In spring 2022 I completed what I believe to be the first human-powered 300-mile exploration of Hudson River estuary by running, hiking, cycling, kayaking, and paddleboarding.
I dreamed up this challenge the summer before to inspire urban youth to get outside and challenge themselves to be better leaders in their communities. In addition, I developed this challenge to inspire local and sustainable adventures. On June 19, 2023, I’ll undertake the Hudson Valley Challenge Part 2, with 200 people participating at different sections of the route.
As a resident of Yonkers, I’m familiar with the many views served up by We-Awk-Ken (Lenape words for the Palisades, meaning “rocks that form like trees”). Two views that stand out are the reflection of the sunrise from the trees beaming from the Hudson River with dramatic colors, and the beautiful sunsets that signal my day is coming to a close.
Those are two things I look forward to as a resident of the Hudson Valley. However, making this 300-mile expedition brought many new surprises. I was impressed at things I saw and heard, as well as at how rugged the terrain was. The evolved landscape of the riverbank, with the Catskills in the distance, was eye-opening. So was the history, both from Indigenous peoples and colonists.
I was also amazed at how many islands are in the Hudson River along with how diverse the ecosystem is. Additionally, the cleanliness of the river gave me great hope that people are paying attention to our community and outdoor spaces. I can remember clearly that I picked up 14 pieces of trash — much less litter than I expected to find.
The Hudson Valley offered so many history lessons, both about the Lenape people who were long here and the colonizers who settled here later.
For example, the sky-scraping tulip trees used to make wigwams, the colorful maples for syrup, and oak trees that flanked the bike trails, all offering a beautiful canopy to ride under. This gave me an in-depth perspective on how Indigenous peoples used the land to survive.
In addition, the unique names of the different parts of the Hudson Valley were equally revealing. Some of my favorites names were Manhattan, meaning “Hilly Island;” Mahicannituck ((mah-hih-can-nih-tuck), which describes the ebb and flow of the Hudson River estuary; and Neppeckamack, the name of present-day Yonkers.
There were so many cool people along the way, and I listened well whenever the opportunities presented themselves. For instance, I heard history and ancient old stories from the longtime residents, like the gentleman who ran a bike shop on the Empire State Trail in New Paltz. He spoke a lot about the brick beaches in Kingston and about the cement industry.
Also, New York State’s many historical signs deepened my appreciation of the region. They provided a fair amount of information, both historical and environmental. I heard songbirds singing, specifically the red-winged blackbirds and house finches. I saw eagles soaring and diving for their next meal, and fish jumping all over the water. The Hudson Valley is a very beautiful region with lots of character, a spectacular landscape, and a rich history.
The community energy around the Hudson Valley Challenge was fantastic. Eight out of nine days I had participants join in on the action. On Day One, the rain and wind were extremely challenging, but thanks to my trainer Anthony Carrano and good friend Glynn Berry, I was able to push through, which set the tone for the remaining days.
On Day Two, my best friend Davin Griffiths and I biked 65 miles on the Empire State Trail. Without his positive energy and support I can honestly say I wouldn’t have made it through because, although I’d started training in January, my legs were hurting so much. On Day Four, my mentor and friend Lynda Shenkman, who was the first person to believe in my burning desire to become an explorer and expedition athlete, energized me by joining in for some kayaking.
On Day Five, the hardest of days, I biked 95 miles alone. Although alone, I felt the community with me. Everywhere I stopped, people were supportive and encouraging. From the start of the ride on Walkway Over the Hudson Bridge, to the farm stand that gave me maple syrup and apples, to the two cyclists I met who were biking to raise awareness on police suicide, and finally the men and women I met when I reached Albany at 10 p.m. They were inspired enough by what I was doing to donate to the challenge.
On Days Seven, Eight and Nine, I was joined by my mentee Alex Morales, my mentor Phil Giller, my friend Davin Griffiths again, the Hudson River Riders, the Downtown Boathouse, Hoboken Cove Community Boathouse, and Hudson Valley Watersports. The support I got from the community was very special.
When I arrived in Yonkers, I was greeted by a dock full of people, including New York City Councilwoman Shanae Williams. On the last day about five of us paddled down to NYC Pier 26. We met up with other paddlers to complete the journey to the Statue of Liberty.
When we got back to land, the crowd had doubled from when I stopped in Yonkers. The cheers, love, and camaraderie on Days Eight and Nine were extraordinary. It was beautiful that I got to close out a very special challenge with all the beautiful people of the Hudson Valley, and I hope more people will get out there and explore it.