Canoeist takes his cross country journey through Orleans on Erie Canal
Neal Moore says there is no better way to experience the U.S.
MEDINA – When Neal Moore’s first attempt in 2018 to cross the United States by canoe ended in failure, he wasn’t about to give up.
Moore, who will be 50 next month, was 12 the first time he paddled a canoe to get a merit badge as a Boy Scout. He would be 38 the next time he put a canoe in water at the headwaters of the Mississippi.
But that was enough for him to know it was the way he wanted to travel when he decided to cross the country from Oregon to New York City.
Moore was born and raised in Los Angeles. He studied a semester in Hawaii before graduating from high school in LA. He said it was his mother’s wish he become a missionary, so after graduation, he went to South Africa.
“I’d do anything for her,” Moore said.
Although she died the first month he was there, he stayed for two years.
“I learned when you push yourself out into new comfort zones you grow and learn,” he said.
Moore next continued his education at the University of Utah, where he got a degree in English literature and film theory. He worked in Hollywood with Jim Hanson for a while, then he sold everything. He has gone back to South Africa every year for 30 years, he said.
He now calls Cape Town, South Africa and Taipei, Taiwan “home.”
Moore is a journalist and book author. He also works with American relics and old books and photos.
When the urge to travel hit him, he began to fantasize on where he wanted to go.
“Then I thought, ‘What if I came home.’ I want to experience America up close,” he said. “I’m looking for the blend between nature and community.”
He decided there was no better way to experience America than by canoe.
First, that is the original mode of transportation in this land, and rivers and waterways are the first thoroughfares, Moore said.
“It is a unique way to travel and it makes for an interesting and challenging way to see the country,” he said.
Moore launched his first expedition in 2018 and made it 1,800 miles up the Columbia and Snake rivers to North Dakota. He said the Spokane River was experiencing a 20-year flood. His canoe tipped when he hit trees down in the St. Regis River, a glacial and cold river, and he lost a lot of gear.
“I hung up my paddle, but I did not give up,” Moore said. “It was a pause, and that was a wonderful place to come back to. However, a friend said I would have to start over at the beginning.”
In February 2020, Moore launched again from Astoria, Ore. He said LA was the first to shut down when the pandemic hit, and he cleared Oregon 30 minutes before the governor shut that state down.
When he got to the tri-cities of Eastern Washington, Washington had also been shut down, but the governor gave people 48 hours to get their homes in order, then they had to shelter in place. Moore contacted the Corps of Engineers, who gave him permission to paddle up the Snake River. He also got permission from the Nez Perce Native American tribe to cross their land and he made it up the Snake River and into Idaho.
“By the time I got to Bismarck, N.D., all hospital beds were full,” Moore said. “We were five months into the pandemic and it was fully around me. But the best place to be was out of doors, alone, camping in the wild and in a canoe.”
He said his home was his tent, his canoe and the expedition, so sheltering in place meant continuing his journey.
“I’ve been traveling ever since,” he said.
His journey has brought him to the last of 22 states – New York, and when he reaches the Hudson, it will be the 22nd waterway and the end of a 7,500-mile adventure.
On his website, 22rivers.com, he lists as obstacles river traffic, from pleasure boats to container ships and oil tankers, far too many locks and dams (including Lockport), rapids and eddies, sunken rocks, submerged trees and freak waves on major lakes and the open sea.
He experienced the waves just a few days ago on Lake Erie. He had met up with a mutual acquaintance, an experienced kayaker, who was accompanying him in the lake. They encountered rough waves and as they were trying to go ashore south of Buffalo, a giant wave wedged them under the canoe. Fortunately, another large wave came along and loosened the canoe enough so they could get free.
After a short stay in Buffalo with fellow canoe enthusiasts, Moore made it to Lockport, where Jane Jacobson of Buffalo joined him in her kayak for the trip through the locks and down the canal to Medina. Jacobson had met Joe Martillotta of Albion when he owned the Crooked Door and he made a stained glass panel for the front of his building. Joe and his wife Debbie came and got Jacobson at Gardenview and took her to Lockport to get her vehicle. Then they offered to host Moore on Sunday night.
He had previously contacted Pat Fox of Gardenview Bed and Breakfast to stay Saturday night, but her rooms were booked, so she gave him permission to pitch his tent in her yard.
On Sunday morning, Moore was given a tour of Medina, the Culvert, St. Mary’s Archer’s Club, Lake Ontario (which he had never before seen) and the Medina Railroad Museum.
Then he was transported to the Bates Road boat launch, where he set off down the canal in pouring rain for Albion, where Martillottas met him.
During the trip, he eats snacks during the day and if there is not a restaurant nearby at night, he eats freeze-dried meals, which he carries with him.
He has a set of wheels in his canoe, and where he cannot paddle, he pulls the canoe. After leaving Albion and paddling east on the canal half of the way, he will pull the canoe on the towpath 170 miles to Albany. He will be on the towpath from Oct. 15 to Nov. 15.
“By making this trip, I’m looking for the common ingredients of who we are,” Moore said. “I’m attempting to explore how waterways connect from ‘sea to shining sea.’ I may be traveling solo, but I’ve made so many new friends and other new friends are just around the corner.”
It is his goal to approach the Statue of Liberty from what he calls the “wrong side,” meaning from the west, whereas the immigrants who came to this country approached it from the east.
“Each individual I’ve met along the way is a thread and when you add them all up and I end up in New York City, I’ll have woven a tapestry of American people.”
“The most beautiful sight will be the Hudson,” Moore said. “That will be my 22nd waterway and it is going in my direction.”