If we look hard enough, we discover that we are surrounded by inspirational people doing incredible things; people who push themselves out of their comfort zones, test their strength and courage and live life to their fullest potential. Every so often we come across someone whose story truly takes our breath away, who makes us stop for an instant and appreciate what the human body and mind is capable of.
This month we meet such a person. Moniek Dekkers from The Netherlands is an incredible lady who has undertaken a 35 000km cycling challenge around the world, competed in several half-ironman competitions and climbed one of the world’s highest mountains. We joined Moniek over a Skype coffee to discover what makes her tick and how her adventures came to pass.
So Moniek, let’s start where it all began! Where and how far did you cycle?
My husband Arian and I cycled from The Netherlands to Australia, which is 35000km. After Australia we flew to Helsinki and cycled home via Europe. We started in 2012 and arrived home in 2014!
What made you want to take up such a huge challenge?
I’m always seeking adventure and thrive on setting myself challenges particularly when it involves going into unknown territory – mentally, physically and geographically! I was curious about the world, curious if I could cycle round it and what would unfold as I embarked on the challenge. At the time of planning I was feeling stressed by the demands of my life and was looking for freedom and independence from the pressures of western society – it was time to escape!
What were the biggest challenges throughout your journey?
China was the most challenging country because of the stark cultural differences between west and east. We crossed the Tibet plateau with winter on our tails, which was physically exhausting, and due to visa restrictions on our time we had to keep pushing and had few rest days. The Chinese culture and language made it extremely hard to communicate and by the end of that portion of our journey we were physically and mentally exhausted.
'We crossed the Tibet plateau with winter on our tails, which was physically exhausting, and due to visa restrictions on our time we had to keep pushing and had few rest days.'
What were the best bits of your journey?
The endless hospitality from people blew me away every single day. People would invite us into their homes for food, a bed and warm showers simply because they wanted to help. It was inspirational to witness first-hand how people live, some in extremely harsh landscapes and difficult circumstances like high altitude or in hot, dry deserts. I also loved the absolute sense of freedom that being on our bikes gave us. The freedom from every day stress and the freedom to stop and go whenever we pleased. Sometimes when we were cycling in the middle of nowhere it felt like it was just us in the world! That’s a very special feeling.
Did you have moments that you just wanted to stop and take a plane back home?
Surprisingly no! This may sound unbelievable, but I had told my parents and friends that I was cycling to Sydney, so in my head there was no stopping until I got there! Without doubt there were hugely testing times where I had to find courage and determination to continue but I never thought about quitting because the experience was just too beautiful to give up and there was always something that made each day special. It helped massively that I was cycling with Arian because we were a team, when one didn't feel great the other would be the one to stay positive and strong.
Did you meet anyone along the way who made a difference in your life? Anyone you are still friends with?
We met so many incredible people on our journey and maintain contact with people from all over the world. We have sets of 'second parents' as we call them; people who took care of us as if we were their children. There is something life affirming knowing that most people in this world just want to be happy. When you watch the news, you start to believe that the world is only full of bad people but when you travel you realise that is absolutely not true. It's a very positive and strong feeling and changes the way you view the world.
'We have sets of 'second parents' as we call them; people who took care of us as if we were their children. There is something life affirming knowing that most people in this world just want to be happy.'
What are the best memories you hold from the journey?
It may sound corny but it’s the simple things like falling asleep under a sky full of stars, waking up in the middle of nowhere, making a coffee next to your tent, the knowledge that it will be another day full of adventure – these are all simple things but they just don’t happen in every day life so it makes them very special and memorable!
How has this journey shaped you to be the woman you are today?
My journey has definitely made me stronger. I know that I can reach my goals because I have proven that I am capable of pushing beyond my boundaries. I am more independent and understand that I am in charge of designing the life I want. This trip was the best education I've ever had. I learnt life lessons that I never learnt in school - like surviving physically and emotionally when you’re completely out of your comfort zone. You get to know yourself and the world around you and start to appreciate so much more. Also I judge less and understand more about different cultures and religions. Cycling around the world has made me want to travel even more and for the past three years we have lived abroad - two years in Korea and one and a half in Morocco. I don’t dislike the Netherlands but the world is simply too big and interesting to stay at home!
'This trip was the best education I've ever had. I learnt life lessons that I never learnt in school - like surviving physically and emotionally when you’re completely out of your comfort zone. You get to know yourself and the world around you and start to appreciate so much more.'
Since returning from your trip, what other challenges have you set yourself?
After being on my bike for so long, I decided to add swimming and running into the mix and completed 7, 70.3 Ironmans! I won 5 (Korea and Taiwan) and qualified for the world championships in Australia last year. This year I took part in the Barcelona 70.3 and I was proud of placing 7th in the European competition. This summer I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and started to appreciate walking as well.
What have you learnt from this experience?
To be a kinder person, not that I was not kind before (I think...!) but to take care of the person next to you and to respect everyone. I've learned that my body and mind are capable of much more than I think they are and that the world is a beautiful place with so much to explore and discover!
Would you do it again?
Absolutely! Adventure is in my blood and traveling on a bicycle is the perfect way for me because it keeps me active, outdoors and exploring. As we speak, a new challenging is developing in my mind so watch this space.....!
If you have been inspired by Moniek’s story and would like some more info and photos of her adventures please visit www.worldbybike.nl