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  • evanitallie


In dating app bios, or when asked about myself, I often say that I “like to be active outside.” Going for a walk or run just about anywhere makes me happy. I enjoy being alone and I enjoy the company of friends. I also don’t feel like I need to be in a remote location, or “destination,” for this need to be satisfied. One of Durham’s strengths is the accessibility of places to run and walk that are beautiful, sufficiently protected from traffic, and also close by.

Durham was the place my Grandma lived. She had a beautiful house and a yard well suited for kids who wanted to watch koi, play kick-the-can, and run around in the grass. Over the years of visiting, we certainly did things in Durham that required leaving her house - visited the Lemur Center, fed ducks at the Duke Gardens, wore bonnets at Bennett Place State Historic Site, swam at the Eno - but, not surprisingly, I never really developed an orientation to the built and natural environment of Durham. There was one exception, one place that I could get to on my own and by foot and look forward to returning to on trips as I got older — Duke East Campus. It was half a mile from her house by quiet streets and sidewalks, and then once you arrived at the closest corner, you could hop the wall and run on the path just inside the wall the entire way around. I was always oriented by the Pizza Hut at another corner and taken aback by the fact that the other walkers and joggers would say hello.

Enjoying my grandma's backyard with my mother, her brother, my aunt and my brother. I'm in the kiddie pool. Photo by Taysen Van Itallie.

My first apartment was very near the house where my Grandma had lived, and thus, near to the Duke East Campus. When I moved, I was still very much in the running routine that I had started at the beginning of the covid pandemic. Running was a way that I was dealing with my mild depression, and it was an orienting activity as I navigated the beginning of my move. I would run to and then around East Campus; the Pizza Hut is still there, and the Whole Foods, and I felt inspired by the massive trees including many flowering magnolias. Upon moving to Durham, I quickly realized that to visit my grandma, to enjoy her and the life she had built for herself, was very different than building my own home here. This was initially disorienting; Durham felt much less familiar and comfortable than I had anticipated, but running around East Campus was the exception.

Quickly after moving, I was introduced to the Al Buehler Trail. This trail is just under three miles and encircles the Duke golf course and the faculty club. By contrast to the East Campus loop, the Al Buehler Trail is quite shady which is very nice on a hot summer day. And, it has some steep hills which are fun. The trail is not paved [there are some exposed roots which led to my one visit to Urgent Care so far in North Carolina], and it includes a bridge crossing with lots of turtle viewing opportunities. It is located across the street from the parking structure where I park which made it convenient for after work walk meet-ups. And, since my grand plans to meet queers by playing golf in Durham have not come to fruition, watching the golfers from the shaded trail is a source of proximity to golf, which provides me a connection to my father that I am always grateful for.

As the fall progressed, my morning running route shifted. I started running north, not south, towards to the West Ellerbee Creek trail. I would enter from Guess Road and either turn left to run along the creek under a canopy of trees or right to run over an urban boardwalk/tunnel under the highway and then along a shopping center retaining wall. Running around East Campus felt like soaking myself in my Durham past, running towards and on the West Ellerbee Creek trail was more like finding my own Durham. When my mother visited Durham for Thanksgiving, we stayed at an AirBnB in the neighborhood proximal to the far western part of the trail. It was fun to these trails with her too.

View of Campus Drive (heading East ). Note the sidewalks! The trees!

During the month of October, I was without a car. Luckily, I lived close enough to campus that I was easily able to leave bike-ride-to-work retirement. I had a wonderful bike commute (and still do) - the majority on Campus Drive - the road that connects Duke’s East and West Campus. Duke buses dominate the traffic, there are only a few cars, and the three intersections have good traffic infrastructure. The road has sidewalks on both sides and there are so many trees - especially on the part closer to East Campus. More often I bike down Campus Drive, but it is also great for running and walking, and it can be connected to the East Campus Loop for a longer run. Bike commuting also introduced me to the Duke Reclamation Pond — a true, somewhat hidden, gem of the gorgeous Duke campus.

The Duke Reclamation Pond. This is a view looking down on to one of two docks. The bridge is off to the right.

In late December, I moved apartments. By the time I moved, I had largely fallen out of my morning run routine, but the ease of the gym treadmill got me back into it for a little while. As the weather improved, I started exploring the American Tobacco Trail or ATT. The ATT starts across the street from Durham Bulls Stadium, ~1/3 mile from me. It goes south for 22+ miles. It is paved, tree-lined and well-used. It is also marked every 0.25 miles which I find motivating. I have enjoyed training for running races, but it is not something that I have felt super excited about in the more recent past. However, the proximity of a well demarcated out and back trail has piqued my interest and has made me excited about some longer distance running - in the future.

View running back into Downtown Durham on a early summer early evening run on the ATT.

This past week I celebrated one year in Durham. Reflecting on the year, I largely feel peace, which I think speaks to the incredible journey of the year - from so much change and uncertainty and new-ness. What I am proudest about, what makes me the happiest, is the community I have started to form in Durham of people that I care about and who care about me. Sometimes that seems unrelated to the experience of living in built Durham, but I think it’s not — my first 1-on-1 hangout with a now close friend was walking the East Campus Loop, a first date that has turned into a lovely friendship was walking the Al Buehler trail, queer ultimate happens at one of the many expansive Durham County parks and I have explored the Ellerbee Creek trails by bike with “Ride Around Durham.” My health is a privilege, and the comfort and ease I feel with walking and running (and biking) is something I am deeply grateful for. Walking and running are ways that I have built sense of place and spent time with people my whole life.

When you come visit me in Durham, bring your walking shoes and good weather.

[The name of a Lifetime Physical Activity Program (LPAP) course at Rice University.]


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