I started about an hour later this morning as I met members of the North Durham Runners Club. These fantastic runners gave me the boost I needed to get through the entire day.

I met Heather, my first guide through the Durham sections of the Mountains to Sea Trail at Red Mill Road at 7am. It was about an hour later than I normally start, but I’m glad I waited. Heather and I were able to get into a rhythm of running, hiking (riking?) in no time. We bobbed in and out of conversation and silence at just the right times, as if we had sea legs riding the waves of the trail and how we both felt at the moment.

It worked a little too well, because we missed a trail marker and accidentally doubled back. We almost entirely repeated the first portion of the trail before we figured out what we had done, when we turned around and tried again. All told, I think it added around 4 miles to the day.

After spending 8-ish miles together, we met up with Margo, who tagged off with Heather. Margo led me further West along the banks of the Eno River. She pointed out the large turtles that would slide off rocks where they were sunning themselves, the fast-moving rapids in some places, the peaceful fly fishermen, and how all this contrasted with the homeless camps that were less than a mile away.

Durham has a pretty rich history involving railroads, tobacco, top-tier universities, and a baseball team with cool name.

It’s a fairly old southern town, having been a major part on the old Indian Trading Route, which dates back long before the United State of America was a country. Despite this old and storied history, though, it was merely a railroad depot for almost 20 years before it was incorporated in 1869 – well after the Civil War.

Now, Durham has well over half a million people, and more than that, if you consider that it is part of the Research Triangle, which includes Raleigh and Chapel Hill. All three cities create a combined metropolitan statistical area of close to 2.2 million people.

These days, the industry is varied and it doesn’t appear to have one that stands out above the rest. Duke University Hospital is one of the research institutions that I visited for a second opinion on my own cancer diagnosis, however, so that sticks out as being pretty special.

Duke, like several research institutions around the world, concentrates on discovery, innovation, and otherwise free-thinking with a purpose. They are creating scenarios where folks are more likely than not to leave there alive, and live a longer than expected, healthy life.

Durham makes waves and continues to push the boundaries. The trails through town are long and rolling, and fairly well maintained. I was especially impressed with that part. I see the appeal, but could some of you locals get those guys in tents and lean-tos between Roxboro Road and Guess Road, a few blankets and some food?

Margo left me at Guess Road, where her fellow club member, Shannon, brought me my first almond milk cappuccino in over a month. I chugged that, tucked the crushed paper cup into my pack to carry back to a trash can, and climbed down into the woods to move away the Eno’s current trajectory.

I had nearly 3 miles to myself to enjoy all the signs that the club members and their kids had made for me. There were TONS of them! It was like a mini-surprise party every time passed a tree and saw a poster of encouragement. My favorite was “May the 4th Be With you” (and also with you). I was really touched and couldn’t believe how much effort they put into letting me know that they believed in me – a guy they never met and sometimes doesn’t have much confidence himself.

At mile 18, I heard a voice behind me, and I was fairly heard my name, so I stopped and looked up as if a bird pooped on me. I’m not sure why I did that, but it seemed appropriate, and it gave whoever was behind me time to catch up. Amy, another club member, seemed awfully happy to see me. I think it was because she hadn’t expected to find me at all.

Amy and I only had a short time together. It seems she spent a good deal of time trying to find me, so she had little time to spare before child pickup times called. Either that, or I was talking way to much and she ran the other direction as fast as she could. Either answer is acceptable.

In about 2 more miles, I encountered one of those best kept secret places – the Eno Quarry swimming area. The swimming area was overloaded with college-age men and women who were willing to hike at least a mile in from their cars to cavort in the clearest water I had seen since I left Topsail Beach. Of course, big signs near the quarry pond telling swimmers that the area is dangerous and that “swimming is not recommended”, only encouraged more daredevils to brave the waters. I estimate there were 50 or more people there. None seemed worried. If there were any dead, dying or even slightly maimed, nobody noticed or wanted to talk about it.

By this time, I have to admit, my feet were starting to get tired, and I was ready for the day to be done. I saw the Eno River State Park parking lot, and just before I stepped off of the Mountains to Sea Trail for the day, I saw one more strategically placed sign that read, “Kenny, may you always: Run Often, Run Long, and Never Outrun your Joy of Running.” Words. They work.

May you never outrun your joy. Keep Moving Forward.

Kenny