Gagwejikanidiwag: They Race Each Other – Alexandera Houchin and Her Arizona Trail 300 ITT Experience

For the third year in a row, I invited a small group of friends to race me on the southern 300 miles of the Arizona Trail. I ultimately challenge people to ride the route southbound and descend the trail on Mount Lemmon; why else would there be an AZT 300 if not to ride all the magnificent trail between Superior, AZ and Mexico?

As I have been tailoring our route there have been three iterations adding to what Scott Morris, and then later John Schilling, have pieced together. Scott was an idol when I was younger. Now, he’s my friend.

Having followed Scott’s adventures for years via his blog, I only ever sensed a deep sense of respect and purity into his efforts of building what is now the Arizona Trail Race. It’s with deep respect that I explore adding more trail to our route (and less road). By doing so, I believe that we only increase our chances of having a life-altering bike ride.

This route is not the Arizona Trail Race route, but the more arduous, big sister route of my future. All that matters here is the tiny race win. Without each other, we’re left in a vacuum of our egos. The only use of time in these matters is to remind each other what is possible.

It was some time after midnight but before sunrise. I thought I should have been sleeping, but the trail was calling. The tears were streaming down my face. I’d gotten stuck on a feedback loop. It happens often out there. I contemplate my existence and plan out my next MTBCast phone call. I pedal on until I find cell service. This time I called. I stood in the trail, engulfed in silence; the words wouldn’t come out. I hung up. This moment was for me.

I was remembering every boy, every man who ever broke my heart, who never called me back, of every pretty girl I kissed who didn’t really kiss me back. I thought about every job I wanted but didn’t get hired for. I heard the animal noises people would make. Mooing at me, a teenage girl, just walking down the street. I wouldn’t have heard them if the batteries in my Walkman hadn’t died. I thought about the racist notes in my inbox. I remembered every college rejection letter. I dreamt of getting out. I thought about the way people looked at me when I climbed out of my father’s dilapidated van as a kid. We know you live in a trailer park.

If they could all see me now.

Dancing on the trail, lifting my bike over my head again, again, and again. Watch me whip this wheel around switchbacks. I gave up the gears; I never wanted to compete against their egos. Only mine. Kaasi v. ego. I sent the trail those enduro boys walked. I think I grew wings. Migizi indodem. I climbed when the gears in front of me shifted. I have two speeds. On or off.

I pedaled for 22 hours straight. I was in the front of the tiny race and I was running for my life.

I got a flat tire. I plugged it. I got another flat. I plugged it. I got another flat. I plugged it. I should have changed my tire. I broke my seat rail. I moved the broken section into the clamp. It rattled loose and I couldn’t get it back in. I couldn’t sit on my seat anymore. I had 140 miles to pedal to our finish. I couldn’t eat. I forced myself to eat. My skin was boiling. I laid against a cement wall beneath a bridge; the wall sucked the heat out of me. I came back to life. I pushed my bike when I couldn’t ride it. I dragged it when I couldn’t push it. And when I crawled, I found sleep.

I was never anyone until I found my bicycle.

Or maybe I was, and she was just locked away like a helpless maiden in a bell tower. The bicycle is my Rapunzel’s braid, the fire escape, the slayed dragon; my prince in shining armor, gracing me with the kiss of life.

I never had confidence until I found the bicycle. I now know everything; I know nothing.

I am nothing, no one, and everything that has ever existed. I’m alive in the love, the lust and the despair of my own humanity. I have no shame for my shortcomings or failures, just acknowledgment that I am better for it. Now. Who I was. Who I’m is.


I’d plant my tongue in the lefthand corner of my mouth only to slide it to the right, over and over again with no result. The sun had stolen the moisture from my mouth. The water on my back was just a few degrees shy of boiling. It wasn’t quenching shit. I crumpled in the shade and ripped the helmet off my head. I stripped the running vest from my core and untied my shoes. I peeled my socks off of my feet. I tried to catch my breath. It was too hot to move; but he was just a mile ahead.

When I caught him it was strictly business. He was a Simpson; legs dusted yellow from seven hours of promenading with the pollen. I would never let him catch me again.

I pedaled for 22 hours straight. I was in the front of our tiny race and I was sprinting for my life. He’d gained two hours on my once 4-hour gap in a 12-hour time period. An hour in 30 more miles. He was 45- minutes behind me as I emerged from the Canelos.

It was the most dangerous game. While I was clawing my way through the Canelos, I was consumed by fear. All those voices of the past were creeping in from the corners of the darkness. I was so, so tired. The human spirit is strong. My human spirit is strong.

I choked down that cacophony. I ran. I was going to win.