POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — For the last year and a half, adventurer and canoeist, Neal Moore has turned the lyrics “from sea to shining sea” into a life journey.
Moore set out in February 2020 to explore the United States from Astoria, Oregon to Lady Liberty in New York, crossing 22 states and 22 rivers. The interesting part, he is traveling by canoe.
“The big idea was to connect the rivers from sea to shining sea, from coast to coast, with the Statue of Liberty as the end game,” Moore said.
Moore moved to Africa as a teenager and spent several years in Asia, inspiring his journey to explore his home country more. He is originally from Los Angeles, Calif.
“I’ve been an expatriate for most of my life. The big idea was to come back to my home country and to really see it and really experience it up close and personal,” Moore said
Moore has been stopping in small river-towns across America during his journey. Stopping in Point Pleasant earlier this week, he said there is about 1,200 of the 7,500-mile trip left.
“Most days, I launch out at first light and paddle until last light. So, you have the hour after the sun goes down to sort of make camp,” Moore said. “I’m looking for towns and looking for places to sort of make camp.”
Islands, RV parks, a few host families and the occasional hotel stay has been Moore’s way of life for the last 18 months.
“It’s turned into about 10 nights of camping wild and one night with a host family or a hotel or an Airbnb or a RV park,” Moore said.
Moore said he looks forward to the home-cooked meals often offered by host families as they are “too good for words.”
With no tracking or GPS devices and little phone usage, Moore said part of the plan was to really see America without the interference of constant availability. All his worldly belongings are what fits on the canoe, aside from a few resupply boxes along the way.
“When you push yourself out into nature, it’s really a great thing. Water itself it’s a stabilizing experience, I think.,” Moore said. “On a journey like this, when you push yourself out into the water and into the wildness and you have the wildness all around you and it’s just you and nature, it’s an incredible feeling. You’re embraced by the wildness and by being in the wild, you have embraced the wildness inside of ourselves as well, which can be scary but a really great experience.”
While navigation is important, Moore must be constantly aware of the weather and any impending storms.
“A couple of side trips, one was up the Kentucky River to see the capitol, Frankfurt, and this other one was to come up the Kanawha River to see Charleston, which I was able to do,” Moore said. “When I was on my up the Kentucky, they only operate those dams on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I was setup on Friday morning, continued forward. The second dam was about 30 miles in, so I wasn’t going to make that before dark. As I was paddling up, I just have a couple of new apps on my phone and one of them gave me a warning – flash flood warning. And then right at dark came the second warning which was extreme lightning storm.”
Moore said he could see the storm moving in from the Ohio area into Kentucky and knew he needed to get to the highest ground.
“I found a spot that was just ridiculously high after dark. It was sandy. It’s a really muddy river, just beautiful – wild and natural and muddy,” Moore said. “So, I sort of, climbed up to this ledge with the sand up there and it was so high up. I grabbed all my stuff; I could see the storm coming but it was a dry lightning storm to start with.”
After a quick debate on taking his canoe up the hill, Moore decided it was best not to leave it. Carrying all his possessions and the canoe to high ground, he was able to make camp and rest.
“I slept like a baby,” Moore said. “The next morning when I woke up, I opened the front [tent] and the water was right there. It had come up about 10 feet.”
After speaking with one of the dam operators, Moore learned about more expected flooding and headed back to the Ohio, but not before meeting some locals.
“As I was starting the portage of that last dam before the Ohio these two local guys, they looked like fisherman,” Moore said. “They were whooping and hollering up on the hill, and then high-fiving each other.”
The men thought Moore had found their lost canoe.
“These are local guys who know the area, they had been on the river camping just below where I was, they lost their canoe, they lost all their gear. They had a spot device and they hit SOS, so they were rescued by emergency services.”
This is Moore’s second attempt at the journey. During the first one, his canoe flipped in rapid, frigid waters after turning and being blocked by two large, downed trees.
“The natural environment, she can be beautiful, but she can be wicked at the same time,” Moore said.
Moore has a marine radio to communicate with towboats and said his job is to stay out of their way. He also must stay aware of all obstacles – logs, debris, trash, etc. – that could be in the way.
If completed, Moore will be the first to complete this adventure.
“It’s been done from east coast to west coast, specifically in a canoe, solo and continuous. It has not been done from west coast to east coast,” Moore said.
Moore said his journey along the rivers and river-towns, many the first towns, connects the then and now.
“What I’m trying to do is to see how the rivers and waterways connect across the country, but also to look for and document how we as a people connect… looking for the threads of our common humanity and what it means to be an American,” Moore said. “By the time I get to the beacon hand of the Statue of Liberty I will, in my mind, earned that view from the American side, from the American experience to see where a lot of us had started off back in the day.”
Americans know what divides, Moore said he wanted to highlight what brings them together.
“I think a truism with humanity anywhere in the world you are, when times are tough, this is when we as a people roll up our sleeves and this is when we look out for each other. Families come together and communities can come together as well,” Moore said.
When needed waterways are closed Moore walks, pulling his canoe on wheels. He recently learned he will need to do this for the last 135 miles before reaching Syracuse, New York.
Moore plans to circle Liberty Island in December. He set off from Point Pleasant’s Riverfront Park to continue his journey Tuesday morning with one goal.
“From sea to shining sea to really see and experience and highlight and underscore the positive of where we’ve got ourselves off to and what has come of us as Americans,” Moore said.
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Brittany Hively is a freelance writer and graduate of Marshall University, with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and journalism.