William Least Heat-Moon
William Least Heat-Moon
River-Horse: A Voyage Across America
ISBN: 0395636264
River-Horse: A Voyage Across America
The acclaimed, best-selling author of Blue Highways and Prairyerth chronicles his one-of-a-kind journey through America's waterways from Atlantic to Pacific. Brimming with history, drama, hilarity, and wisdom, River Horse ranks among the greatest American travelogues.

In 1995, Heat-Moon set out on his most ambitious trip yet, from New York harbor to the breakwater of Astoria, Oregon, almost entirely by water. Aboard his little launch Nikawa ("river horse" in Osage), Heat-Moon logged more than five thousand miles, completing a trek no American had ever managed, yet following in the wake of our greatest explorers, from Henry Hudson to Lewis and Clark.

En route, he encountered odder adventures, bigger and nastier cities, lonelier spaces, stranger people, and more turbulent waters than even he had expected. He and Nikawa braved record-shattering floods, foundered on hull-crushing sandbars, and overcame innumerable other travails great and small. The often uproarious, often terrifying narrative teems with high adventure and fascinating characters. Heat-Moon, a sage of the heatland, offers a singular arteriogram of our nation and its folk at the century's edge.
—from the publisher's website

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TRANSCRIPT
River-Horse: A Voyage Across America
Program Air Date: January 16, 2000

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: William Least Heat-Moon, author of "River-Horse," the log book of a boat across America, where did you get the idea for this book?
Mr. WILLIAM LEAST HEAT-MOON, AUTHOR, "RIVER-HOUSE: A VOYAGE ACROSS AMERICA": Well, I think for the last 20 years, I've been trying to find a way to cross America by--by water, trying to link up one waterway with the next, with lakes, with canals. It took me about 20 years to--to put these together, and finally when I thought, `I think I have a route,' then, of course, if you have a route, you almost have to make it. But I'm also always trying to find a new way to see America. This was one way to do that.
LAMB: What year did you make the trip?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: It was April to August of 1995.
LAMB: What kind of a boat did you go in?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: We had two boats: a C-Dory, which is a 22-foot boat with two outboard motors, 45 horsepower motors each; 90 horse altogether; not much power really. And then we had a 19-foot Grumman aluminum canoe with a little four-horse motor on the back, really a trolling motor, to help against the upstream current of the--of the Missouri.
LAMB: Where did you start your trip?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Started in Elizabeth, New Jersey, right across the bay from New York City and went from there down the Kill Van Kull into the Atlantic Ocean, went under the Varrazano-Narrows Bridge, picked up a bottle of water from the Atlantic Ocean with the hopes that when we got to the other side about 5,300 miles away, we might be able to do as DeWitt Clinton did and pour water from one body into another.
LAMB: How many people traveled with you?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: There was always one person with me. I always had a co-pilot. At times on the Missouri River, when we had to pull the boat around the dams, there were four of us, never more than that.
LAMB: And how did you do that?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, the system was we would have three of us on the--the C-Dory each day, and then the--two of our--two of our mates would take turns moving the tow wagon from stop to stop. We needed a tow wagon at that point to get the boat around the 16 dams and around the upper Missouri River. So we would--we'd pull out just below the dam, pull the boat around and put it back in the water on the other side of the dam.
LAMB: How did you find the people to do this with you?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: That was--that was the trick in doing this. I--I went through my--my list of friends looking for people, first, who could swim, but I also wanted people who could articulate what they saw. I wanted somebody along with me who could--who could be a voice, another voice, in the boat, another voice to describe the river and--and what we were seeing. So I looked--I looked among my friends primarily for writers or people who wanted to be writers.
LAMB: Now you had a number of names that you used as you went through the book. One of them was called `the photographer.' Who was the photographer?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: The photographer was my good friend Bob Lindholm, who was with us on and off throughout the voyage. He was a--our--our able helper, probably the most dedicated of all of us to keeping the boat moving.
LAMB: Where's he from?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: A--at the time, he was from Jefferson City, Missouri. He lives in Kansas now.
LAMB: What did he do before he got into the boat-riding business?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, he was--he was a lawyer, retired at the time we took the trip. He specialized in water issues; that was just by chance. But a dedicated environmentalist and a man who--who knows water from a side that I'm--I'm not aware of.
LAMB: Now you use this technique also in the book of somebody named Pilotis. Is that the way you pronounce it?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Pilotis.
LAMB: What did that mean? Who was that person?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Pilotis was my co-pilot. Pilotis was seven people, all my friends, who would come on in sequence, one after the other, to--to help me along the way. When I began the book, I was going to--going to mention them by name, but it seemed to me after a while that if I did that, I would probably end up maybe causing them some embarrassment. When--when people are under stress, as we often were making this voyage, we say things, we do things that we might not want reported in full.

Well, it seemed to me that it was more important for the reader to know what Pilotis and I were doing with the river, on the river, how we were interacting with each other, with the river rather than for the reader to know the particular name of a Pilotis at the time. The reader does know who the Pilotises are. I--that's the first--first page of the book. The reader simply doesn't know when, say, Pete Lourie came on and when Mo Quince Davis left. So that gives them a bit of anonymity.
LAMB: Tell us about those folks. Who was Quince Davis?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Mo Quince--Duquince Davis, call him Mo Quince sometimes--he was a friend of mine that I met when I was in graduate school years ago. He--he worked in an insurance company for a number of years. This was his last year to work, so this was his--his last vacation before retiring. A fellow who--he's the only blue water sailor we had with us. He's the one that--that helped teach me the ropes to--to get started, although I have to say blue water sailing techniques are really not what we needed on most of these rivers. Not any of us--any of the eight of us had any experience with powerboats, unless you call a canoe with a motor on the back a powerboat.
LAMB: Linda Barton--or Linda Jane Barton.
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Linda Jane Barton. She is--she is a nurse who--she was the one woman who joined me. There were six men and one woman. It was good to have a nurse along for some of that, although we--we--we had no injuries. It just relaxed me to know that, `Aha, at this point, we do have a nurse here.'
LAMB: And how much did she spend with you--how much time?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Oh, I think it was--it was about two and a half weeks. Most of them were there for about two and a half weeks to three weeks.
LAMB: Peter King Lourie.
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Peter Lourie is a--is a man who has canoed the entire length of the Hudson River. He's canoed on the Amazon. He was the most experienced canoeist of the lot, but, again, somebody who had no experience with powerboats.
LAMB: Where is he from?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: He's from upstate New York, lives in Vermont now.
LAMB: How'd you find him?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: I met--I taught a workshop in upstate New York, met him there. He was one of the--the people enrolled in the workshop, a writing workshop. And I realized, `This man has knowledge that I don't have. I could use that brain.'
LAMB: And Steven Edward Ratiner.
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Ratiner.
LAMB: OK.
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Steve Ratiner lives in Boston. He's a poet and a teacher. He was the least-experienced of the--of the Pilotises, but he was the one that could turn a phrase probably as well as any of them.
LAMB: How'd you meet him?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: I met him the same way, at a workshop--another workshop that I taught one summer off the coast of New Hampshire on Star Island.
LAMB: When you're teaching these workshops, what is it you're--what is it you're educating them about?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Besides trying to--to--to bring in crew--Shanghai crew? We talk about some of the basics of writings and attempt to--really, to encourage people, to give them the belief that--that if they dedicate themselves, they can write a--a passable story, novel, whatever it happens to be.
LAMB: There was one line in your book, and I don't--probably can't find it when I need it here. Here it is: `Isolation is more than a boon to a writer of'--I'll just end it there, `Isolation is more than a boon to a writer.'
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Yes.
LAMB: What's...
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, it--it's an absolute necessity. There's no way to write--once you're sitting down with pencil in hand, there's no way to write without focusing to a degree that--that--that removes any--any other human presence around, except what is--what's turning in your head, the characters in your head. Those are the only people a writer can allow near her or near him when this is going on, I think.
LAMB: How often could you get this on this four months?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Oh, on the trip, not at all. We--we were--we were shoulder to shoulder for 24 hours a day for f--for nearly the four months of--of the voyage, but when I returned and came back and sat at my desk, that's the isolation that I need. But what it meant on the trip, unlike my other two trips, the one I described in "Blue Highways" or the walking trip in "PrairyErth," I was doing the reporting, the raw--the raw work, with--with somebody there the entire time. And it does change the way you see things. It is somewhat of an interference, to--to be honest.

