She Rides book coverLiving Vs Surviving

Author: Alenka Vrecek

Time often heals, but it also takes away choices, opportunities, dreams. What we once promised ourselves we would do slowly becomes inconvenient, uncomfortable, improbable, then impossible. Finally, we let go, citing maturity, convenience, consequences, responsibility.

At fifty-four, Alenka is facing this reconciliation head-long and she recounts it in She Rides: Chasing Dreams Across California and Mexico. As she sees it, there are two choices: to give into the ravages of a treacherous body after a horrifying head-on confrontation with cancer or to strike out and live her dream – dangers, challenges, and horrified family be damned. The dream? To ride 2,500 miles by herself through inhospitable wilderness, starting at her Lake Tahoe California home, crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, and ending up at her second home at the tip of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. It’s not a good time. She just fought cancer. Her husband just got his own diagnosis for a different, but equally heartbreaking disease (Parkinson’s). It’s never a good time, but she needs to choose between living and surviving, and she needs to choose now. She chooses living.

Any good travel book is about more than scenery, road-side characters, and landscape. It’s about the inner-person’s journey. A travelogue plays with the shape of time and dreams, and She Rides is no exception. Alenka knows nothing about bikepacking (i.e., loading your bike with 50 odd pounds of equipment and essentially going it on your own – a super rough version of camping), and as she learns, we learn a bit about her. About her first marriage. About how and why it failed. About her childhood, her children, her second marriage, her health scares and traumas, and her feelings of betrayal at her own body for growing older and for the cancer. We also learn that Alenka likes a good adventure. A good challenge. And she has certainly found one.

She Rides at times makes us arm-chair adventurers want to get up and streak into the great blue yonder to confront the limits of our bodies and the stamina of our minds, and at other times to hunker down on a comfy bed after a warm shower and appreciate rest. She evokes the exhilaration, the fear, the wandering, the questioning, and even the feel of a cold beer after mind defying exhaustion in the hot dessert son. At times her trip is empowering, at other she wonders just what the hell made her decide to do this and how she is going to survive, especially when the horrifying road, Mex I, makes it into the picture.

Woman and bike silhouette

Image by Manuel from Pixabay

What Alenka largely finds in the distance is hope. She can still do it. She can and is living this dream. Is it satisfying though, this journey through barren landscape and the rocky outcroppings of confused, tormented self? Well . . .I’d say, it’s bittersweet.

After Alenka’s husband’s diagnoses of Parkinson’s, it’s a hard time to leave him, and there is definitely a vibe between the couple, one that resonates loudest in the awkward homecoming, the moment of victory that isn’t movie-couple perfect but real life incomplete. Something is lacking and the relationship still needs more building, more time. These are real people here, dealing with the issues of getting older, the fear of loss, and it is poignant and painful in a way that a cloud strewn sky cannot fix. The freedom of the road, as beautiful as it is, will never cure the soul.

We see moments of Alenka talking about God, about the big things in life, but they are oddly dismissed. She is looking for hope in humanity, in zen moments and something altogether more intangible, something I don’t feel that she really found at the end. It’s real, but it hurts. And it makes me wonder. Why not ask and delve into those questions of God, especially with mortality so present? Despite everything she shares in She Rides, and shares so warmly, Alenka only gives us small looks at this, this basic kernel of the truth. So we ride alongside her, here for the now, but like all fair-weather friends when things get dark, when they get beyond serious, we are distanced until we fade out, like that last star at night. What we see then is a beautiful, bittersweet vignette and the deeper answers, if there really are any, are kept by the author alone.

I guess I wanted more. I guess what I really wanted after such a journey, such sharing, was the happily ever after – the meaning behind it all – the benevolence and love of God, His whisper that everything will be okay. And I didn’t hear it. And I’m not sure our beloved, brave, energetic, take-the-world-by-the-horns Alenka did either. I left She Rides oddly sad, wanting more than the temporal.

– Frances Carden

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Extra Cool Stuff:

Alenka’s Video of her Ride: Video — ALENKA VRECEK

Alenka’s Blog: Blog 2 — ALENKA VRECEK


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Frances Carden
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