Cycling to Tehran

Cycling to Tehran

by Andy Chivers

What is our reaction when we hear about people achieving feats of endurance? The first must be “there’s no way I could do that, it sounds superhuman”. Surely the person must be amazingly fit and strong, brave and determined? But when you talk to them, you realise they have human frailties like the rest of us, and physical endurance is a small part of the achievement. The real challenge is motivation.

At our monthly Cyclox talk earlier this year Iraj Maghounaki told us about his ride from Oxford to Tehran in 2021, raising money for Oxfordshire Mind. He felt it was important that he connected his effort to a good cause.

Iraj loves to cycle and when he is on his bike he feels focused and free. He describes his journey as one of self-growth, knowing himself, being transformed into a new version of himself.

What inspired Iraj?

Rather than regaling us with the challenges of potholes, hills, weather, punctures or pains, Iraj told us why he undertook the journey, and shared with us the human stories of the people he met along the way. An unexplained and serious illness was the trigger for him to start the trip, but the ambition had been there for years.

In a way, the ride was always in his future. The only question was, when would it happen?

Once he was on his way, there was never any doubt in his mind that he would reach his destination. He reminded us that, when we set off on a journey, we leave behind lots of things, good and bad, and in the travelling we gain things too. He never checked the weather or the climbs he would face during the day. He described his aim as “following the sun, in the direction of love” which gives a sense of his relaxed and positive attitude and his adaptability to whatever the journey might offer. He wanted to remind people how much our state of mind influences our physical health.

The people he met

Iraj is one of those people who bring out the best in others and hearing about his encounters on the 65 day, 6,500 km journey was an inspiration to us all to turn strangers into friends. He asked us: “What is the cost of a smile and saying hello?” This attitude means Iraj bumped into the most remarkable people.

A Swiss man changed his plans to ride with Iraj for 18 days and recently he and his wife visited Iraj in Oxford. Though Iraj’s route was planned, his lunch and overnight stops were not pre-determined so there were lots of opportunities to ask people for advice. He would sometimes get into conversations of unexpected depth.

Iraj was moving on every day, so his encounters were fleeting, but he made the most of them, his meetings including:

  • the woman who donated one of her kidneys to a stranger she met in a taxi
  • a couple he bumped into in the street who donated $100 to Iraj’s fund because of their own experience with mental illness
  • a young Indian woman who for 5 years has been hitch-hiking all over the world

The grim situation in Ukraine has reminded us how interdependent we all are, and the pandemic has shown us the importance of human contact. We only need a little insight into people’s lives to recognise that they have the same hopes and fears as most of us.

What kept Iraj going day after day? “Having a goal, desire, courage and determination.” We can all use those qualities. Read about Iraj’s journey at Donate at


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