WARREN, Pa. – Neal Moore calls it ‘a journey celebrating America.’
Moore is in month 19 of a 22-month canoe expedition that started in Oregon and will end at the Statue of Liberty. On Saturday evening, he pulled up on the Allegheny River at Allegheny Outfitters in Warren, his last journey on this particular river.
A man, his red 16-foot Old Town Penobscot Royalex canoe and a whole lot of open water.
“The canoe is the first mode of transport, the rivers and waterways are the first thoroughfares, the first towns and communities were built along these rivers,” Moore said. “People who live in river towns have a certain grit to them.”
The name of his journey is ‘22 Rivers’ and it’s beauty is in its simplicity – 22 rivers, 22 states, and 7,500 miles.
It’s been an amazing journey to this point for Moore, who first got the idea back in 2009.
“I met a gentleman when I was canoeing the Mississippi during the economic recession in 2009,” he recalls. “I was working on the human face of the recession during the time, mixing journalism with the canoe. Two things I’m good at are canoeing a long-distance and story-telling. At the best of times, they go hand in hand. I met this gentleman who was connecting rivers and it was the greatest journey of his life. Dick Conant is his name. He really inspired me.”
Inspired Moore so much that he decided it’s something he would like to do himself after spending much of his adult life outside the country.
“I’ve been based overseas in Africa and East Asia for most of my adult life,” Moore said “Unfurling the map over the table of America and unfurling it in my mind, all the places I haven’t seen I’d like to explore, I had the idea of what if I went coast to coast. Naturally, I thought East to West Coast, but then I thought, what if I went the other way? It took a whole year to work out the route. I coined the whole journey 22 Rivers which is what I’m looking at – 22 states and 22 months. I’m just over 19 months in now. It will be 7500 miles by the time I get to New York.”
He said there have been things going on in the country that has made this journey of his, capturing the soul of America, even more unique.
“On this journey, there have been a number of undercurrents,” he said. “One is the divided country. Knowing that I’m biased myself, I wanted to put my bias to the side and be here in America, in my home country during this time. The year leading into national elections and then the year following, whichever way it would have gone. I was in Memphis on Nov. 3, exactly midway, the Peabody.”
Then of course there is the COVID 19 pandemic, which began to hit the country just as he was setting off on his journey.
“The other undercurrent which was unexpected about a month, month and a half in was COVID,” he said. “I cleared the state of Oregon thirty minutes before Gov. (Kate) Brown shut it down. I was on the Columbia River. I got on the horn and received permission from the Corps of Engineers to paddle up the Snake River to get to Idaho which was free and clear at the time. I also got permission from the Nez Perce to cross their tribal lands.”
That has made his journey even more unique. While the country has been ravaged by the pandemic, Moore has been on his own journey, which for the most part, has been free and clear.
“I’ve been able to come across the country during this time, almost separate from COVID in that way,” he said. “Your body adapts to the river. I feel stronger mentally and physically than I have in my whole life.
As Moore alluded to, his trek will end at the Statue of Liberty, which he feels is a perfect fit.
“The big idea is to approach the extended hand of lady liberty from the American side and to have the chance to have a real understanding of what has become of us, where we are as Americans,” he said. “The Core values, the core ingredients of what it takes to be an American. I’m looking for what unites us as opposed to what divides us, really that human spirit.”
And he’s got to meet plenty of amazing people and hear their stories along the way.
“It’s been a great time to be able to listen to folks,” he said. “A journey like this is unique, and I don’t think it should be. What I’ve seen is, communities and even states come together. When you add up all the stories and all the people I’ve been in contact with along the way, it’s been amazing.”
And he has particularly enjoyed this part of his trip up the Allegheny River into Warren.
“The one truism coming up this river, it’s 189 miles to come up for Pittsburgh and as you ascend, everyone says it just gets better and better,” he said. “Warren for me was sadly the endpoint for my tenure on this river. It absolutely did not disappoint. What a charming place.”
Moore is currently continuing his journey along the Chadakoin River.
His final stop at the Statue of Liberty, he said, will include friends he met along the way to do the final paddle with him.
“I’ve been working with the Manhattan Kayak Company to invite people I’ve paddled with and we’re going to do the last leg together,” he said. “It’s been so great to meet people from all walks of life, ethnicities and backgrounds. It’s just a really great cross section into the tapestry of America.”