If you aren’t already familiar with Alexandera Houchin, the barrier-breaking, and quite frankly bada**, ultra-endurance cyclist changing the face of the sport, we’re pleased to help make your acquaintance. Alexandera routinely takes home first-place titles and smashes records (including those she had previously set herself) in long-distance mountain bike races like the 2700+ mile Tour Divide, The Colorado Trail, and the Arizona Trail. In fact, Alexandera is the first, and only woman so far, to win the Tour Divide in back-to-back years—and she does it all on her Terry Butterfly Century Saddle.
Alexandera is the portrait of endurance and the kind of athlete that reminds us that anything is possible with grit, determination, and a hefty dash of fun. Houchin will be the first to tell you she isn’t the fastest racer in the world, but she does however possess unflinching willpower that is incredible to watch. This trait may be intimidating to some if it wasn’t balanced by her magnetic personality and truly inviting spirit. From the first spark of conversation with Alexandera you get a sense that you’ll be fast friends. Always encouraging, she views her fellow racers as human beings sharing a journey and the challenges and tribulations that come with it, rather than as opponents.
Houchin is also a citizen of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe and an advocate for increasing Indigenous representation in all spaces, including cycling. Alexandera juxtaposes the often white, male-dominated, and lycra-clad world of cycling by showing up to the starting lines just as she is. She is a steadfast believer that you don’t have to look a certain way or have a specific background to excel at cycling. By sharing stories from the seldom-seen perspective of a female, Indigenous cyclist, Houchin hopes to help other members of her community and the world at large, explore the joy of riding and discover all the fantastic feats they’re capable of.
As fellow industry rebels, Terry is honored to be supporting Alexandera’s 2023 race season and will be cheering her on as she continues to trailblaze her path as one of the greats. Join us as we play 20 questions and learn what’s next on her riding docket and how she keeps rolling.
Q: What inspired you to start riding?
AH: I started riding bikes as an adult because I thought the people who rode their bikes in Madison, WI looked cool. So really, I started riding bikes to look cool. Lots of other things were changing in my life around that time, too. I wanted more time for myself, I wanted to incorporate more exercise into my life, and wanted to have a little more agency over myself and my well-being. I’d been in an unhappy relationship and the only way I could get time alone was to commute to and from work. I had also been on a lifelong weight loss journey and cycling really helped me to regulate some of my neuroses over food and my diet.
Q: How did you shift gears from everyday riding to ultra-racing? What was your first racing experience like?
AH: Okay — I WAS NEVER GOING TO EXERCISE AGAIN!
I remember telling my mom that I was “never going to exercise again” after I finished my final credit of physical education in high school. I suppose it was all part of the manidoog (ancestors/spirits) plan. But I couldn’t have predicted I would be here now. I set out on my first bike tour in 2012. I left Madison, Wisconsin to pedal to our reservation in northern Minnesota. I then carried on, west to Boulder, Colorado. I’d wanted to travel, learn from, and experience the United States. I’d gotten lonely on those travels and always fell short of my end goal. I thought that, perhaps, if I found other people who had a similar goal, (pedaling their bikes from a starting line to a finish line) that I might be able to actually accomplish my goal of finishing a long-distance bike ride. I’d tried and quit my first Tour Divide race effort in 2017 and finally finished my first ultra bike race a few months later called the Smoke ’n’ Fire backpacking race in Idaho.
The Smoke ‘n’ Fire was a 400-mile race that started and finished in Boise. That first race experience was an absolute disaster! I had no idea what I was doing. I’d done several long bike tours by that time (including two separate trips from the southern border of the United States to Alberta, Canada), so I knew how to travel long distances, but didn’t know how to do that quickly. I definitely didn’t pack enough for comfort, but I did pack enough not to die. I ended up riding back into Boise just hours before I was supposed to be on my flight back to Arizona…
Q: Speaking of packing enough for comfort, what do you consider to be an absolutely essential piece of gear?
AH: A raincoat! It’s a wind barrier and a water barrier.
Q: What is your favorite part about racing and what motivates you to continue season after season?
AH: I love racing my bike in these ridiculously long bike races! I think the community and relationships I’ve built are my favorite parts of racing. All the rest of the magical stuff that has come my way since becoming a part of the ultraracing community is a result of building strong relationships. That’s the special part about being in a community of people with shared values— accountability. I trust that my competitors are doing their best to ride the route in a good way. Mino-biimaadiziwin, the Good Life, as we call it in Ojibwe, is a life lived in a way of good relation to all beings and things. And I only hope that they trust me to do the same. It’s in that vulnerability that we listen to and share with each other. It’s definitely grown to become ceremony for me, and I don’t think it could have become what it is to me unless I felt a strong enough relationship with the community to try to be my very best self.
Q: Could you speak a little about your identity as an Ojibwe woman and how you feel it affects your connection to cycling?
AH: My mother was adopted out of our tribal community when she was a child and we had lost connection to our tribal identities. By the time we got enrolled and became citizens, I was already an adult. I had pretty serious dysmorphia about my identity as an Indigenous woman. I felt uncomfortable claiming my Indigenous identity because everything I learned about Native people in school vastly differed from my lived experience. As I embarked on cycling journeys, I created space to process my experience in the long hours in the saddle. I’d realized that my life experience was an entirely Indigenous experience. Now, I experience long bike rides and race efforts as ceremonies. Further, I feel a very strong responsibility to ensure that future generations have access to our cultural teachings and language. I work toward this goal by sharing my story as an athlete and Anishinaabekwe (Ojibwe woman) with people in cycling communities and Indigenous communities. Even though I am a contemporary athlete, I am also a traditional Anishinaabekwe, and I embody both identities simultaneously, in every space I occupy.