I--I think that I work better if I can si--simply isolate myself and talk to whomever it is that I'm trying to--to interview or--or may--maybe just chat with as I'm going. But...
LAMB: You met...
Mr. HEAT-MOON: ...but--but these people, they--they--they brought other things that--that assisted me, of course. As I said, I--they would bring points of view that I didn't have, but it was something that--overcome in writing the book because I'd never written a book with--about a trip in which I had somebody with me the whole time.
LAMB: You make the statement in the book that you've driven over a million miles in this country?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Yes, more than a million miles. I'm--I'm attempting to visit every county in America. I would--I won't be the first to do this, but I'm almost there. I've got about 300 to go out of 3,170, according to my count.
LAMB: Why are you doing this?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: I want to see--I want to see what America looks like. I want to--I've been doing it since I was 10 years old. I've been trying to memorize the face of America, and one of the ways I go about it is--is I--I began by trying to go down every highway, and after a while I realized, `Well, that's impossible, but maybe I could get to every county.' So I've--for about 50 years, I've been doing this. At first, I didn't have any intention of visiting counties. It's the kind of thing that I looked at a map I've been keeping since I was 10 of every road I've driven, and it dawned on me, `I wonder how close I am to visiting all these counties.' That was just about five or six years ago. At that point, then I began aiming for the ones I've missed.
LAMB: Where do you call home?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Columbia, Missouri. It's right in the middle of the state between Kansas City and St. Louis.
LAMB: And of all the places you've seen, you still go back there.
Mr. HEAT-MOON: I do. It's a--it's--it's a progressive city, a wonderful city, an attractive city for the most part. But the main thing is I--I have roots there, I feel I belong there.
LAMB: What years did you do your two previous books?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: "Blue Highways" came out in 1983 and "PrairyErth" in 1991. Th--the--"Blue Highways" took about four years to--to write and "PrairyErth" about twice that. This one I've been working on for about eight years. All of the writing took only--only a couple of years.
LAMB: Let me go back and finish the--your Lotic mates, your--who you dedicate the book to. We--Robert Scott Buchanan.
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Robert Buchanan, Bo--Scott Buchanan is a professor, teaches in the Kansas City area, a longtime friend and also a poet--an excellent poet, and that was the reason I wanted him along. He--he can--he can say things in a way that--that I can't. And I have to say here that some of the early reviews of the book have commented that Pilotis seems to turn too--too many good phrases, and they--I've been accused of making this character up. That's why I chose these people, so they could do that very thing.
LAMB: But we have no way of knowing who actually said it.
Mr. HEAT-MOON: You--you do not know at the moment who it was, or you don't know at any time who it is that's speaking that phrase, yes, that's right.
LAMB: What do they think of this idea?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, I've ta--th--I've been on the book tour since the book came out, and I've talked to only one of them. I think he's satisfied with it. I think all of them would liked to have had their names more prominently displayed, to be honest about it, but I'm not sure that once they saw that here and there, they may have said something that they would like to have buried--I think once they consider that, they may agree with this technique.
LAMB: Who is Jack David LaZebnik? Is that...
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Jack LaZebnik is--is my editor in Columbia, Missouri. He's the one that I show my writing to, the only one I show my writing to, before I ever send it off to--to my publisher, Houghton Mifflin in Boston. He's the one who, perhaps more than any other person, has helped shape my writing. Without Jack, I wouldn't be published today, I think.
LAMB: This is out of context: Who's the biggest character you met on your trip?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, I'd have to say it--the--it's the Missouri River. I--I think sometimes that people reading this book, in its early stages here, don't understand that characters in this book have--sometimes have more to do with water than they do with people. There were about 18 bodies of water that we tr--we used in--in going coast to coast, and my desire in writing the book was to turn the rivers into something more th--than simply natural objects that--that most people cross over on a highway bridge, take a glance at and nothing more. I want them to see--see the rivers as--as living things.

And certainly the Missouri River, as rivers go, it was--it was--it was truly many rivers, so it was many characters. Sometimes we would see three or four Missouri Rivers in a--in a single day.
LAMB: How long is the Missouri River?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: It's our longest river. Today it's about 2,300 miles. If we measure it to its--its true headwaters up near Yellowstone Park, it's closer to 2,500 miles. Mississippi is a little short of that.
LAMB: You make the statement that the Mississippi is not the Big Muddy, but it's the Missouri.
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Yes. Historically the Big Muddy is the Missouri. Sometimes reporters, I think, who dash into St. Louis or Kansas City get their information a bit twisted and call the--the Mississippi the Big Muddy. Certainly below the m--the mouth of the Missouri, the Mississippi is the muddy river, but that's primarily because of what the Missouri River's doing to it.
LAMB: Eighty-one chapters, 81 days on the water?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Yes, yes. It just wo--well, this is--the book is based upon a 19th century log book, a ship's log book, and it does turn out to be almost a chapter per day, although some chapters where I put several days together. But by chance, it played out that way.
LAMB: And--and explain this. You did not want to portage at any point. You wanted to go across the waters for the entire voyage.
Mr. HEAT-MOON: If we could. That was the ideal. It's not impossible. There's no way to--to get across the Continental Divide and the Rocky Mountains without coming out of the water. And there's also a kind of Continental Divide in the Eastern part of the United States that people often don't think about. We happened to cross it in western New York, near Chautauque Lake. We came up out of Lake Erie and went up about a 1,000-foot slope, and when we crossed on the other side, we left the waters of--the waters that drain into the St. Lawrence behind and went into the waters that go into the Mississippi River, even though we were miles and miles and miles from the Mississippi at that point. Then, of course, we had to come out again between Montana and Idaho to get over the--the Rockies.

