Guest Q&A: Chev Dixon
Read Time: 6 mins
Chevaughn Dixon was born in Kingston, Jamaica and spent most of his childhood between the bustling city and the rural Trelawney Parish before migrating to Yonkers, NY at age 13. Chev is an avid runner, cyclist, horticulturist, and professional kayaker. He is also the Director of the Hudson River Riders, a program that promotes access to nature for BIPOC people in the community. This June, Chev is kicking off the 2nd edition of the Hudson Valley Challenge (HVC), an annual multi-day human-powered expedition that celebrates community and highlights the recreational beauty of the Hudson Valley region of New York.
Between training sessions, recent features on Outside, and environmental and social equity activism on Chev’s plate, we caught up with him for a quick Q&A to learn how he not only handles, but thrives in the outdoors.
Q: Before we get into the upcoming Hudson Valley Challenge (launching June 19), let’s step back a bit. Why has getting out in nature been such an important and influential part of your life?
A: Growing up outside was second nature in Jamaica. Everything that brought me joy or taught me how to survive had to do with being in my natural environment. During lunch break my cousins, friends and I would race each other in the fields, chase birds with slingshots, or climb fruit trees.
In addition, while living in the country most of our meals were prepared over an open fire because that’s simply how things were done. We woke up early to make our way down to the river to shower and collect our laundry. We searched for firewood in the bush. We hiked to the springs for drinking water or to the farm for food (for both my family and animals). When I moved back to the city of Kingston, I played lots of football (soccer) and fondly remember using school benches to slide down the gully with friends after school. For me, nature has been my source of inspiration and guidance since I was a little boy!
Q: What was the biggest surprise or challenge that you had to overcome after you migrated from Jamaica to the New York City area?
A: Coming to the US was much anticipated because of all the movies and tv shows we saw as kids growing up. However, when I got here it was very different, we lived in buildings stacked on each other. To simply go outside was challenging compared to Jamaica because I would wake up and take my first morning, barefoot, steps on soil just outside the door. I also quickly realized that the educational system was not connected to nature as was custom in Jamaica. Another challenge was violence. Growing up in Yonkers was not fun at the time because almost everywhere I went people were fighting or wanting to fight you. The lack of nature based programs in school, lack of easy access to nature and finding ways to avoid violence was challenging.
Q: What is the biggest thing that most people don’t know about outdoor options in an urban “concrete jungle” like Yonkers, NY?
A: The biggest surprise is how close nature is, the Mahicantuk better known as the Hudson River is about a 5-15 minutes walk from most neighborhoods in west Yonkers and there are various paddling and rowing clubs and public beaches. Another surprise is the amount of parks in and around the neighborhoods, not to mention the Old Croton Aqueduct, a 26 miles walking, hiking, cycling trail that runs through Yonkers while connecting many historical places and parks in the region. The biggest surprise is that most people don’t know how much nature is around them and that it can be very accessible if they seek to find it.
Q: How did you first get into kayaking and what about it keeps you so passionate about the sport?
A: I first got into kayaking after a few of my friends and I had grown tired of playing basketball and dealing with the struggles of being in the inner cities. We decided it was best to hangout by the river and we ended up sitting next to a kayak club. As faith would have it, we were pointing at the boats and out of nowhere, an older man walked up and offered us entrance to the building and the opportunity to kayak. I started kayaking and from that point on, I just loved it, I love being on the water and love showing and teaching others.
Q: How has the Yonkers Paddling & Rowing Club and the Hudson River Riders shaped who you are today?
A: The Yonkers Paddling & Rowing Club along with Hudson River Riders have played an immeasurable role in my life. The club and HRR program have given me the tools necessary to navigate the world, develop interpersonal skills, connect with my local community and share my passion for nature with the world. Being at YPRC & HRR have provided the opportunity for me to be a true professional and leader and the courage to follow through on my dream of becoming a professional explorer.
Q: Being one of the first black Level 4 Open Water Kayak Instructors in the US is inspiring for endless reasons! Can you begin to explain how much of a positive impact (both direct and indirect) this has on those around you?
