Travel as Inspiration…to Learn a New Sport

As soon as I heard that Harbor View Hotel, the place where I’d be staying in Martha’s Vineyard, made bicycles available to its guests, I started to research cycling routes, which seemed a most pleasant way to explore the island.

I read about Edgartown’s many paved bike paths. I imagined myself pedaling to check out the town of Oak Bluff, or heading out for an afternoon on Katama Beach.

The only problem: I really didn’t know how to ride a bike.

Yep. There I was, in my early thirties, and while I had just bought a bike of my own and was making slow, oh so slow,  progress, the fact of the matter was that as my trip to the Vineyard drew near, I could not reliably start, stop, steer, or go more than a few yards at a time without planting my feet firmly on the ground. Certainly I would not be up for narrow, rural roads, no matter how charming, nor would I have had the slightest notion of how to heed advice to “ride defensively’.

But you never know, I reasoned, and so I used my upcoming trip as motivation to practice all the more.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has used travel as an inspiration to learn a new physical skill, although I’d hazard the guess that it’s more common to use travel as a way to learn new activity. Sometimes this is just plain logistics: you need a mountain, an ocean, a cave for your intended new sport and you don’t happen to live anywhere near the desired geographical feature.

And sometimes it’s just one of those traveling things: you’re already immersed in new surroundings, and open to the new, you spot a flyer for a beginner’s class, the what-the-hell instinct kicks in and before you know it, you’re standing on the edge of a boat about to jump in to the water with a scuba tank on your back for the very first time.

Reduced inhibitions when traveling – a circumstance that does not absolutely require alcohol.

The downside of using travel as either an inspiration or an opportunity to learn a new physical skill is one that plagues adults trying to learn a new skill anywhere: impatience.

For various reasons, both physical and psychological, it takes adults longer to pick up a new skill, but our minds are still calibrated to how quickly we were able to learn as agile children. I discuss this in my recently released Like Riding a Bike: On Learning as an Adult, which recounts my own (rather rocky) path to two-wheeled triumph, and the psychology that affect all adults learning something new. The key to outwitting impatience lies in calibrating your expectations correctly: to realistically  assess what you might be able to learn in whatever time you’ve got on your vacation —  and whatever happens, not to beat yourself up if you don’t even make it to there.

Or, if you’re using travel as an inspiration to learn a new activity, whether it’s to sign up for a marathon or just to pedal yourself towards a New England clam roll, to allow yourself more than enough time to learn what you need to know before departure.

This, I did not do. On my last biking practice session at home before I left for Martha’s Vineyard, I regretfully realized that it would not be wise for me to borrow one of the Harbor View’s bikes. (Know your limits: also good advice regarding alcohol.) The closest I came to cycling was snapping this picture:

Bikes on Martha's Vineyard

The photo was something of a promise to myself —  of how much more I’d be able to do on a future visit to Martha’s Vineyard.


Photos by Alison Stein Wellner. Learn more about Like Riding a Bike: On Learning as an Adult.

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