Going the distance
Cross-Country Canoe Trip Lands 22 Rivers Canoer At Chautauqua
CHAUTAUQUA — Most people enter Chautauqua Institution through the main gates – but Neal Moore, 22 Rivers canoer, is not most people.
Moore, a canoer from Los Angeles, began his trip across the U.S. in Oregon and landed on the shores of Chautauqua Lake at the institution on Monday night. Moore is calling his journey the “22 Rivers,” due to the nature of his travels.
“I’m so thrilled to be here in New York,” he said. “The journey is including 22 rivers and waterways, and 22 states. New York is the 22nd state, my final state, and 7,500 miles. It’s a nice cross-section of the states and the American experience.
Moore said he decided to stop at the gated community due to a recommendation from a friend.
“I’ve been based out of Taipei and Cape Town – 20 years in Taipei and in Cape Town for 30 years,” Moore said. “One of my best friends in Taipei is Sid Goldsmith who has been coming to summer here for a long time, and so I’ve heard about the institution and the good work here for a long time. The big hope was that I could actually come through when he was here, but the way it worked out, he just got back to Taipei. We were able to meet up in Pittsburgh.”
He said the institution is “incredible.” Having only heard about it second hand, Moore said he wasn’t sure what to expect.
“It’s positively — with positive being the keyword there — just incredible,” he said. “I’ve lived in Ethiopia and different places where for example, Harar is a Unesco World Heritage site and the reason is that in the 500-year-old walled city which is prominently Islamic, they invited the Christians in 100 years ago. And so, here to have the interreligious sort of experience and the catch-all, really, for everyone and the four pillars that they talked about, and to embrace the natural beauty as well – it’s really something.”
Moore stayed the night at the historic Athenaeum Hotel on the grounds, which he said he enjoyed.
“Part of this journey for me is looking at the history,” he said. “To stay last night here was just incredible.”
Moore participated in an interview on the grounds with Mark Wenzler, director of the Chautauqua Climate Change Initiative. Wenzler had recently done a momentous trek of his own, riding his bicycle from Washington, D.C. to the institution. Wenzler asked Moore about the conditions of the waterways he traveled and what inspired the trip.
“The big idea was to return to my home country and really explore her, up close and personal,” Moore said. “To explore both how the waterways connect from sea to shining sea, and also how we as Americans connect as well. I think there are so many things that unite us.”
Moore said he had a tour of the grounds and saw many of the landmarks throughout the community. After a brief stay on the grounds, he will head to Westfield and paddle through Lake Erie until he reaches Buffalo where he will then travel on the Erie Canal.
“Then, it’s 350 miles to Albany – half of which I’m going to be able to paddle and the other half I’m going to have to pull,” Moore explained. “I have some wheels that go under the canoe, then I’ve got a fall harness (to pull the canoe), which is appropriate because I’ll be on the Towpath Bike Trail, which has been turned into a bicycle trail, where the mules and the horses used to pull (loads). Then, I’ll have the joy of coming down the Hudson River to New York City.”
He said he will arrive in the city in December, shortly after turning 50-years-old. When asked how he keeps going, he smiled.
“One truism is that your body adapts to the river,” Moore said. “I’m going from strength to strength, and I believe that by the time I get to New York City I’ll be in the best shape of my life.”
He said he had canoed the Mississippi River in 2009 during the major economic downtown. He undertook the journey to look for “sort of practical advice,” he said.
“You find people who live in river towns are a little bit rough and tumble, and that they have a certain grit,” Moore said. “They’ve seen boom times, they’ve seen busts and they have the wherewithal to stand back up and to fight. So, on this journey, there are multiple undercurrents, but one of the big ideas for this journey going from sea to shining sea was I wanted to be here in America in the year leading into national elections.”
Moore said he set out with a plan to look for what brings the country together as a nation. He said we all know what separates us — but he is interested in finding the things that knit us together as a people and as a country.
“What are the ingredients of the American experience?” he asked. “The end game is the Statue of Liberty, so I’m approaching her from the American side and I’m looking for what’s become of us and how we continue to absolutely unite.”
Moore is documenting his experience on his website blog, www.22rivers.com, on Instagram under @riverjournalist, and he is starting a Facebook page under “Two Rivers Expedition.” He is hopeful to live-stream his arrival at the Statue of Liberty for those who would like to tune in.