Man, boy and dog on the trail | Front Porch | Indy Week

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Man, boy and dog on the trail

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It was an awfully nice way to start a Saturday. A little after 7 a.m., my dog Cal (while he is indeed a gamer, he's not named after Ripken) and I parked in front of the Durham Bull's Athletic Park and hit the American Tobacco Trail at mile marker 0. The trail is a "rails-to-trails" project, so named because it takes advantage of corridors no longer used by the railroad. Roughly half done, this paved multi-use trail will eventually exceed 23 miles and extend from downtown Durham to western Wake County.

But this morning, Cal and I were concerned only with the first little chunk. We crossed Enterprise, Otis, and Fayetteville--that last street the only one that I could recall ever driving on. In between crosswalks, it often felt like we were in a canyon; however, instead of multi-colored rock, the walls were made of kudzu, rising to 20 and 25 feet in the air at some points. It was as if we'd somehow run right into the front cover of R.E.M.'s MURMUR.

There was one minor hitch on the run and several fleeting moments of apprehension. The former was a result of Cal's fear of wooden bridges, a phobia that causes him to assume a splayed, ground-hugging position. One particularly lengthy slatted stretch had me scooping him up and trotting 15 or 20 yards with my arms full of 65 pounds of trembling collie. And the nervousness flickered whenever we heard the fevered barking and growls coming from the other side of one of the kudzu walls, accompanied by, I convinced myself, leash-straining lunges.

Because we were pounding the same path once covered by hurtling trains, the domestic views offered were mostly backs of houses and backyards, complete with all the chain-link fences, grills, ceramic bird baths, weight benches, and flower gardens that defined them. These fleeting, off-hours peeks took me back to when I was a kid traveling the backroads of rural Pennsylvania to visit my grandparents, often leaving late at night after my dad got off his second-shift job. As we wound through the hollows (I'm not trying to be pseudo-folksy here; some of the towns actually had "Hollow" in their names), I'd occasionally see a television's midnight glow through open curtains, and I'd find myself wondering what life was like for the occupants of that house. On this morning, I discovered that I still had a kid's mind in my old head. Fronts of houses, backs of houses--it doesn't matter. I'm still curious about the inhabitants.

We turned around at the Blind Boy Fuller monument, just past the 2-mile marker, and made the return trip. I prefer a run where I don't have to repeat my steps, but one good thing about an out-and-back route is that you see some of the same people both coming and going. By that second meeting, they feel like old friends.

Long before the end of the run, Cal and I vowed that we'd come back as often as possible (like he has a choice). I decided anything that provides new glimpses of your community at large, as well as new access to it, is a good thing. At least that's how it felt early on a Saturday morning, flush with the optimism and righteous fatigue that's yours to savor after a run.

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