For 33 years, Dr. Alan Kretchmar of Town & Country was a local ophthalmologist in St. Louis. He and his wife, Karen, built a home, raised a family and retired here; but for many years, Kretchmar was thinking about reviving an adventure that began decades earlier.
In 1971, Kretchmar had just finished his undergraduate work at Washington University and wanted to spend some time in Europe before starting medical school at Saint Louis University. On the plane trip over the Atlantic, he decided to tour the country by bicycle. He bought a used bike in Amsterdam, strapped on a duffel bag and set off for Germany. He fell in love with cycling and returned to Europe many times in the years that followed.
Between 2001 and 2007, the Kretchmars made four cycling trips to France, with the ultimate goal of riding across the entire country. It wasn’t until after they finished the last leg of their journey when he decided their exploits might make a good book. It took him several years to put it all down on paper, but today, A Leisurely Ride Across France is on sale at bookstores and on Amazon.com. Kretchmar will be signing books Nov. 12 at Provence Boutique Ladue. He recently spent some time reflecting on his experiences with LN columnist Paul Brown.
LN: What was the biggest challenge: the cycling or writing the book?
AK: Writing the book was a lot more challenging. Bicycling is wonderful, we love doing that. It took a lot of thought and perseverance to get myself to sit down and write out everything from my notes, receipts and brochures from all the trips.
LN: What surprised you the most about writing the book?
AK: The fact that I actually did it surprised me the most. Another surprising thing is some of the nice comments I’m getting from people who read the book. They actually enjoyed it and can relate to experiences they’ve had or their friends have had.
LN: Is the book a how-to guide?
AK: It’s not; it’s for people who like to bicycle and travel--those are the ones who would find the book most interesting.
LN: Did you have anyone help you get ready for your trips?
AK: They were completely done on our own. We didn’t go with a touring company, we bought our bikes and got them fixed and repaired on our own. We found places to stay as we rode along and ordered food--even though we didn’t speak French. We learned little by little each time we went about how to make things easier.
LN: What was the single best experience you had?
AK: We were in a town called Crevecoeur-le-Grande. It was a wet day and we pulled into the town, looking for a restaurant. We stopped in front of a doctor’s office; and the doctor came out, but he didn’t speak English well. He led us to a pizza place around the corner, we thanked him and he left. But two minutes later, he came back and he motioned for us to follow him. I thought he was thinking of a better restaurant, but we walked across the town and he brought us to his house. He and his wife, who taught English, invited us in for lunch. We must have had four courses of food! We ended up in the living room with his children, having coffee and chocolates. It was a wonderful experience.
LN: Do you plan to write any more books about cycling?
AK: I don’t think I could do it again, but we have lots of plans to continue biking. We’ve taken three trips since then: We’ve gone back to Amsterdam, and Hamburg to Copenhagen, and to the coast of Sweden. Hopefully next year, we’ll go to Stockholm or Helsinki.