Now, ideally, if everything had played out, we would have had only 75 miles of--of water--out of the water. Because of flooding in--in--in Montana and a bit in Idaho, that figured turned out to be just a little over 200 miles out of 5,300.
LAMB: Now do you pronounce it Nikawa?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Nikawa.
LAMB: Where did you get the name for your boat?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Nikawa is a word that I coined from the Osage, my own ancestry. It has a bit of Osage in it. It--it means literally `river horse.' Ni is--is river or water or life. It has several meanings in Osage. Kawa is horse.
LAMB: Here's a photograph, New York Harbor. And how did you get the photos through the book, because you are obviously on board the boat?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Th--that was a trick. Our photographer, the one in the book whom I called photographer, did most of them. At one point, we were joined by a photographer from The Kansas City Star, who took a few pictures of us farther west. All the pictures I took, as--as you point out, were--were from the boat, so they don't really show what we're attempting to do.
LAMB: And what's the moment here in the Erie Canal?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: That's--that's the Nikawa looking quite tiny in--in the--in the lock at Lockeport, New York, on the Erie Canal, the last lock before we went into the Niagara River.
LAMB: How many locks are there between New York Harbor and your end point out in Oregon?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: I can tell--I can answer that question better by doing the dams. There--we--we went through 90--90 dams or around 90 dams, and about--I'd say about a third of those had locks through them: on the Erie Canal, one on the Hudson and on the Ohio River, one on the Mississippi and eight on the S--on the Snake or Columbia rivers.
LAMB: How long would it take, on average, to go through a lock?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Oh, it took 20 minutes. In--in--in nearly every instance, we were the only boat in the locks, even those huge ones on the West Coast. So it can go very quickly if they let us through. Sometimes you'd have to wait an hour or so to--to get in, but once we got in, the--the descent or ascent was--was very quick.
LAMB: How many nights did you sleep on the boat?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Oh, 10. We--we did our best to get off the boat. It was extr--uncomfortable sleeping. It was so small and crowded. We preferred either to--to camp along the shore, which we did in the West mostly. In the East, where we could get into river towns or villages, we liked to get into a bed and breakfast or an old hotel or a lodge, whatever we might find, so we could--we could talk to the people who make their living in some way from the rivers.
LAMB: Did you total up the number of gallons of gas you used?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: I didn't do that, and I've--I've never been asked that question. I probably should have been ready with that one. No, I didn't. It wasn't--it wasn't much because these engines just are extremely efficient. On the little trolling motor, even though we were going against the current, we could go for--for three days on three gallons of gas at times.
LAMB: What's a gallon of--what do you use? Diesel?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: No. We were using...
LAMB: Regular?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: ...regular--un--unleaded regular.
LAMB: What's it cost out there on the water? Same as it does on the ….
Mr. HEAT-MOON: No. It was more expensive. It--it--it oftentimes was about $1.70 a gallon in 1995.
LAMB: And how many--you know, how many motors did you have on your boat? How much--how many gallons did you carry with you at all times?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, the--the C-Dory, the 22-foot boat, the so-called big boat, we had two motors. Initially we carried only--the tank held about 58 gallons, and we carried, I think, about 10 gallons extra. When we got on the Missouri River, where there's--there's virtually no fuel stops--and the Missouri River was--was more than--than two-fifths of our--of our way across, we started carrying about 15 extra gallons there.
LAMB: Did you ever run out of gas?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: We never did. We came close twice and had some real frights; one time was on the Mississippi River when we were losing the light of day. We were about out of the gas. The river was in flood, and we couldn't find a place to--to get off the river.
LAMB: Go back to the characters. I wrote down some names of people that you were going through here. And how important was that to your story, when you would run into people?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, it's extremely important because on the river, you just--you don't meet many people, and when we got on the Great Plains, the river's so far typically from--from any kind of human habitation that when we saw somebody, that person would become most important. The sad part about--about--about making this trip is I wanted to do it in a single season. It seemed to me that it would--it would be anti-climactic to go partway, stop the trip and come back the next season. So I said, `I will do this in a single trip.'

