yet open, so he found another breakfast option: a donut and Starbucks coffee at the Smoker Friendly Discount Tobacco store. Moore decided to continue on the Ohio River to Carrollton, where he started down the Kentucky River toward Frankfort. His trip was interrupted by an approaching storm. He was able to find a place to camp on the riverbank near Lockport, Ky.
He finally settled in his Moss tent with a rain fly. He slept through the storm later that night. When he woke up the next morning, flash flooding had caused the river to rise more than seven feet. The river had almost reached his tent. If he had camped lower on the bank, Moore would have been swept away. He decided to return to Madison, Ind.
Life on the river is not new for Moore. In 2009, the Los Angeles native decided to write about old river towns along the Mississippi River. Over a period of four months and 22 days, he filed 50 stories with CNN as a citizen journalist, while canoeing 2,200 miles down the Mississippi River, through the center of the United States. His stories were broadcast on all CNN platforms: CNN.com, CNN Canada and CNN international. He later co-wrote a book about those adventures.
In 2020, during the first leg of this new trip, Moore found that the safest place to be was on the river. “As I studied the previous Spanish flu, I found that people who were outdoors fared better than people indoors. During Covid, I was better off outdoors by myself,” Moore said.
Moore had calculated that he needed to average about 10 miles per day between Madison and the Erie Canal to get through the canal before it closes for the winter. On the Ohio River, he has been able to canoe as many as 20-25 miles per day. Those extra miles allowed him the time to explore Madison for a few day, and still stay on schedule.
“Madison is a town of characters; half natives and half transplants. But then, we’re all characters,” he said. “In historic river towns, I like to walk the storied streets and get a feel for the stories in this town. Madison is full of stories.”
Moore spent his week in Madison at the home of Carolyn and Merritt Alcorn. They had connected through Will Garvin, a mutual friend in Montana. Garvin is a “River Angel.” Moore explained that people who help river travelers along the way are called “River Angels,” similar to the “Trail Angels” who help hikers along the Appalachian Trail.
Carolyn Alcorn said, “We are having so much fun. My grandkids were here last night for a geography lesson with Neal.”
She introduced Moore to John Nyberg, executive director of the Jefferson County Historical Society. After hearing Moore’s story, Nyberg told him, “We have a poem for you.” Nyberg gave Moore a copy of “Paddle Your Own Canoe,” a poem by Sarah T. Bolton that was first published in the late 1890s. The poem concludes with the lines:
“Leave to Heaven, in humble trust,
All you will to do:
But if succeed, you must
Paddle your own canoe.”
Nyberg said, “Neal is such a kind soul. What a fun journey, I just got into the whole journey. I think a little bit of all of us would love to do that. We always have stuff to do, few of us say, ‘I’m just going to do it.’ ”
Moore described his cross-country journey by saying, “I’m in an open canoe, open to anything the journey throws at me: characters and people, hell and high water. I have been helped, and I have been able to witness people in all walks of life, helping each other.”
Moore’s adventures are posted online at www.22rivers.com and Instagram @riverjournalist.
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