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The Benefits of Paddling Across America Through a Year of COVID

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Neal Moore


One year ago, Neal Moore was a month into a 7,500-mile canoe expedition across the United States when the world descended into the chaos and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. The vagabond journalist launched his Old Town canoe in Astoria, Oregon, early last February, with the goal of paddling to the foot of the Statue of Liberty in New York. He coined the journey “22 Rivers”—for the number of big waterways he would travel and, also, for the number of states he would visit along the way. Traveling alone, Moore hoped to hear and share the story of Americans; CNN describes the 49-year-old Los Angeles native, who had been living in Taiwan, as a “modern-day Huck Finn.”

Moore’s only option was to keep paddling when international flights were grounded last March. “The journey itself—the canoe and my tent and all of my gear—became my home,” he says. “And sheltering in place meant continuing the journey.”

He fought the currents up the Columbia, Snake and Clark Fork rivers to the Continental Divide. Then, he cruised for eight months and 3,249 miles down the Mississippi to New Orleans. He marked the expedition’s one-year anniversary on the Gulf Coast, waiting out fickle winds before beginning a long, sinuous route north to the Great Lakes and the Hudson River.

Moore in Washington, Mo., on the Missouri River. Patrick Tenny

“In many cases, it’s been hell and high water,” says Moore. “I’m open to nature and the raw environment. I’ve been through a tornado, I’ve come through high winds and freak waves, I’ve really been up against it.”

When we connected, Moore was in downtown Mobile, AL, having “just connected the Barrier Islands off the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Alabama, stringing together Deer, Horn, Petite Bois, and Dauphin islands with intense open Gulf passages in between each.” He’ll soon be heading north through Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.

neal moore Paddling the Lower Mississippi near Natchez, Miss
Paddling the Lower Mississippi near Natchez, Miss. Adam Elliott

Despite all that paddling, it’s his legs that are sore, strained to maintain his upright, seated position in the canoe, between his loaded canoe getting hit by a shark, escorted by dolphins, “and thrown around by the waves every which way—at times like I was atop a mechanical bull.” At this many miles in, his arms and back are well tested and honed. “They know the routine,” he says. “And any muscles that don’t are going to find out. Because I’d say this journey is a perpetual all-body workout.”

The upside of the day-to-day rigors on the journey means growing stronger by the day. “The old adage rings true,” says Moore, “under such conditions, one goes from strength to strength.”

Moore notes that his weight fluctuates by 10 pounds: losing it in on the water, when consuming a lot of water and camping for days on end; then gaining it back during city layovers. Still, he’s confident that when he gets to his New York destination, approaching two years on tour, he’ll be in the best shape of his life.

neal moore montana Continental Divide
Moore’s “portage” victory selfie near the top of the Continental Divide at Elliston, Montana.

Besides the physical challenges, Moore has faced solitude. He envisioned a solo journey punctuated by visits from friends for sections along the way. Most of his companions were forced to bail. Meanwhile, lockdown orders meant he often missed the social aspects of stops in small-town diners, forcing Moore to adapt his usual methods of meeting locals and collecting their stories. In other places, Moore witnessed growing dissent for rules meant to curb the pandemic, including an anti-mask rally in Sandpoint, Idaho. “I was warned by friends to stay the hell away, but I couldn’t help myself,” recalls Moore. “I could see it was a spark, that that mentality was going to spread.”

Yet Moore has also benefited from the friendliness of small-town America, even in these strange times—often observed from a curbside, as he dines on takeout. “The kindness, the humanity,” he says. “It’s just awesome.”

That physicality, and that contrast between elongated isolation and interludes of joyful human interaction, have been a tonic for Moore—something he wrestles with when he catches himself dreaming about where his life will go post-trip. Moore admits he came into the expedition battling demons: childhood traumas he’s failed to confront and encounters with skin- and testicular cancer. When he was in pain, wrought with uncertainty and facing multiple surgeries, Moore says, “I’d counter my aggression and self-induced pity by closing my eyes and dreaming of stepping away from it all.”

He once wondered about his strength and stamina and ability to recover. But a year on the river has reaffirmed his capacities. “We have what is called muscle memory. Your body and your muscles remember,” Moore notes. “While they don’t necessarily like the idea of full-on adventure, I am a testament to the fact that they do.”

