Over a few months this past winter, my friend Nick and I pedaled to a dozen different diners in Denver to eat breakfast together. Most of them were pretty OK, hardly any of them were particularly busy, and none of them had lines of people out the front door, because none of them were trendy brunch spots. We privately rated all of them on the categories of food, service, and atmosphere, but that wasn’t really the point of the whole thing.
I don’t know if we had a goal when we started ticking off diners, but over the course of those few months, we developed another map of the city we’ve both lived in for a decade. I liked getting to know Denver in a different way, getting out of the rut of going to the same half-dozen places all the time, even if we may never go back to some of those diners.
In the middle of it, Alastair Humphreys emailed me a link to a website he’d put together in 2012, in which he and his friend Tom tried to eat at a London restaurant from a country starting with each letter of the alphabet along the freeway that circles the city. On their website, they asked, “So is it possible to travel round the world without even crossing the M25?”
Then I went to my friends Tom and Sarah’s wedding last fall, and the maid of honor gave a speech in which she referenced Sarah’s goal in college to have a drink at every bar in their university town in Wisconsin. I don’t remember her exact words, but to paraphrase, she said that for Sarah, “It wasn’t about drinking—it was about experiencing the town.”
Sometimes we gaze at our navels and pontificate what “adventure” really is, quoting Yvon Chouinard, saying something has to go wrong, or you have to get out of your comfort zone, or whatever. In the end, adventure seems to be in the eye of the beholder. But what constitutes travel? Do you have to pack a big bag full of stuff, cross state lines, or get your passport stamped?
I would argue that travel is possible without leaving your town, maybe without going more than a mile from your house, depending on the density of where you live. Don’t we all have that restaurant nearby they’re never tried but have glanced at on their way home from work, or the place an hour away they’ve never made time to visit, or the shop we’re curious about but never make time to stop in? I haven’t even ridden all the bike trails within a five-mile radius of where I live. Do you really need to pack a bag and go through a TSA checkpoint in order to see something new?
My mind always goes to creating lists of restaurants like Alastair Humphreys’ list of A to Z London restaurants, or finding the best pizza slice or burrito, but lots of people have gotten creative with other local goals (and maybe a little obsessive): Matt Green is four and a half years into a mission to walk every street in every borough of New York City (more than 8,000 miles). In 2011, Robert Guerrero climbed all 42 stairwells in the book “Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historical Staircases of Los Angeles.” In his early 20s, future Pulitzer-Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold set out to eat at every restaurant on LA’s Pico Boulevard (sorry, food again).
Even if you don’t have six weeks of vacation, or enough cash to fly somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, you can scratch that itch to explore, or discover something new, however contrived or ridiculous your idea is.
Nick and I finished our diner tour this spring, and we never crowned a “Best Diner According to Two Guys With Nothing Better to Do on Tuesday Mornings” or anything like that, but we did decide we didn’t want to stop. Now we’re arguing about what list to start checking off next. Maybe a quest to find the best breakfast burritos in the city? Or more likely, just all the breakfast burritos in the city.