What that meant was that we needed to keep moving. Almost every day, we had to keep moving. Consequently our time ashore was--was much less than I would have preferred. So when we did meet people, we--we talked hard and fast to them, if they were willing to--to talk, to try to get them to share their lives.
LAMB: Did you have to pay your--your co-pilots?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: No. Th--they--they went for the adventure of it. I--I--they got the adventure. I'm not sure that it's a trip they'd want to make again, nor would I.
LAMB: Did you total up what this whole thing cost you?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, if you count the--if you count the cost of--of the boat in that, yes, it's--it's something over $60,000. This is...
LAMB: Did you...
Mr. HEAT-MOON: This is not a trip that--that the--that probably the average citizen wants to make.
LAMB: Did you have to pay for that ou--yourself?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, yes, I had advanc--advances from the publisher, and I used some of those advances to--to underwrite it.
LAMB: By the way, what are you going to do with your boat?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: I don't know, Brian. It's sitting in a barn in--in the middle of Missouri now, an old tobacco barn, and it hasn't been in the water since we--we--we took it off the Columbia River. It's one of those things that I just--I--I don't want to be a boat owner. I--I--I don't want to own big things like that, so I--if--you know, I'm looking for a museum that might have an interest or if there'd be somebody who'd give it a good home and has a checkbook handy, yeah, we could talk.
LAMB: But is it one of those kinds of things that--I mean, how often is this--this trip made?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, people have crossed America by boat before, and a few of them have written books about it. It doesn't happen often, but I--I don't think anybody has gone coast to coast and kept water under the hull to the degree that we did in a single season.
LAMB: And when you had come across the point where you couldn't use Nikawa...
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Or the canoe.
LAMB: ...or the canoe, what would you do then?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: That's when we had to--to take the--the trailer and--and pull the boat around. But that was--that was only in western New York and then the dams of the Missouri River, then across the Continental Divide. Those are the only places.
LAMB: And I--there's a kayak, a canoe, then a--a--is there another boat in this thing? I--the...
Mr. HEAT-MOON: The C-Dory.
LAMB: The C-Dory.
Mr. HEAT-MOON: The C-Dory. The...
LAMB: And then a fourth one?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: No.
LAMB: No, no. Just those three.
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, we--we had an outfitter on the Salmon River. That's whitewater, and--and we had no experience with whitewater, nor did we have the boats to go down the Salmon River. The last--the last rapid on that river is a class VI rapid, which means certain death if you don't know what you're doing or maybe even if you do. He had--he had hyperlon ki--kind of rubberlike rafts. So if you count those, it was four boats--four types of boats.
LAMB: Let me go back to those characters. I wrote down a couple of names I wanted to ask you about. Brendan Ryan.
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Brendan Ryan--I love--I love--I love this guy. Just by chance, he left New Jersey on the same day we did just a few miles north of Elizabeth, where we--where we departed from. He was on a bicycle. He took off pedaling across the country. He wanted to reach the Pacific, too, in a single season. He got sick and had to--had to lay off his trip for a week or so, a little longer than that, in western Pennsylvania, and then he pedaled on. He caught us i--in--in central Montana, passed us, and he reached the Pacific Ocean three weeks before us. And the kicker in this story is that he was 70 years old. So in a...
LAMB: Where was he from?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: He was from Dublin. The message here I think, to me, is anybody who wants to cross the country by water, this is not something you do if you're trying to make time.
LAMB: Did you ask him why he wanted to do this?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: It--no, I didn't. If I did, it--the answer flew out of my head.
LAMB: How about Barren Stewart, a bartender?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, Barren Stewart was a man from Georgia tending bar in--in Montana. Barren, as h--as he said, is a name and not a title. He claimed to--to have been bitten by 11 snakes. As a reporter, when I--when I--when I hear stories like this, I feel I'm obligated to try to ascertain the truth of these things, so I said, `All right, Barren, name me the snakes.' And (snaps fingers) just like that, he gave me the names of the 11 snakes, including one poisonous snake, a--a cottonmouth, a water moccasin.
LAMB: And he called himself Mr. Eleven?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: He called himself Mr. Eleven. He had also totaled 11 cars. He--he had the series of 11 disasters in his life.
LAMB: Did you believe him?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, he--he certainly told a convincing story.
LAMB: What do they--as you went along the way, what did people think of you? What was the reaction when you'd say, `I just got in from New York,' and you were in--you know, somewhere out in Montana?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, when it happened on the West Coast, th--they--they thought we were making this up, and if they listened to us tell a few tales, they--I think they realized, `Well, these fellows are either good, you know, liars or they actually did this.' But I think--I think when they looked at our faces, we were just so weary and so tired, they knew we'd come a long way from someplace.
LAMB: Throughout this book, you can--you can find some very strong political statements. I--this happens about five or six times. I'll read one and just get you to elaborate on it. `Yet at the very time we were climbing the Hudson, the 104th Congress, driven by right-wing extremists, was trying to undo the Clean Water Act, a strange and heinous effort given the effectiveness the law has had in improving American waters.' Did you think about that statement before you wrote it?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Oh, indeed I did. Well, we thought about the threat in--in rewriting the Clean Water Act every day that we were on the river because what we saw--again, I say we did this in 1995; the Clean Water Act came out in the early '70s, signed incidentally by a Republican president--we--we had the fear that--that the improvement in waters that we could see so manifestly all across the country was going to start disappearing. And it--it just motivated all of us to try to educate to whatever degree we could the people in this country to the incredible effectiveness and importance of the Clean Water Act.

