Cycling as a method to learn accepting oneself

By: Mohammad Kafina

At the house of the pensioned journalist Jeroen Zonneveld (70), it is messy. Books and papers are all over the salon where Jeroen sits these days to write a book about his cycling journey from Amsterdam in the Netherlands to Guangzhou in China. Whenever an idea about the journey comes into his mind, he immediately puts his glasses on, picks up a pen, and starts writing down phrases and words that he might use for the new book where he talks about what changed in his life.

When Jeroen was planning for his journey, many people around him wondered if he was out of mind. They thought that he was joking. However, Jeroen was very serious in what he was saying. Even getting divorced two months before his journey did not prevent him from heading on with his plan to cycle 12.000 kilometres in sixteen countries. He crossed mountains, plains, and places where he was with no company. Such a thing was impossible without a need for rebirth, and he made that in eight months.

In April 2019, everything was ready for Jeroen to start the journey to the city where the girlfriend of his son was born. His friends gathered at the Azart square in Amsterdam to wish him a lovely tour. He has got a Santos bicycle and prepared his luggage. However, the main factor that Jeroen needed was a new mindset. “Before starting the journey, I needed to have a mindset that might help me get along with all challenges that I was going to face,” says Jeroen while sipping his green tea. “I have learned from one of the guys who wrote a book about how to go on cycling journeys that a cyclist should pay no attention to becoming famous,” Jeroen adds. The list of requirements also includes accepting being alone and living in discomfort. Besides, Jeroen needed to focus on what used to happen around him. He also had to find solutions for the problems that he was encountered with. Last but not least, one of the requirements that Jeroen found important was being open to changes in perspective.

Jeroen at home with his notebook where he writes his ideas for the book he plans to publish about his journey. At his head is a painting where his name is written in Chinese (Lao Tian which means the old field). Photo: Mohammad Kafina.

For Jeroen, the journey was not about the kilometres he has cycled or how many countries he has been to. Instead, the value of the journey lies in the lessons and experiences he learned.

When Jeroen started the journey, he discovered that going down should not always be a negative experience, as most people think. “I learned to change the way I look at the world,” says Jeroen. “From my cycling experience, I believe now that I have to do all that I can to reach the top. After getting there, I will deserve the pleasure of getting down and seeing things from a new perspective.”

Jeroen believes that the journey made him wiser. Nowadays, he thinks a lot before talking. He is also more interested in what happens in the world. Nowadays, he follows the news of Belarus and feels concerned about people in countries like Iran and Kyrgyzstan. For Jeroen, people in the Netherlands and Europe need to do more for the world. “I know now that what the media tells us might differ from the reality,” Jeroen says. He moves to the map hanging on the wall and points his finger at China to say that it has lovely and friendly people. “During the journey, I met many people in China and elsewhere who became friends,” adds Jeroen “Those friends keep contacting me and ask about me. One of those friends accepted a couple of months ago my invitation to the birthday party that I have organized to celebrate turning 70 years old. On the other hand, many of my friends in the Netherlands were afraid to come due to Corona.”

One of the things that Jeroen has learned was accepting being himself and having challenges to face. “When I came back to the Netherlands, I have been more able to deal with my ex-wife,” says Jeroen, “I even could have been able to tell her that I love her and accept being separated from her.”

Nowadays, Jeroen enjoys having a British girlfriend who is about his age. They plan to go one time on a new cycling journey. It might be this time from South China to Vietnam or in Africa. The couple still has to decide about that. However, that will be, as Jeroen says, after finishing his book. “Now, it is time to focus on the book and share the lessons that I have learned during my journey with other people,” Jeroen concludes.