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For some travelogues, their real value comes in that once they are written, no one ever needs to make that voyage again.

River-Horse, by William Least Heat-Moon (ISBN 0-395-63626-4), is probably such a book. The book is an account of a journey across the United States from the Atlantic to the Pacific entirely by water, with as interior a path as can be found, and with an absolute minimum of portages. The title is the English translation of the name of the boat, Nikawa

If you're thinking that that sounds ambitious, you are correct. The proposed route takes the author and his rag-tag and shifting band of companions and supporters from New York City to the mouth of the Columbia River beyond Portland, OR in a single year. By way of historic waterways such as the Hudson River, Erie Canal, Lake Erie (the only non-interior waterway used in the voyage), the Ohio River, the Mississippi river, and the Missouri river, the goal is to see America from a point of view few have seen in well over 100 years. Following for over 5 thousand miles the trail of the Lewis and Clark expedition, there is ample discovery for the reader of the history of America, with all the triumph, tragedy, idealism and villany that entails.

But as with all such travelogues, it is also about a journey. And a maddening journey it is. Make no mistake, the waterways of America are tamed by too many dams (a distinguished gentleman who used to allow me to camp on his property used to refer to the piled-stone engineering us kids used to do in his creeks as 'profanities') but they by no means make a journey of this kind an easy one. We discover that rivers are mighty things, and that anyone who travels them will have to pay a toll in tedium, fear, and luck to pass.

The requirements of the journey, minimizing land-travel and making the complete passage in a single season, force the author and his companions to make protions of the trip anything but a pleasure cruise. Monotony is the enemy in some places, shoals and driftwood eating props elsewhere. The stress of traveling where no one ever travels anymore takes its toll, and Heat-Moon does a marvelous job of preserving the frustration and friction of the crew, along with the triumphs and wonders they encounter.

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