The--the East River used to be famous for what would float up in it, all the way from cadavers to automobile tires to other things. When we went up it that day on--that April day in '95, it looked--to the eye, it looked marvelous. Clearly there are things in the river that you can't see, toxins and so on, but--but visually it was--it was a most pleasing river. If we can clean the East River up by committing ourselves, we certainly can do this with about any body of water.
LAMB: But other than four or five times and usually the knock was--I mean, it was always on Republicans or ex--right-wing extremists...
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Extreme right-wingers, yes.
LAMB: Yes--did--but did you worry that you might a--you know, otherwise it's not a political book--that you would offend that crowd out there that otherwise would buy your book?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, I'm not sure that r--right-wing extremists can read. I don't think I have to worry about that.
LAMB: What are your own politics?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, I'm--I'm--I'm--I'm a liberal with a--with a large L.
LAMB: And where did you get that when--in your life?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, I didn't get it from my family because they were--they were Republicans, but--but they were Republicans under the old--the old school of the--of the '40s and the '50s. My father's the kind of man who would have been happy to sign the Clean Water Act. I think I--I got it, really, I must say, from--from reading and--and, I like to think, paying attention to--to what's going on and having a belief that--that the short-term greed is--is one of the most insidious diseases that--that our nation faces. And it seems to me that it's the extreme right that--that more often embraces that i--that short-teem--term greed rather than perhaps somebody farther left.
LAMB: When you were born, what was your name?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, it's still my name; I'm--I'm--I'm William Louis Trogdon. But in--in--when I was 13 years old, I had a chance to take another name. My father, in the '30s, took the name Heat-Moon as a way of honoring that side of our ancestry: English, Irish and Osage, pretty much in that order. My older brother came along and wanted to--to have a--an additional name to go with his name of--of David Trogdon; he became Little Heat-Moon. And when I--when I came along about six years later, I wanted to--to have a name, too. So that makes me Least Heat-Moon.
LAMB: This cover, is this of any river in particular? I know it's an art piece. And who did it?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: My--my--my close friend Ed Richardson painted that. It's--it's of no particular river. But the thing that we worked to do in--in--in making this cover is to try to suggest a place that could happen that--that one could see in almost any state that we went through. But it's--it--it's no--no particular river, although I think it does bear a s--a striking resemblance to the Missouri River near where Ed and I live.
LAMB: And where's your photo on this taken?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: That's the Missouri River in the background near a place called Rocheport, which is a--a wonderful 19th century village right in the middle of the state, about 30 minutes east of where I live in Columbia, Missouri.
LAMB: When you're not writing books, what are you doing?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Oh, I play a little basketball. Certainly I read. I li--I make walking sticks, and I do a whole lot of traveling without having to write about it.
LAMB: You do discuss in your book your two failed marriages. Is that--is that--am I accurate about the number?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: What happened? I mean, you've--you drew--you connect it with all this travel?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, it's--there was a relationship with the travel, but the main thing that happened was--it--was that I needed to grow up, in...
LAMB: Why? In...
Mr. HEAT-MOON: ...in a nutshell. I was a person who was simply too self-absorbed. Self-absorption is--is deadly on any re--any relationship, and it certainly--it certainly affected my marriages. It seems to me that I've been spending most of my years now attempting to grow up. I don't know how close I'm getting, but I'm still working at it.
LAMB: How old are you?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: I'm 60.
LAMB: And all these folks that went with you, what would be their average age?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: They--w--with the exception of Jack, who at the time was 73, the rest of them were all in their--in the 40s or early 50s.
LAMB: What'd you talk about in all those hours out there, or did you talk?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: We did. Oh, yeah, we--in the canoe we couldn't talk. It was--that foreign apposition and the noise from the--from the little motor and all was too--too difficult to talk. But on the big boat, oh, we talked most of the time. I would say most of it, we were talking about what we were seeing, at--attempting to make sense of it. Sometimes we'd have a little escape from the river and--and talk about our hopes of a good meal or a--or a good glass of ale or something of that sort. Occasionally a few stories that had nothing whatsoever to do with anything we were doing--I think those were usually my tales--to try to distract them, to keep them from getting too restless.
LAMB: Now from reading the book, you would have thought that you--you ate yourself to death from time to time and you're not a man that's very large, you know. How you'd keep--how you'd keep trim during all this?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, the i--one of the disappointments in making this river voyage, compared with other trips that I've made is--is that we had a hard time finding good food on the river. Keep in mind, most of the time, we--we had only our feet, once we came ashore, so we couldn't get very far away from--from the river. And we had to take whatever was handy. And most of those--most of those eateries down there were ones that were less than memorable, unless the memory happened to be on the negative side. So it was--it was not difficult not to overeat. We were--we were working hard, too. We were working 10, 12 hours a day on the river itself.
LAMB: Let me ask you about some of the rivers and just describe them, what you saw. The Hudson.
Mr. HEAT-MOON: The Hudson is probably our most deeply storied river. Its--its human history just so incredibly deep. And one of our most beautiful rivers. It's certainly not our--our longest, by any way. The lower part is actually not a river; it's a--it's a fjord. So in that way, if--if my information is correct, it's unique in America.
LAMB: What's a fjord?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: A fjord is an inlet of the sea that comes in that--joined by a river. So in a--in a--in a sense, you're actually on the arm of the--of a sea. And on the Hudson, you do get saltwa--saltwat--saltwater all the way to--to Troy, about 140 miles upstream.
LAMB: The Erie Canal: How long is that and how--did you go the entire route?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: We did every--every foot of the Erie Canal. It's a--something over 350 miles today. A marvelous piece of water. It's one that--that any boater can do today. It's easy going, once you catch on how to get through the locks. It's an easy--an easy voyage to--to encounter.
LAMB: How long did it take you?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Oh, I think we were there about 10 days. There's a speed limit of 10 miles an hour on it, so you don't go very fast.
LAMB: And along the way, how much government was involved in keeping these--these pathways open? I mean, you--wha--what--and what part of the government do you come in contact with?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, several branches, but--but the government was important for virtually every one of them, in one or the other. I'm trying to think if there's a single river that did not, in some way, depend upon government, state or federal regulations to keep it functioning or keep it free of too many boaters, in some cases. I--I think there's not one. We dealt with the Corps of Engineers probably over the most miles, primarily the Ohio River, the Mississippi and the lower part of the Missouri. We dealt with the Bureau of Lam--Land Management in the West. We dealt with the US Forest Service in the West and again, the Corps of Engineers on the--on the Snake and Columbia rivers on the other side of the Continental Divide.
LAMB: In general, what do you think of the way the government treated the--all this business, but you in particular when you'd come in contact with them?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, we--we certainly can't complain about the treatment. The Corps of Engineers went out of its way to--to open a couple of locks for us early because we had to get through the eastern part of the country in--in April and May in order to catch the snow melt off of the Rocky Mountains and get up to the upper Missouri River. Very, very accommodating. The regulations that we encountered on some of the other rivers in the West, even though they worked against us, we agreed with all of them. They're there to--either to keep the number of boaters to a--to a limit so that when someone gets on a river, he or she has a kind of wildsen--wilderness experience, especially true in the Salmon River. On the upper Missouri River, we--we had a section that we had to do in a government boat to--to prevent not only too many boats with motors on there, but--but mainly also to--to help protect least sandpip--or least terns, an endangered species.
LAMB: Where was it that the Corps of Engineer guy yelled at you and--and, you know, you--he didn't want anything to do with you. `Get off my barge. Get out of here.'
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Yeah, you caught me on the one--the one negative experience probably. That was in--in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The Missour--the Mississippi was in flood and we were out of gas. We had--we didn't know what to do. We couldn't--we couldn't get to the town dock because of the flood, so I tied up against a Corps of Engineers dredge and climbed up the--the big ladder and went into a room--men were drinking coffee--and said, `Can you tell me where I can get some gas?' And not only would he not tell me that, he wouldn't even let us leave the boat there for a couple of minutes while we went ashore to find gas. So we went back into the flood and fortunately found--found four fellows who I guess you'd call them street--street people who were willing to--to help hold the boat there while I went and got gas.
LAMB: Did you ever get any idea why he was so mean to you?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: I think it--I don't think it was anything that had to do with the Corps of Engineers. I think he was just a mean son of a gun.
LAMB: Here's a--a--Erie Canal at the end and near Buffalo and Lake Erie. You ran into some rough water out here?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Lake Erie was--was six--six hours unmitigated hell. I mentioned that we had to keep moving in order to catch the snow melt in the West. So we went on to Lake Erie on a day that we should have stayed--stayed in port. But we got--we got tricked into the--the early part of the--the--the voyage of being rather--relatively easy and once we'd more or less reached the point of no return, we got into six- and seven-foot waves. They're more than waves and less than swells, but they were just terribly violent things.

