Long-distance canoeist Neal Moore brings a kayak to shore at the Paducah, Ky., riverfront on August 17 after a brief paddle around Owens Island at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers with Jeff Canter of the Tennessee Riverline initiative. (Photo by Shelley Byrne)

Long-Distance Paddler Returns To Paducah

Long-distance paddler Neal Moore returned to Paducah, Ky., recently to speak about his 7,500-mile canoe trip in 2020-21 across 22 rivers from the West to East coasts.

Ken Wheeler, retired river industry professional and advocate for the inland waterways system, as well as a Paducah resident, invited Moore for the visit, which included a tour of the River Discovery Center, an opportunity to talk about his travels and upcoming book, a meeting with Debra Calhoun of Waterways Council Inc. and a brief kayak ride around Owens Island at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers with Jeff Canter with the Tennessee RiverLine’s local leadership team for Paducah and McCracken County.

Moore spent most of his adult life living abroad, in both Africa and east Asia, and he designed the canoe trip as a chance to come back to the United States and to explore the country “connecting the riverways, the waterways, and also connecting us as people.”

He said it was important to show what connects Americans, especially during a time of what he called great division following the 2020 election and during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he wanted to meet Americans all across the country and have an opportunity to tell their stories. He has previously authored Down the Mississippi: A Modern-day Huck on America’s River Road and Homelands: A Memoir, about previous explorations. The book he is writing about his Coast to Coast solo canoe trip has a working title of Vagabond.

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He said he was happy to return to Paducah when invited.

“It might sound strange, but these old river towns, they have a grit,” he said. “They’ve seen boom times. They’ve seen busts. They’ve seen floods. A town like this, I’m told, employs more than 6,000 people in the inland waterway industry. To walk these streets is just amazing.”

He added that traveling by canoe was a unique way to see the country.

“It’s the first mode of transportation in North America,” he said.

Moore visited Paducah twice on his Oregon to New York trip, initially traveling 50 miles out of his way from where he had been traveling down the Mississippi River to get a brief preview of the Ohio River in fall 2020. He then returned as he was paddling north on the Tennessee River to go upstream on the Ohio to points farther east. 

Moore recalled seeing a mother of two young boys as he passed by a riverfront RV park nearby on one of those occasions. At the time, he was traveling the river just ahead of a paddlewheel cruise boat that he had locked through with, with the canoeist in the 600-foot chamber and the paddlewheeler in the 1,200-foot chamber.

“Lookee there,” he quoted the mother as saying to her children. “That’s the way the river used to be: paddlewheels and canoes.”

Paducah also held interest for him because of those who work in the river industry.

“It’s the same camaraderie, the same love of the river,” he said.

Moore said he greatly respects those who work in the industry and made it a point on his journey to carry a marine radio to communicate with captains, to announce himself when making his way around a fleeting area and to stay out of the navigational channel. He advised anyone seeking to make a similar journey to learn about the commercial towing industry and the rules of river navigation and to give tows plenty of space to ensure safety.

Neal also took time while in town to learn about the Tennessee RiverLine, a vision for a continuous trail system both by water and land between Paducah and Knoxville, Tenn., along the Tennessee River.

Moore views the project as a wonderful way to introduce young people to the river and compared it to a similar trail system he traveled along the Erie Canal.

He planned to wrap up his trip with a visit talking to schoolchildren  about the waterways and about the importance of protecting the environment.

More information about Moore and his canoe trip is available at 22rivers.com.