Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Q&A with Alenka Vrecek




Alenka Vrecek is the author of the new memoir She Rides: Chasing Dreams Across California and Mexico. She was a ski coach, and she founded The Tahoe Tea Company. She lives in Lake Tahoe, California.


Q: What inspired you to write She Rides, and how long did it take to write it?


A: Shortly after my 52nd birthday, my life unraveled in ways I had not imagined even in my worst nightmares. To cope with the events, I wrote a blog, hoping to gain some emotional relief and clarity.


Writing was cathartic, but it wasn’t enough. I wanted to do something greater than myself, and by myself. Growing up at the foot of the Julian Alps during the Golden Era of Slovenian Alpinism in the ‘70s, I wanted to be the youngest Slovenian woman to climb Mount Everest.


In high school I had other lofty dreams like crossing oceans on a windsurfer, or riding the bike around the world by myself. But, as life went on, I realized I needed an attainable goal so I could rekindle the inner fire I had lost.


The idea turned into the words I wrote on the back page of a pocket size Rumi book, and there it sat and simmered for another 15 years, until riding the bike from my home in Lake Tahoe, California, to my home in Baja, Mexico, became an obsession.


Against the wishes of my husband, my kids, many of my closest friends, and my parents, especially my mother, I decided to do something, instead of just dreaming and talking about it. My cancer could return and my husband’s Parkinson’s was progressing. I was running out of time to follow through on my unfulfilled dreams.


During the ride I wrote a blog to keep my family and friends informed of my whereabouts and to share the experiences. People who read my blog (many of them I didn’t even know) encouraged me to write the book.  


It was the book writing journey that would test me in ways I’ve never been tested before. I was in a completely new territory. The bike ride served as the backbone to connect all difficult events in my life, and now, four years later, the book is born.


Q: The writer Brian Benson said of the book, “Gripping, wise, and snort-coffee-out-your-nose funny, She Rides will make you want to drop everything, get good and lost, and find your way back home.” What do you think of that description, and what role do you see humor playing in the book?


A: I love what Brian says about the book.


Gripping? Yes, there were many scary moments, and I often walked, or better stated, rode my bike close to the edge of life and death, but I liked it there.


From the edges one sees further, clearer, brighter and even in the darkness of the night, one can see the bright stars. When we are alone with fear, we find courage we didn’t know we possessed. In solitude, we can reflect and find a deeper understanding of ourselves and our surroundings.


Humor? I think one of the most important ways to deal with difficult situations in life, is to find humor and the ability to laugh at ourselves. Life is serious enough. I tried to add humor to the story, but writing humor is difficult.


There is a part in the book where I write about traveling in Mexico with my mother and my three kids in our 38-foot-long monster of a motorhome. It was dark; the road was narrow without a shoulder, and there was a big drop on each side of the rough road. Blinded by the lights of a huge semi-truck trailer barreling toward us, I hugged the right side of the road as close to the edge as possible to prevent a head-on collision.

Hitting a cement road marker just when my mother was sitting on the toilet caused the motorhome to swerve and I struggled to keep it on the road. My mother came rolling out of the bathroom on her knees, with her pants around the ankles, cursing loudly in our native Slovene language. It was a frightening event, and my three kids, my mother and I, could have been killed. But, writing about this event years later and trying to translate my mother’s cursing, seemed hilarious.


So yes, adding humor to difficult moments in life is a good thing. It’s why we love reading David Sedaris.


And as far as finding the way back home? As an immigrant, I am forever searching for a true meaning of home. It is an understory of my book.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: Ah, the title. My original working title was Riding Door to Door, because I was riding my bike from my home in Tahoe to my small palapa style home in Mexico. Phil Cousineau, who was my developmental editor, suggested the title She Rides, so I cannot take any credit for it. I instantly loved it, because it was short and concise. 


Q: What impact did it have on you to write the book, and what do you hope readers take away from it?


A: By nature, I am a very impulsive person. I dive into situations that are often way over my head and I get so deep, I can’t back out. However, I try to always approach situations in life with passion and unwavering conviction. Deep down I believe that with my skills, determination, and desire to learn from my mistakes, I will figure things out. Somehow. Someway.


My father used to tell me I was as stubborn as a young mountain goat, and he often didn’t use the term in the most endearing way.

When I embarked on the book writing journey, I had no clue what I was getting myself into. I wanted to share my experiences with people who find themselves defeated by life and encourage them to follow their own long forgotten dreams.


Too much analyzing, too much thinking about doing something, is not necessarily productive. We need to conquer the fear, dive in, and embrace the unknown. Only by doing, things actually get done.


I surrounded myself with people who were accomplished writers, editors, and writing teachers. They believed in me and my story and they became my mentors. I drank from the fountain of their knowledge and wanted to learn from the best. There is no way I could have done this alone.


My advice is: go to writing conferences, sign up for writing workshops, throw yourself and the last of your savings if you have to (I did), and the universe will provide. Believe in yourself, but stay humble. Most of all, leave your ego at home and be coachable.


There is a saying attributed to Buddha: When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. I was more than ready, and as challenging as it was, especially for someone whose English is a second language, I loved every moment of the often difficult and frustrating journey.


To be excited about learning new things at any age is priceless. To hold your own book in your hands is like holding your newborn baby in your arms for the first time.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: The book I am working on is a historical fiction novel. I am still in the research phase, and I only wrote a few chapters to see where the story takes me, but I follow a life of a family from a small country of Slovenia fleeing to Austria to avoid prosecution during the Yugoslav civil war, and then to South America after World War II.


During the rise of Nazi Germany, the father, an aspiring filmmaker and photographer, is swept up by the mass hysteria of Hitler’s ideology. He, like millions of Germans, believes that life with Hitler at the helm will be good and prosperous. The family has no choice but to follow the ambitious father, who ends up working as a filmmaker for Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda machine.


He tells his young wife and his four young daughters that working for the Nazi regime is their only ticket out of poverty into the world of fame and fortune. Instead, exile, misfortune, financial ruin, and death follow the family for generations to come. We live in peculiar times and we have to remember the past, or we are condemned to relive it. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I will continue searching for what is true and good in the world until the day my breath leaves my body, and I return to this earth as a golden retriever chasing tennis balls, making someone else happy. I hope you will do the same.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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