I--we--we'd ascend these swells and--and when I was at the helm, I could look forward and I saw nothing but sky. When I turned around and looked behind me, I saw nothing but water. And what--what you want if you're in a boat is about 50-50. You want a horizon line across there. So the boat would--would--would go up these--these waves or swells and get to the top and then just drop six or seven feet. It did that about once every minute or so. So for about six hours, we went--we--we fell down Lake Erie is what we did. We--we did not sail down Lake Erie.
LAMB: Did you ever think on your trip at any point you weren't going to make it? You were--you--you mi--that you might capsize and--were you ever in any danger, real danger?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Oh, indeed. Lake Erie certainly was--was, I think, the pre-eminent point where--where not only did I think, `We probably are not going to make this,' but we were defini--distinctly, definitely in--in danger. But I think that the notion, `Can we make this?' was at the back of our minds every--every mile of the way. It--it was never out of my head. A river is not a wet highway. A river is a thing that's moving in several different directions underneath your hull at--at any one moment. It's full of--of things that--that--that can end a voyage. Whatever human beings have made are somewhere in one of our rivers. I found that just--just last week, that a--a sandbar we had--we had crossed had live hand grenades on it. The river had dropped there recently and somebody found a dozen live hand grenades on this beach. It's--I have to say that--that I think that we were able to make the trip in part because of 17 months of planning the voyage, but perhaps equally, we were lucky. We just kept having strokes of lucky which at times in the book, I think really must stretch the reader's credulity. But it's true. It happened.
LAMB: Here's Pittsburgh and the Ohio River and on into a little bit of West Virginia and then on to--past Indiana and all that. What--what--what'd you observe in this area?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: The Ohio is one of the easiest pieces of water that we did. The Ohio, as people probably know, is no longer a free-flowing river. It's a series of damns and pools. So other than navigating the locks and occasionally large mats of--of drift, including a lot of human junk, it was a relatively easy piece of water to undertake. It was also downstream, which--which makes things considerably easier, for the most part.
LAMB: Which river town along the Ohio River was your favorite?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, there's several. Maysville, Kentucky, I think, is one of the prettiest that you can see from the water. It really looks lovely. Some people have compared it to a village on the Rhine. I've not been on the Rhine, so I don't know, but I know it looks--it looks fine from the Ohio.
LAMB: You said some strong things about the Wabash River that you can see there on this map, as it dumps into the Ohio. What did you find about the Wabash that you didn't like?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, the O--the Wabash is a river that--that still has serious problems with pollution, as does the Ohio, as do all of our--most of our rivers. The Wabash, I think, is better than it was 30 years ago, again, because of the work of individual citizens but also because of the Clean Water Act. But the Wabash, like a number of other rivers, we still have a long way to go to get out some of the--the toxins and other pollutants that--that--that tend to reside in the mud.
LAMB: Have you--as you've gone around the--the country on your book tour, have you found a lot of people that want to do what you've done or do a lot of the same kind of things?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: I've met--met people who would like to do a portion of it. I haven't met anybody who wants to--well, I think they might to do it all, but I think that they're more sensible than that. This is--this is not a trip that somebody takes without some kind of deep commitment. You know, I have to be honest here, too. I'm a travel writer, so I'm always looking for trips that I can write about. And one of my motivations into the ones that I--I spoke about at the top of the show is that this--this--this was a topic that I thought would make a good story that--that people would--might look at.

It also was a way--I confess this, too--it was also a way of getting people to look at some of these--these issues about clean water that I think we need to pay attention to. After all, this--this is--this is the blue planet and the reason it's blue is that it's mostly water. And we, ourselves, as I say in "River-Horse," we're two-footed jugs of water. We're most--we're--What?--about 70 percent water. It's our most important basic resource. And it's the one that I think that--that--that we may have abused more than any other. When I was a boy, growing up in Kansas City, Missouri, we--we considered the Missouri River primarily a thing to carry our sewage on down towards St. Louis, never stopping to think that the people in Omaha were sending theirs toward us and we were taking our drinking water out of that river.
LAMB: What did your father do for a living?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: He was an attorney.
LAMB: In Kansas City?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: In Kansas City. Now he--he--he came to dislike practicing law immensely and at his first chance to retire, he did. And he took up photography and painting and--and was a much happier man.
LAMB: How about your mother?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: My mother worked in--in Vaudeville as an usher, not on stage. But she knew most of the stage routines. And when I was a boy, she would do a number of those for me and my brother, bits and pieces of them. But once--once she--once she had children, she became a housewife.
LAMB: What's your brother do?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: My brother worked for Phillips Petroleum for more years than the company's been around, it seems. Retired now.
LAMB: In the back of the book, when you're talking about these different organizations, you list a bunch: American Rivers, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Wildlife Federation, the National Conservancy, Scenic America, Rails to Trails Conservancy. Any of those people underwrite this trip?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: No, not a one. But I went to all of them ahead of time to ask them for information about the rivers that they--that they might--to help me along with. But, no, it--I--I mean, they're struggling to get money themselves, so it--it would be--it would be--be the poor asking the poorer to underwrite that, I think.
LAMB: As you read through the book, you keep hearing you say, `I was here a year ago. I was here a year ago.' How did you--did you--did you drive this entire trip before you got on the water?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: The year before--actually, about a year and a half before, I did as much of it as I could, trying to follow the rivers. It's impossible to see too much of the Missouri River, for example, particularly in the Great Plains, but the Ohio River is--is one that--that a--somebody can see for the most part from both sides of the river that rose up--that--that run along it. So some rivers, I had a better idea of than others. But I--I felt it was absolutely necessary, given the expense and the commitment that we had to make to try to get across to guarantee as close as I could that we had a really good chance to make it.
