William Least Heat-Moon, author of Blue Highways and PrairyErth, is a pre-eminent chronicler of American back roads. Both dreamer and achiever, he is poetically minded, yet has the skill and strength to turn his fantasy into reality. River-Horse: The Logbook of a Boat Across America tells the story of his ambitious attempt to cross America entirely by its interior waterways, following in the wakes of famous explorers Lewis and Clark.
Together with his co-pilot, Heat-Moon set out to cover 5,000 miles of water, more than any other river traveller in America's history. Their vessel was a 22-foot fibreglass powerboat named Nikawa, Osage for "river horse", small enough to fit onto the back of a trailer but just large enough to hold the bare essentials. Starting from New York Harbour, where the water is so dirty "you could bottle it and sell it for poison", the hearty travellers headed for the distant waters of the Pacific ocean.
The book is illustrated with maps, a hand-drawn diagram of the boat and a selection of scenic photographs. In general, rather than swamping the reader in technical detail, Heat-Moon's prose flows with the beauty of the open river, calling to mind the novels of Mark Twain. Though some may find Heat-Moon's language a tad precious ("The sun rose and with it our appetites for a hearty meal") the more romantically-minded will be swept away. --Daren King