Memories From the Cardboard Box in My Closet: Tales and Photos from Alexandera’s First Winter Bike Tour
In the early years of my bike adventuring, I didn’t have a smartphone and chose to bring a 24-shot disposable camera with me on my adventures to document my trips. I’ve shared a selection of photos from that tour. I was supposed to ride the Tour Divide in the summer of 2014. I’d learned about the Tour Divide in 2012; that was the year I set out on my first cross-country bike tour. I’d wrapped up that bike tour anticlimactically, searching out a ride back to Wisconsin on Craigslist. I’d run out of money and convinced a stranger driving from Boulder, Colorado to Madison, Wisconsin to let me ride with him. In fact, I told him that I would help drive and that my boyfriend would give him gas money upon my arrival home. I’d accomplished something that I hadn’t even comprehended I could do – I had ridden my bike across the country. Granted, most of that trip was a disaster. I’d set out with the few things I’d already had – a messenger bag, a Blackburn rear rack, 23cc tires pumped up to 110 psi, and little more than that. Oh, but I learned so much…
Good Things Come in Threes: Jill Martindale Reflects on Her Unsupported Arrowhead 135 Win
I ripped dead branches off a pine tree just off the side of the Arrowhead Trail. I was trying to get a fire going inside a three-sided shelter so I could warm up a little bit. I wasn’t having great luck burning anything thicker than a pencil because the moisture in the branches was just so frozen. I had used all of the Fatwood I packed to get the fire started. I managed to soak up a little heat from my fire as I melted snow with my alcohol stove to fill one of my bottles. The plan had been to make it all the way to the third checkpoint before having to melt snow for more water, but in the deep cold, I found myself guzzling faster than I’d anticipated. I had started with 105 ounces of water in GSI MicroLite insulated thermoses, which were doing a fantastic job of keeping all of my water hot! Drinking calories was a lot more palatable than trying to eat frozen bricks of food.
Living the Dream: Positive People, Negative Temperatures
I went on my first expedition in 2002; I was a student on an Outward Bound course. Those 16 days opened my eyes to the world of the outdoors and expeditions. Over the past 20 years, I have been beyond lucky and privileged to take part in many expeditions into the mountains and deserts. In 2016 I accidentally got into fat biking, and my soul was again moved. Around that time, I started bikepacking. Both fat biking and bikepacking are the pinnacle of biking for me. Winter fat bikepacking takes riding bikes to another level. Most winter ultra-events might require one night or just a few hours of sleep. Whereas with a longer trip, you need to be able to sleep out for multiple nights, keeping your puffy and sleeping bag dry. You also need to carry food for multiple days as well. To be able to thrive, it takes a lot of different skills, endurance riding, winter skills, and grit.
Conversations in Community: Miss Wendi
In early December, I traveled to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to have a conversation with two other badass women at Freewheel Bike Shop. Mary Ehlers was the last woman standing in the 2022 Colorado Trail Race, and the evening’s emcee was Kate Coward. Kate is an incredible athlete, having finished ten Arrowhead 135’s (eight races and two ITTs), and I was glowing sharing a space with those two women. We spoke about some of our fears, some of our passions, and so many other things in between. One of my favorite parts of these community events is to talk with the folks who come to be in the audience. I met Wendi right away. She has hair like my mother’s, beautiful, black, and bouncy; those kinds of curls are few and far between, and I immediately felt …
Faces Behind the Dots: Arrowhead 135
Every year, a group of winter die-hards line up for the Arrowhead 135. It’s a 135–mile winter ultra-marathon where people compete on foot, ski, or bicycle. Each winter, the race begins in International Falls, Minnesota, and finishes at the Fortune Bay (Bois Forte Band of Lake Superior Chippewa) Casino in Tower, Minnesota. It’s hard, very hard. Winter ultra-racing is different than other forms of bikepack racing, where factors other than fitness often reign supreme. The ability to regulate one’s temperature, manage moisture, be prepared, master clear-headedness, and exercise patience often yields favorable results.
Living an Empowered and Adventurous Life
About one year ago, I crossed paths with Becky Jergenson. She was fresh off completing her very first Smoke ‘n’ Fire Race (SnF). I had made the decision to move to Indiana but had promised both her and our friend Cassidy that I would return to participate in the SnF bikepacking race. I had absolutely no clue what I was getting into, or how I would accomplish this. I had never gone on a single bikepacking trip and had only started mountain biking that year. Somehow, Becky (and probably a few beers) made it seem attainable. She mentioned someone might be putting together a group for novice women that could help with preparation. So… I was in.
That Happened a Long Time Ago: Contemporary Indigenous Ceremony is Alive and Thriving
In 2018, in the throes of my undergraduate education, I read an article highlighting perspectives of Indigenous reflections on the 40th anniversary of the 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA). I was dumbfounded. Even though I knew about the Federal Policies that unfolded in the 1970s, I’d barely quantified the years that had passed. Until 1978, it was federally illegal for Native Americans to participate in traditional or ceremonial practices. I knew about the Ghost Dance and other acts that were outlawed, but I never considered that in the years after 1883, Natives were arrested, jailed, and even killed for practicing their spirituality. For nearly 100 years, immense pressure was thrust upon native communities to eliminate spirituality from their lives in the name of assimilation; spirituality is at the core of our identities as Native people. I imagine that practicing in secret while we were systematically separated from our ancestral land bases was, to say the least, exhausting. Despite this, many of our ancestral ceremonies are alive, thriving, and evolving.
Alexandera Houchin’s AZT Video
I gathered about an hour and a half of footage on my iPhone over the 12-day journey I had racing the 800 miles of the Arizona Trail Race this fall. I edited it down into a short video and I hope that you like it!
The Last Woman Standing: Misty Nielsen and the 2022 Smoke ‘n’ Fire
Misty Nielsen takes home the honor of being the 2022 Idaho Smoke ‘n’ Fire’s Last Woman Standing. As with every woman in this year’s amazingly large field, Misty has a fun story, getting into bikepacking with the Idaho Women’s Bikepacking group, learning the tricks of the trade, and putting together a determined ride that involved blasting down the descents at full speed. Read more about Misty and her ride and help us celebrate every woman, from the first across the finish line to the last, of this year’s event!
Geyaabi Nimbakade // I’m Still Hungry
Alexandera Houchin was the first woman to cross the finish line in the 2022 Colorado Trail Race and the sixth overall finisher, setting a new southbound/westbound women’s course record on her Chumba Sendero SS, with a time of 6 days, 2 hours, and 33 minutes. In her most recent essay, she reflects on her fifth journey along the Colorado Trail. “I was playing a game; I would wait until the moment I saw her headlight disappear and as soon as I saw the last glimpse, I would look at my watch and start timing myself. The first summit, I was 47 minutes behind her light, then 32 minutes, then 24 minutes, until I saw her pushing up to the summit of Stony Pass and finally was just eight minutes behind her.”