LAMB: When you're out there on the road--if you travel so much and a lot of it's at your own expense, how do you cut corners? Or do you?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: You mean for...
LAMB: Like where do you stay, I mean, you know?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Oh, financially?
LAMB: Yeah. I mean, you know, a room could be anywhere from--What?--$29.95 to $200 a night out there on that road.
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Oh, well, it--lodging certainly is the most expensive thing of--of any trip, typically. So that's the place I try to cut expenses. If I can get into--into a lesser, cheaper bed, so to speak, I will, unless I get near sa--an historic place. Then I'm willing to--to pay much more to--to share a bit of history overnight. I never try to cut food--on meals. I think eating is--is one of the key reasons that I travel. So I pursue food in a--in a--in a--in a serious way. But I don't drive big cars. I--I have--I have a small Honda. I--I drive all day and that's maybe--sometimes 10 hours a day on a tank of gas.
LAMB: Do you have any tips for people that have--that are out there on how you eat or sl--you know, save money on lodging or fatigue, how you deal with that when you're on the road so much?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, fatigue, I think, the thing to do is to try to get--if you're in a car, you try to get out as often as you can and break the trip up. Get out and walk, stretch, talk to people. It's amazing, a 10-minute conversation with somebody can--can--is--it's equivalent to a 10-minute nap for me. I--it just changes--it changes the way that my brain seems to be functioning. And in terms of lodging, I always look where possible either for a historic place, as I said, or a--so-called mom and pop places. Sometimes you get a bit of a saggy bed, but I just--I just don't want to put money into a--into a bed unless it is a historic bed.
LAMB: Here's a shot of your boat, C-Dory. And where is this taken from?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, that's--that's from Rocheport, Missouri, not far from my house. In fact, if you turned that boat and ran it down the other river--that's the Missouri--you could just about come out near where I live. That's the--that's the I--I-70 crossing there at the back of the photograph.
LAMB: You state in the book that you look forward to the day that you got on that--Missouri River on this boat...
Mr. HEAT-MOON: I did wha...
LAMB: ...for--you'd thought about it for a long time. Why?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: The Missouri was--is the river that I grew up with when I--when I was in Kansas City as a boy. It--it became an--in my mind, my definition of what a river is. And as I mentioned, it's our longest river. And from a number--a number of points of view, I--I think it's our greatest river. But it's also--and we could argue that. But we certainly, I think, wouldn't argue that it's our greatest unknown river. At more than 2,500 miles, if you measure it to--to its true source, people typically aren't on it. When we were on the Missouri River, except, strangely enough, for an area right around Bismarck, North Dakota, we just didn't see other boats. We had about 2,300 miles of river to ourselves. We would go a whole day and not see another boat underway on the Missouri.
LAMB: Did you have a telephone?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: No. We--we--we tried that and--and the cell phone system at that time just wasn't good enough to work in most places, certainly not on the Great Plains.
LAMB: What did you do about emergencies?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Hoped. We had--we had a two-way radio, a Marine radio, that--in the West, we had connected with our--with our tow wagon. But most of the time, it--it wasn't any use because those--those things have such a short range and if you get trees or bluffs in between, the--the message doesn't get out. So you--we were isolated in a way that people might find shocking today, that--that you can--you can be that--that far from help.
LAMB: Who was the Grand Terminator?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: The Grand Terminator was that thing that we feared more than any other that could end the voyage. It could be anything from rocks to hand grenades to logs to weather, maybe even disease, sickness, injury.
LAMB: Who is Bill Bernt?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Bill Bernt is an old Missouri fellow who's lived the last 20-some years in--in Idaho and he is the man that took us in the rafts down the Salmon River down through the white water.
LAMB: He won't be happy when he finds out you called him old because you say he's only 47 years old here.
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, we thought he was a bit older than that, but--but it was mainly his experience. He--he was--he had the experience of an old river man.
LAMB: What'd he do for you?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: He got us safely down the--down the Salmon River. The last--the last rapids on the Salmon that year, a place called the Slide. That's the one I mentioned earlier that could be a class VI. The Salmon was in high water when we went down it and there was no way we could get through it if we had gone through it on the day that we started. But it took us about 10 days to get down the Salmon. And we had hopes when we got there that would--it--the river would have dropped enough that we could get through. We did get through, partly because it had dropped but partly because Bill Bernt is an expert at white water. He hit it perfectly. We didn't even get wet. We were disappointed. We--we had--we had had some tension about this thing for 10 days. We got there and, zip, we were through.
LAMB: Who is Rob Pike?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Rob Pike is an interesting fellow. We met him just by chance in Idaho. He had been taking eight years to cross the country by boat, which according to one of my co-pilots, that's a sensible thing to do. And I don't disagree with that. He would come out for--for a summer and--and do a few hundred miles, then go back to his law practice on Long Island and come back the next year, do some more. Where he couldn't get his boat up certain rivers, primarily the upper Missouri River, he would ride a bicycle, so he had a kind of a boat-and-bike trip across the country.
LAMB: What was he like?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: He reached the Pacific a day before we did, but he started eight years earlier.
LAMB: I forgot earlier. I wanted you to tell the story--Owens--Owensboro, about the man you met and the story of the flowers. You remember it?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: I remember that story, yeah. Well, let's see, I'll try to do it in a nutshell. There was a man who was having trouble with his wife and he--he loved her dearly, but she was ready to cast him--cast him out. He was supposed to have a me--a meeting with her. A--and he got stuck in the mud. He had to put his overalls under the wheel of his truck to get out of--out of the mud. And finally, he finally got out. But it tore up his overalls and he got into the--into the--into the cab of the truck naked, started driving to meet his wife. And he thought, `I need to take something to try to ease the shock of this.'