A: Most definitely it is a great accomplishment and I am proud of myself for staying dedicated and putting in the work to get it done. It has a very positive impact especially on the youth that look like me because it shows them that they too can accomplish great things that might previously seem impossible. Black and brown people are great at everything we do and kayaking is no different. With proper representation paving the way and equitable access to venues, equipment and resources I believe we will see a lot more black and brown sea kayak and whitewater paddlers stepping up and accomplishing great things.
Q: Let’s get into the big upcoming expedition … Where did the idea of the Hudson Valley Challenge start?
A: The HVC idea was coined by myself and friend Becky Marcelliano after I had completed the Caicos challenge. The Caicos challenge was fun, but I felt it restricted my athletic abilities and it was missing the community element that fuels me. I wanted to do something more meaningful on a local level that didn’t restrict my capabilities to plan, execute and inspire the communities I serve.
Q: Can you give a quick recap of the previous HVC efforts? (Distance of each, sports, etc.)
A: We tested the Hudson Valley Challenge concept with a 26 mile hike & run of the Old Croton Aqueduct in Westchester, NY. 12 people joined throughout with Nii Phoebe and I completing the entire challenge. In 2022 I decided to officially kick off the HVC with Part 1 with a much bigger challenge and more styles of human powered movement. It was a 333 miles expedition of the Hudson Valley Estuary by running the length of Manhattan, hiking the Palisade, and cycling to Albany for the land portion. Then a 150 mile kayak and paddle-boarding trip of the Hudson River Estuary. We had 40+ people actively participating while another 60 or so came to support at our end of the day stopping points.
Q: For Part 2, you’re stepping up the game in a big way! … What is the plan for this edition of the human-powered challenge? (Inside Scoop: HPM will be along for a portion of the HVC ... Join us!)
A: For Part 2 of the challenge I plan to double the distance from 333 to 683 miles and get more community participation. After all, the goal of the HVC is to promote the many ways to adventure sustainably. The challenge kicks off ceremoniously on June 19th with a 14 mile run the length of Manhattan with several running clubs and community groups joining. On the same day we will start our cycling leg to the Adirondacks Lodge. After we complete the cycling, we will do a community hike from the Lodge to Mt. Marcy, New York state’s highest peak. Then whitewater kayak down the Hudson gorge from Lake Tear of the Clouds (Source of the Hudson River) to the federal dam in Troy. Then finally sea kayak and paddleboard the estuary to the Statue of Liberty. On the final two days we plan to open up our free kayaking season with the Hudson River Riders and connect with several kayak clubs and community boating organizations to do the final 15 miles.
Q: What do you personally, and what do you want others to get out of the HVC experience?
A: Personally, I want to challenge myself to be a better person, a more thoughtful individual and develop a solid work ethic as I continue to grow my career as a professional explorer. I also want to develop meaningful relationships with fellow adventurers and partner brands to share the beauty of the outdoors. I want others to join, be inspired and learn what it means to practice sustainability while they adventure. I want people to push themselves to try new activities and understand that there are many ways to get outside and doing it locally is one of the best ways to do so. Finally for youth to see themselves as the next generation of community leaders and stewards of the environment.
Q: You are clearly lighting fires under people’s butts … How can someone get involved with HVC and/or the HRR?
A: The easiest way to get involved with the HVC is to visit the WEBSITE and get in touch. We are looking for brand and community support in a number of different ways. Furthermore we have specific events for the community and people to get involved like the kickoff run and ride, the hike to Mt. Marcy, and the final two days of sea kayaking. Also anyone can join the challenge at any point (all participants must be self supported throughout).
Q: We don’t want to look ahead too far, but what is next after the HVC?
A: The New York Marathon in November of 2023. Another HVC in 2024 but I’ll have to get really creative. After that, cycle across the country.
Q: Final thoughts that you want to share with the readers?
A: I want readers to know that the Hudson Valley Challenge is a total community event and that we can’t do it without everyone’s support through donations and participation and spreading the good word and good vibes.
Journal - Hudson Valley Challenge – Culture, Community, Connection
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Adam Bratton is the Founder and Head Enabler at Human Powered Movement.
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