Q: I know it’s hard to pick favorites, but do you have a favorite race to compete in?
AH: Ha! It is so hard to pick favorites. I love both the Colorado Trail Race and the Arizona Trail Race so much. I think the Arizona Trail Race may be my favorite. I learned how to mountain bike on the AZT (Arizona Trail) when I first started mountain biking, and have ridden the route, and sections of the route, more than I have ridden anywhere else. Despite having ridden the AZT so many times and being very familiar with the route, it continues to test me every time I ride the AZT.
Q: What was the most magical moment from your 2022 race season?
AH: Watching Ana Jager roll into the finish line at the Colorado Trail Race was definitely the most magical part of my 2022 race season.
Q: What’s next for you? What races do you have on your 2023 docket?
AH: I have all three of the major bike-packing classics on my calendar— The Tour Divide, Colorado Trail Race and Arizona Trail Race. I’m also planning a couple of big through-hikes (recovery and training) and other winter adventures starting in December of 2023 and carrying on into winter 2024.
Q: Do you have any advice for new riders? How about those new to racing?
AH: K.I.S.S. – Keep… it… single… speed
Hahaha, I am just kidding, I am biased because I race ultraraces on a single-speed mountain bike. Keep it simple, though, is where I was going with that. Be who you are! And meet yourself where you’re at. If it’s been ten years since you were on a bike, give yourself some time to get used to the new habit. I was a new cyclist at one point (10 years ago!) and rode an old, heavy, Schwinn ten-speed bicycle. I wore my street clothes and walked up the big hills. I crashed, got bikes stolen and tirelessly tried to learn how to do the bike signals (I just ended up pointing the direction I was going and still do that to this day). Just getting on the bike is really all you have to do, and the more time and space you create for that will create space for you to learn what you need. What’s good, or comfortable for you is the right thing— don’t let people tell you that what feels good for you is wrong. For new racers— I think that having serious conversations with your expectations before you enter a race is the best preparation possible. Are you going to finish? Are you going to quit if you’re not going as fast as you wanted?
Q: Tell us a little bit about your trusty single-speed steed. How did you decide what bike to use for racing?
AH: I have a few bikes and I use different ones for different races/rides. For my single-track heavy races, I ride a Chumba Sendero, for this year’s Tour Divide I will be on a Chumba Yaupon. For fat biking, I use an older model of Chumba’s bikes that they no longer make. I ride single speed for all of my endurance racing and go for gears for my fat biking!
Q: Who are your role models, in riding and life?
AH: My friend, Sarah Agaton-Howes has been so supportive as I try to figure out my path. I’ve really learned so much from watching the way she manages her career. My mother has been so strong her whole life, I definitely respect her for loving me and supporting me and the life I’ve been able to build. Rebecca Rusch has also been such a fantastic mentor as I have treaded into the professional athlete world.
Q: What is the best advice you’ve received?
AH: Look where you want to go, not where you are going…
Q: Do you have a favorite local route to ride?
AH: I ride a lot of the trails in Cloquet, Minnesota when I am home. The Pine Valley Trail System is local and fun. Duluth also has amazing trails. I travel a lot right now, so “local” is an evolving location for me.
Q: How do you explore joy off the bike?
AH: Oooh, I love playing baaga’adewewin! When we are back home in my tribal community, we play traditional-style lacrosse. It’s one of my favorite community gatherings. People just light up when they are sprinting across the field! Also, folks really let their competitive side shine and it’s the best.
Q: Lastly, what led you to team up with Terry?
AH: My butt told me to do it. HA! Actually, my friend, Russ teased me about how terrible of a saddle I had on my bike and told me to “take that piece of plywood” off my bike. He set me up on a Liberator Saddle and I’d never had such a comfy bike ride in my entire life. I had always been someone who didn’t like to ride with a chamois and kind of just accepted that riding bikes was really uncomfortable. After I completed that 3-day bike tour with Russ, I never looked back. He didn’t let me keep the saddle, but I did end up with my own Liberator as well as a Butterfly Century. After a few long bike races, I knew that the Butterfly Century was the one and I’ve been a customer ever since. It was actually in a conversation with Vince, one of the owners of Chumba USA when he suggested, “why don’t you reach out to the folks at Terry?” I did, and now we’ve partnered up!
Now for the speed round…
Coffee or Tea?
AH: Depends on the time of day— I can’t caffeinate after 12:00PM
Favorite riding snack?
AH: I don’t think I can even choke down food bars anymore. I like, really really like, the hickory smoked beef jerky that they sell at the Super One grocery store down the road from my mom’s house.
Ultimate bike-it list destination?
Cats or dogs?
Current playlist or musical artist on repeat?
AH: I have a playlist I’ve been curating for a few years, so I gravitate to that one. I think my favorite song right now is, For Real by Mallrat off of her Uninvited EP.
Is there anything else you’d like the Terry Community to know about you? We’re all ears!
AH: I started a women-driven, bikes-are-awesome website with my friends Katie and Eszter called The Town Bicycle. We’re working to build a platform for bike media driven by women in cycling. We welcome stories about the bike experience from all women. We think that sharing these stories will make cycling a less exclusive space.
To keep up with Alexandera:
Visit The Town Bicycle website: https://thetownbicycle.com/stories/
Check out her personal blog: https://giwiizhaamin.com/
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