So he stopped in a graveyard--this was not a wealthy man--stopped in a graveyard and took--took some roses off of the--not roses, gladiolas, I think they were. Gladiolas off of a--a grave and went to his wife's house and was standing there knocking with--with the gladiolas in front of him. She came to the door and saw what he was doing, thought this was some kind of a joke and slammed the door in his face. And about that time, a deputy drove up and said, `Where's your britches, neighbor?'

And this is the story that I guess a deputy's not likely to bl--likely to believe. And he--he got tossed in jail and got fined. I think it was $8 for public nakedness--`nekedness,' as he said--and a few court costs in there, just because he was trying to--to re-court his wife.
LAMB: Did you believe that story?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Yes, I did. I did. I think it's so outrageous and--and so otherwise unbelievable, I think it has to be true.
LAMB: The most beautiful river you were on?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Oh, there were...
LAMB: I'm talking about just scenery when--as you were riding along.
Mr. HEAT-MOON: I'm not sure that I could single one out. But certainly pre-eminent, the highlands of the Hudson, the--the white cliffs of the Missouri River...
LAMB: Where in that--where in the...
Mr. HEAT-MOON: The white cliffs is in--in central Montana. The--the Missouri River on west-southwest of--of Great Falls is--is marvelous, too, near--when it gets near the--the Rocky Mountains. The Salmon River is--is just an amazing piece of water. It--it's still almost pristine in its--in its condition. The Columbia River, particularly when it goes--goes through the Cascade Mountains is--is incredibly beautiful, too. But there are things of more quiet beauty, too. I mean, the Ohio River where--when it's not lined with--with--with factories or power plants is still the beautiful river, as the French called it.
LAMB: You say that you have 1,200 books on your shelf--travel books on your shelf in your library at home. Twelve hundred?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: There--there are 12--there are 12--more than 1,200. In fact, I added about another 30 on this--on this book tour. Those books are about nothing other than traveling or exploring in--in the United States, the lower 48 states. And I think there are probably about another--another 400 that I haven't been able to come up with yet, but I'm trying to--I'm trying, in kind of an encyclopedic way, to gather all of those books and I've--I have put in my will that--that this collection will go to the University of Missouri, the Rare Book Room.
LAMB: Where did you go to school?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: I went to the University of Missouri.
LAMB: What did you study?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: I studied English literature. I have three degrees in that, which I'm almost embarrassed to--to admit to you. And I have a degree in photojournalism from the University of Missouri.
LAMB: What did you do up to 1983, when your first book, "Blue Highways," came out?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: I taught college for, oh, golly, I think it was about 15 years, something like that. And then I was out of work for about four years and it was mostly during this four years that--that I was writing "Blue Highways." During that time--the first year, writing "Blue Highways," I worked as a clerk in the county courthouse. Then the last three years, I worked on a loading dock on weekends.
LAMB: And since you--how many copies of "Blue Highways" have you sold?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: The--the hardcover sold something over a quarter of a million. And in paperback, it's about a million and a quarter or something like that.
LAMB: And that book was about? And can it still be bought in the stores?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Yeah. In fact, we have a new edition out--out now, which has an afterword in it that--that answers the question that people have been asking me for the last 15 years about what happened to this or that person in--in "Blue Highways."
LAMB: And can you make a living on all this? I mean, do you have to do other things other than write the three books you've written?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: No, I'm fortunate because there have been enough people who--who have gone out there and bought "Blue Highways" and "PrairyErth" and--and I hope "River-Horse." Yeah, the--I can--I can--I can spend full time writing now. I occasionally teach workshops, but I don't teach college anymore.
LAMB: And how well do you live?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Oh, I live simply. I live out in the country. I--I--I treated myself when "Blue Highways" started paying money. When I was working on the loading dock, I made $2,000 a year. When I got a check bigger than that after "Blue Highways" came out, I treated myself to two things. One is I bought a Hassleblad, which as you probably know, is--is an expensive camera because I wanted to use it for photographs in "PrairyErth" and then I decided later, `I don't want photographs in the book.' And then I built myself a half-court basketball court. Those were the two--two splurges, other than--than buying these American exploration and travel books.
LAMB: You mention "Travels with Charley." And you say something about what if he had left the poodle at home.
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, I--I confess...
LAMB: John Steinbeck.
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Yes. I--I confess a great affection for Steinbeck's work and--and it's true that "Travels with Charley," as a book--I re--I read it in the Navy. When I was in the Navy, I was locked on this aircraft carrier. I mean, one of my ways of escape was--was reading "Travels with Charley." And I--I thought at the time, `I would like to make a trip like that.' As it turned out that--the terms of my voyage were somewhat different or my--my journey, but it definitely influenced me. But I do think that Steinbeck's great travel book is not "Travels with Charley," it's--it's "The Grapes of Wrath." And there were times I have--I have to admit in "Travels with Charley" where I wish he'd left that--that poodle at home. He talks a little too much about the dog for my tastes and not enough about some of the people he met. But, you know, that's a writer's prerogative.
LAMB: You point out that I-90 is the longest interstate going from--only one going from sea to sea?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: The longest and one of three, as I recall, that--that goes sea to sea--inter--interstates.
LAMB: Ac--actually, you said one of two in your book.
Mr. HEAT-MOON: One of two. One of two. Yeah, thank you.
LAMB: Have you driven all these? Like, have you been across rou--I-90?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: No, I--it--it--as--as you might guess from somebody who wrote a book called "Blue Highways," I try to stay--although the new Rand McNally maps--well, I guess they all now are putting the interstates in blue. The older way--the old maps, they were--the federal routes were in red. But I try to stay on the two-lane highways as much as I can. And I--I--there are lots of miles of interstate I haven't been on. I would--I wouldn't mind doing it, just that I want to get the two-lanes done first.
LAMB: And you often wrote that in some parts of the country, these rivers--there would be roads right along. You weren't particularly happy of that--there would be a road running right along the river and you--you liked to avoid that when you could. Why?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, we really wanted to feel that--that we were traveling in--in a more remote world than--than it--it often is possible to do today in America. We wanted--we wanted to have something of a wilderness experience and clearly, much of the time, we wanted to have a sense of--of these rivers in the 19th century aspect when America really was--was still in touch with her rivers. That was the time in which we used rivers to move people, to move goods. Once the railroads came along and began taking away the business of the steamboats, then we began using rivers primarily as ways of sending off our sewage. We didn't want to travel with that in mind. We wanted to remember when America loved and--and cherished her rivers.
LAMB: Billy Joe Conrad?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Billy Joe Conrad--it was--is a--is Santee--part Anglo, part Santee. Santee is a part--one of the Lakota tribes; Sioux, people might say. Living near Nebraska. We got into a--a stretch of the Missouri River that--I couldn't find my way up the river. I couldn't find the way out of the--the shallowness. The river's about a mile wide and I couldn't find a--a channel that was deep enough to let the C-Dory get up there. By chance, Billy Joe Conrad came down the river in--in a speedboat. We hailed him and he came aboard and directed us up the river, got us through about--about 20 miles of--of water that I otherwise found utterly impassable.
LAMB: You said he had a little bit to drink.
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Yeah, he'd been--he'd been nipping away there just a bit, but he knew the river so well, it made no difference. He guided us up the river most of the time by sitting with his back--back to the bow, facing the stern. My co-pilot said, `How is it that you can do that?' And he said, `It's the same river.'
LAMB: This is the Columbia River and it says northwest of Astoria, Oregon. It just happens that they argue about this, that the first cable system in the United States possibly might have been in Astoria, Oregon.
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Is that right?
LAMB: What--what role did Astoria play in your life?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, it was the last--the last town that we visited before we--we crossed into the Atlantic--or the Pacific Ocean. It was--it was--it was the end of our trip for us. It's where we pulled the boat out of the water and it's a--it's a...
LAMB: What'd it feel...
Mr. HEAT-MOON: ...it's a very handsome town from the water.
LAMB: What'd it feel like?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: When we hit the Pacific Ocean and--and by that, I mean, mile marker 8, buoy 8, which formally marks the--the end of the Columbia River and the start of the Pacific, I couldn't speak. It--I'm a writer and I had no words. I--I--I got up from the helm, turned the helm over to Pilotis, my co-pilot, and I went to the open cockpit of Nikawa and picked up that bottle of Atlantic Ocean water that we had picked up under the Verrazano-Narrows or a little farther than that, uncapped it and holding on to these giant 12-foot swells, we were in, I poured the Atlantic Ocean into the Pacific Ocean. And according to my co-pilot, probably thereby upset the entire ecobalance of the Pacific Ocean.
LAMB: And in the front of the book, you have the schematic on Nikawa, which was purchased where?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: It's made south of Seattle in Kent, Washington, by a company called C-Dory.
LAMB: And you said that you want to do something with this boat. If somebody listening wants to buy this thing, what would you sell it to them for?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: Well, I think--I think the whole thing, with the trailer and all, cost me about--about $32,000. And it's virtually a brand-new boat. You can come around and kick the tires.
LAMB: So you'd sell it to them at your cost?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: I probably would. I--I want to find a good home for it. That's--that's the thing I'm interested in. I'd rather...
LAMB: What...
Mr. HEAT-MOON: I'd rather see it in a museum, but that, perhaps, is a bit highfalutin to expect. I must say, though, Brian, that--that Ghostdancing, the van that I used in the "Blue Highways" trip, is--is in a museum in Columbia, Missouri, now. In fact, they built a museum around it. It wasn't that that's its purpose, but they put the van in before they put the doors on, so they can't get that van out and give it back to me.
LAMB: Your next project?
Mr. HEAT-MOON: I--I can't tell you for sure, but I'm thinking it may be--it may be--it may be fiction. I think I need a change at this point. I may do--I may do a novel.
LAMB: This is the cover of the book called "River-Horse," and our guest has been its author, William Least Heat-Moon. Thank you very much.
Mr. HEAT-MOON: It's been a real delight to be here.


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