Septuagenarian Kayaker Embarks on River Adventure
If you’re setting out on a 1,000 mile river excursion by kayak, you’d better first do your homework.
That’s exactly what Will Moore, 71, of Georgetown, Texas, did before he headed north to set in at Uffington, West Virginia, two miles upriver from Morgantown on the lengthy river adventure he planned to end at Cairo, Illinois – where the Ohio meets the mighty Mississippi.
“I’d never done a long kayak tour before, but I have been in some 100 mile marathons down the Colorado River in Texas,” Moore said in a phone interview on July 13, when he was camped in a small parklet three miles from Pittsburgh’s Point Park. “It takes me about 24 hours of nearly non-stop paddling to go the distance, but kayakers in the racing group can make it in 12.”
While his regimen of kayaking two or three hours three mornings a week helped get him in shape for his grueling Monongahela and Ohio River trek, phoning the Park and Recreation Department in Wheeling turned out to be a wise move as well. The voice on the other end of the line referred him to Steve Selin, a member of the River Towns Program, who gave him helpful contact information for communities downriver. Selin and his wife also took him to lunch.
On July 7 at 7 in the morning, Moore packed his 16-foot Wilderness Systems Tarpon kayak with 80 pounds of equipment – a tent, sleeping bag, a “great air mattress that’s almost like sleeping on a bed,” a small Coleman stove, an i-Pad on which he intends to post a daily log to his websiterivermeister.com and a stash of food – breakfast items, packets of soup, coffee. He then headed off down the Monongahela on the start of his journey that included stops at historical sites along the way.
Arriving late in Greensboro, Moore met up with Darlene Garrett, one of Selin’s contacts, who arranged for a place for him to camp that night. Further downstream in Rices Landing, he met a couple who chatted for a while and phoned the council to see if he could pitch his tent in a small park along the river. After getting an OK, the couple returned an hour later and gave him a Subway sandwich.
Brownsville also proved a fortuitous stopover. There he met former mayor, Norma Ryan, who bought him breakfast at Fiddle’s Cafe, then took him on a two hour tour of the town. An army veteran of 25 years, Moore later spent the night camped along the Mon near the American Legion in West Brownsville, where members shared stories about life in the military as well as several bottles of beer.
In Charleroi, city manager, Don Henderson, took him to a restaurant, bought him an Italian dinner, took him to his house to let him take a much needed shower then drove him back to his campsite.
Further downstream in New Eagle a fellow named Dave came by with a cooler of beer and meatballs which he shared with Moore.
“The hospitality I found on the river has been overwhelming,” Moore said. “Everywhere I stopped along the way, people helped me find a place to stay and gave me food. The members of the West Brownsville legion even took me up to Wal-Mart to buy some supplies. I expect that Norma, Don and I will be friends forever, and I plan to stay in touch with them.”
One criticism Moore has about his trip down the Mon is its lack of access to the river towns and services, especially for kayakers and canoeists. In his log in which he makes daily entries via his iPad, he mentions that he had a reservation at a hotel in Homestead, but when he got there, he couldn’t get out of the river and up to the hotel.
One thing that originally gave him a bit of apprehension before the start of the trip was the fact that he’d have to go through many locks along the way. Before he started, he counted nine on the Mon and about 20 on the Ohio.
“The people at the first lock talked me through it,” he said. “The tricky part was tying up to a floating pin on the side of the lock which goes up and down with the water level and keeps you in place. Now that I’ve gone through seven already, I consider myself an old hand.”
Born and raised in the river town of Cincinnati, Moore said he has always been partial to the Ohio, which he considers one of the most beautiful rivers he’s ever seen. As to the Monongahela, he said he was drawn into the mystique of the river after he heard the Pete Seeger song “Where the Old Allegheny and Monogahela Flow” and thought it would be a great lead in to the Ohio.
After reaching Pittsburgh, Moore realized he was going much slower than anticipated, due to the fact that his 80 pound cargo is slowing him down and because he has been stopping to see the sites along the way with the contacts he’s met. A business owner who renovates old houses in and around Georgetown, located about 25 miles north of Austin, he has to be back home just after the Labor Day holiday.
“My customers are waiting for me to get back to work on their houses,” he said.
Now, instead of ending his trip in Cairo, he said he’ll have to shorten the distance by as much as 400 miles and call it quits in either Cincinnati or Louisville.
“The trip will still add up to around 600 miles, so I’ll be happy,” he said.
To get to his start off point on the upper Mon, he drove his truck north from his home in Texas. Near Uffington, he met up with his son, Fletcher, a computer technician for Georgia Tech University. A bicycle enthusiast, Fletcher rode his bike 60 to 70 miles a day from Atlanta to get to his father in time for his put in.
Further complicating the logistics of the trip, after driving the truck back to Atlanta, Fletcher will make another trip north to meet his father for a Labor Day weekend rendezvous. Moore then plans to drive the truck (and kayak) back to Texas, while Fletcher bikes back to Atlanta.
On his journey, Moore plans to text Fletcher every day and also keeps in touch with his wife, PJ, via cell phone.
“PJ thinks I’m crazy, but has been really supportive,” he said. “She thinks the trip is good for me and realizes that I spent 25 years in the military and need some adventure in my life.”
Going west from Pittsburgh, Moore will travel without further contacts but will have the use an excellent river guide book he’s discovered and packed that’s written by river enthusiast, Jerry Hay. Moore expects the book will help him locate services and camp sites all along the river for the rest of his journey.
“I know one thing,” he said. “When this trip is over, it won’t be the end. I’ll probably be on the river again, but I’m not sure just where or when.
Story by Dave Zuchowski for Pennsylvania Bridges