“Giwiizhaamin” is an illuminating short piece from Alexandera Houchin that centers on her relationship with her body and how her perception of it has changed in the time between entering her first race, pedaling many thousands of miles, and seeing herself on the cover of a magazine. Find her honest and uplifting words, an invitation to join her in your own way, and a selection of photos from over the years here…
Words and photos by Alexandera Houchin
I’ve called it a ballet, even though I never resembled a ballerina. The bike race as performance art; a pink dot struggling across a computer screen.
In fact, the very first bike tour I went on was some sort of odyssey to lose that last pesky 30 pounds. I figured that if I rode my bike hundreds, thousands of miles across the country, just maybe I’d finally start to see a body that looked the way I wanted it to.
After thousands of miles on that fixed gear, I still hated my body. The very body that propelled me across states, mountain ranges, and towns seemed alien to me. How could I still be fat? How could I still hate my body?
I set out again on a longer bike tour. And a longer one, until I rode the Tour Divide north in 2015 on a rigid 29+ Surly Krampus. I saw the racers pass me going south, and not a single one of them looked like me. I would never be able to do something like that, I thought.
I struggled my way north. I walked my bike when my riding partner pedaled. I collapsed at camp when my riding partner set up our tent. Touring the Divide was the hardest thing I’d ever done; I was definitely going to get skinny.
Except I didn’t. I rode my bike from Mexico to Canada for more than 45 days and still looked like the same ol’ Al that I always have.
For years following that effort, I lined up at bike races running away from something and punishing my body for her shortcomings. I’d show up relatively untrained and unacclimated, and I would beat my body into the ground to prove to myself that, even though I didn’t look the way I wanted, I could perform at a high level.
I did not want to be a fat cyclist. I wanted to be a badass competitive bike racer. I wanted people to stop looking at me like, “How are you here, at this gas station, right now, like me?” I wanted people to stop underestimating me. I wanted people to stop looking at me like I was some sort of fucking miracle. I wanted to look like everybody else.
Until I saw myself on the cover of Freehub. It wasn’t that I saw myself on that cover, but I saw my mother on that cover. I saw my sister on that cover. And my auntie. And my cousins. And all of the other Anishinaabeg women I love and look up to on the cover of a mountain bike magazine, in the shape of someone who looked like me.
What’s so wrong with my body if it looks like the body of so many of the people I love?
I’ve been thinking about my body day in and day out as I prepare to give myself to the trail again. I am trying to love myself. I am trying to remember how blessed I am to have the opportunity to do something that I love most days of my life. I am trying to be the woman my ancestors believed I would become. I am not trapped in a body that I hate; I was blessed with a body that transforms.
I am trying to build community; I am trying to raise the bar. I’m trying to invite you to try a little harder. I believe that we are capable of great things when we lift each other up. I am just a regular ol’ Indian girl from a trailer park in Wisconsin. If I can ride a singlespeed mountain bike from Canada to Mexico in hiking boots, I believe that you can do anything you set your mind to.
Fuck it if your body doesn’t look the way you want it to; teach it to do the things you dream of.
That’s what I’m trying to do.
You can read more about Giwiizhaamin at Alexandera’s blog here, and follow her on Instagram @alexanderahouchin. Good luck to Alexandera and all the riders setting out on the 2023 Tour Divide this morning at 8 a.m. MST. You can follow along and watch for updates on our Tracker here.
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