Sometimes Moore struggles with aloneness, especially when he realizes he’s floating in and out of peoples’ lives, traveling on before relationships can take shape. Yet he’s becoming content with that. “Out there on the water, I laugh every single day,” he says. “It’s a carefree laugh, a laugh of freedom. Am I really alone? Of course I’m not. I’m surrounded by nature personified, all around my craft. I am surrounded and I am enveloped with love. And it feels goddamn wonderful.”

Neal Moore NOLA new orleans
Moore, relaxing off the water, having arrived in New Orleans. Nathalie Pantelic


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10 Most Wishlisted Domestic Airbnb Rentals of Summer 2022

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Crystal Peak Lookout: Airbnb Categories




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Ricky Gervais on Why Standup Is His Favorite Medium of Comedy

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Ricky Gervais on Why Standup Is His Favorite Medium of Comedy


Ricky Gervais, the comedy icon and creator/star of After Life returns to the stage with his latest Netflix stand-up special, SuperNature—which shouldn’t be taken too literally. We sat down with the actor to get the low-down on life lately, but first, some rapid-fire questions:

  • One wish?: An animal sanctuary.
  • Money or fame?: Money is real. Fame is what again? Random people waving at you?
  • If God exists…: He’s doing a horrible fucking job.
  • Epitaph?: He had a laugh, then found a lump.

Men’s Journal: SuperNature sounds even more ambitious than 2018’s Humanity, which began with you telling your audience “I prefer animals.” Can we assume the new title is ironic, you’ll be in a stained black T-shirt and drinking beer out of a can again?

Ricky Gervais: And very likely wearing bad jeans. I don’t believe anything is “supernatural.” If something exists, it’s natural and explainable—if not now, then eventually. I do explain irony at the start of SuperNature. I say, “That was irony. There’ll be more of it in the show. See if you can spot it.”

What draws you back to stand-up between your series work?

Initially, it was just the other thing I did and enjoyed. Now I realize it’s my favorite thing of all. My revelation with stage time is its efficiency. You can write for hours and never predict how it’ll go. With stand-up, you have your answer in seconds.

After Life is in its third and final season. What prompted you to relax your usual two-season-max rule with earlier shows like The Office [U.K.], Extras and Derek?

It’s a bigger world this time with more drama and characters to explore. I do think it’s funny, though, that people make a big deal of me doing a third [six-episode] season—when that doesn’t amount to a single U.S. season. I could’ve very happily done more.

Why not? It’s called After Life. It could’ve gone on forever, right?

Everything points that I should carry on. It hurts me to stop this. It’s stupid to stop this. But I already blurted it out, and I think it’s the right decision. At least this way I’m not canceled. I’ve never been canceled because I always cancel myself first.

Speaking of which, if you were starting out today would you pursue a comedy career in the “cancel culture” era?

I would because there’s always cancel culture. Once upon a time, it was the middle- aged Christian right who were the gatekeepers. Now it’s 20-year-olds on social media. You’ve just gotta ignore it all. A comic bemoaning cancel culture is like a sailor griping about waves.

What comes more naturally to you, insulting others or self-deprecation?

Self-deprecation usually wins. There’s a sneaky bit of it hiding in the insults too, tucked behind all of that faux arrogance, right? I also think it’s important to distinguish an actual insult from just teasing someone about what everyone already knows.

Your scene with David Bowie in Extras is the yardstick of televised humiliation. What was it like to be shredded in song by a music legend?

Amazing. People still don’t realize I wrote those words for him. It wasn’t a documentary.

Did he write the music for that “chubby little loser” scene?

I sent him the lyrics and asked, “Can you give me something sort of retro for this—like, ‘Life on Mars’?” He goes, “Sure, I’ll just knock off a quick fucking ‘Life on Mars’ for you.” That was amazing, too.

Does life make any sense or is it just a series of arbitrary events?

I assure you, the latter. The universe doesn’t give a shit about us. It doesn’t even know us. So we better just try and enjoy the ride.


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20 Best Shandy and Radler Beers of Spring and Summer

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20 Best Shandy and Radler Beers of Spring and Summer




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