.Alenka Vrecek’s Cycling Memoir

From her home near Lake Tahoe, Alenka Vrecek rode a bicycle through mountains and deserts, all the way to the southern fringe of Baja California. The solo 2,500-mile trip comes to life in her new memoir, She Rides: Chasing Dreams Across California and Mexico.

Years earlier, after a miserable divorce and the death of her grandfather back home in Slovenia, Vrecek wrote down her plan in the back of a Rumi book: Someday she would make this ride.

It was not until after Vrecek dealt with cancer, chemotherapy, tedious medical visits and changes to her body that the journey became a reality. Overwhelmed with physical and emotional suffering, she loaded up her mountain bike with 50 pounds of camping gear and hit the road.

“The bike ride was symbolic, in a way, moving forward,” Vrecek told me. “And I think that is the part of the story I really wanted to share with people. Because we all have stuff going on. Everybody has trauma, everybody has something that affects them on a deep level emotionally. ‘How do we move on from that?’ was really what I wanted to bring to light, and hopefully inspire people to go and do something to move on.”

In cinematic fashion, the book weaves together a multitude of threads. Through the lens of a classic travel narrative, we get a fresh perspective of the immigrant experience, oscillating between various understandings of home, with every little tangible detail along the journey triggering memories. California mountain culture goes up against psychological imprints of the Julian Alps. Genteel stylings of small towns in Central Cali remind Vrecek of her youth in the former Yugoslavia. The fallibility of GPS gadgets and mobile phones contrast with memories of handwritten letters, aromas and human connection.

From beginning to end, Vrecek overcomes a variety of obstacles, discovering gratitude in various forms. Defying all expectations, she meets a wealth of people who assist her in times of need. They supply fried chicken and repair her camping stove. She gets beer, spices and a floor on which to crash. People open cafes for her. Others give Vrecek a lift when she is completely worn out. At one point, she even gets a packaged breakfast for the road ahead. Oddly enough, the people who seemed to have the least were the ones who helped her the most. It wasn’t exactly like acolytes aiding a pilgrim on her way to the Holy Land, but the effect came through, intentionally or not.

“Even though it was remote and it was solitary for big parts of my journey, it really was the people I met along the way that made the difference,” Vrecek said, adding that many emerged at just the right time and place, encouraging her to soldier on and never give up. Especially when she got into Mexico, the individual hospitality shattered the myths Vrecek often heard about the dangers of a woman traveling alone south of the border.

“It was the opposite of what we hear in the news,” Vrecek said. “Especially in today’s political climate, people were extraordinarily generous and kind and loving. Mexicans are all about family. Mexicans are all about living together in tight union. Even the people who helped me along in California, they were of Mexican origin, and I, as an immigrant myself, I was very touched by that.”

Speaking of gratitude, Vrecek appears in a Book Passage conversation with iconic travel writer Don George at 1pm, Saturday, June 24. George was among those who coached Vrecek when she began writing the first drafts of She Rides, after she attended the Book Passage Travel Writers and Photographers Conference. As such, the event should be a full-circle moment.

“Don George, I have to say, I didn’t really know who he was, but I signed up for his workshop tour before the conference started,” Vrecek said. “And I found him to be the most kind and warm person and engaging and helpful. I think he is, in a true sense, a mentor and a very giving person.”



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