Friday, April 06, 2012
If You Knew Caballo Blanco You Won
My friend Micah True (aka Caballo Blanco) passed away while on a run in the wilds of New Mexico last week. After an exhaustive search he was found by one of his closest friends with no injury, plenty of water, and no sign of struggle. Apparently he died peacefully doing what he lived for: running free.
Why an obit would make the Friday Psyche isn’t a question if you knew him. His infectious enthusiasm will live on. The common sentiment among the Mas Locos (a group of his closest running friends) was how fitting it was that he died doing what he loved. But amongst the tributes one person sorted out our true feelings when he said “what’s most impressive is that he lived doing what he loved.” That’s why he will always be an inspiration.
Caballo Blanco was the protagonist in Christopher McDougall’s (El Oso – Micah liked referring to everyone by a totem) book Born to Run. Portrayed as a mythical hero, who ran like a ghost through the remote Copper Canyons of Mexico aiding the Tarahumara’s (or Raramuri – “the running people”) fight against extinction, it was the stuff of legend. It was also true.
The Caballo Blanco I knew, however, wasn’t the reticent character in the book. He was gregarious and full of passion, which didn’t take me long to find out. After finishing Born to Run I decided to use the interweb to see just how hard the guy really was to track down. Turned out he had a web site. Seemingly only a few seconds after hitting send on an email I had a chat request from one Micah True. Ironically, the ghost-like character that El Oso had spent a couple hundred pages trying to find was contacting me less than five minutes after I’d begun searching. In the years since I probably haven’t gone more than a few weeks without hearing what he’s up to.
Oddly I never met him. We often seemed to be in the same places at different times. I made it down to the Barrancas (local’s reference to Barrancas del Cobre—Copper Canyon) a few years back but had to leave the day before we were to rendevous for one of the pre-race hikes. My dog had a stroke and I headed north. On the bus leaving Creel I received a simple note from El Caballo supporting my choice, “Dog is great.”
Like many of the Mas Locos, as soon as I heard he was missing I offered to help. I was in LA and had to get back to Utah, by which time many Mas Locos were already en route. I put myself on call with the SAR team, packed my van with rescue gear, and drove south to get closer should I be needed. My wife and I spoke about the possibilities. Once hopeful scenario I’s concocted was that he’d decided to disappear, like the character in the book, and that we’d never find him by his own design. And even though Romney only knew him through me and the book she rejected it. “He liked people too much,” she said. “And he’d never put his friends through this on purpose.” This busted my utopian bubble because I knew it was correct. If there was one thing Micah was about it was then name he’d bestowed himself, being true.
Caballo Blanco was about truth. He was quick to point out any hyperbole, be it about helping the Tarahumara, barefoot running, or even the book that lionized him. He understood why Born to Run was written in such a popular format but his tellings were more straightforward. For example, in BTR the scene where he encounters the Tarahumara plays out like Western (and is a GREAT read). But Caballo’s actual account is different. Not Hollywood at all but with its own style that those who knew him will appreciate even more. When I asked if I could use it on my blog he replied “stories are for sharing.” Click the passage below for some fine reading:
"Well, shucks; I really want to run this race, and am an old time, loyal friend of this event; won't you let me enter?" I had pleaded with the race director, who did not even remember my name, or who I was, even though I had run the "family'' like race four times. No chance; the race had grown big now, and entry was at a premium. The "New York Times" and many publications had written the story of the 55 year old Mexican winning the race. Leadville was now a huge spot on the ultra-running map! The race and their corporate sponsor, a shoe company, had benefited considerably from all of the publicity, the feel good story of the impoverished Indians running for their communities; and not JUST running, but winning; and a 55 year old in sandals at that! A deal was made with the 'gringo' promoter who had driven the Tarahumara north, to bring another team of seven Raramuri to the '94 race. I think that part of the deal was to wear the race-sponsor's shoes for a photo op.
I received a phone call from the gringo sponsor/promoter of the team of Raramuri. He was looking for help, someone who could run and knew the course, to pace some of "his" runners. "Sure, I'll do it, providing I can run the whole 50 mile return with the runner of my choice." "They tend to run faster as they go; you think you can keep up?" he challenged. "If I can't keep up, then they don't need me," I confirmed...
What happens to the Tarahumara in his wake is hard to say. Elections that could change things are about to take place and Micah, though he’d never run for office, was a serendipitous politician. As goes the bloody history of the Americas all indigenous peoples are under constant threat. Strange as it may seem, Micah’s race, The Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon and books like Born to Run are very effective ways to thwart these would-be vanquishers of history. The more popular a culture is the harder it becomes for it to disappear. I’m guessing if last wishes were reality Caballo Blanco’s would have been for everyone to appreciate this region enough to protect its land and people.
I had a hard time writing this because so many knew him better and I’m privy, even as a fringe Mas Loco, to all of their more beautiful and personal tributes. They were his family. It seems like theirs are the words should be heard. Then again, if you want personal feelings you should probably make a personal endeavor. Caballo Blanco’s stories will always be shared in las Barrrancas. Visit and you’ll be welcomed with open arms; along all the lore you’re willing to listen to.
This year, on race weekend, the Mas Locos thread was bustling with inquiries about results. And while the race itself is always competitive that wasn’t in any way Micah’s reason for staging it. He had little interested over who finished where. If you were out there, running free as he liked to say, he could not care less about how far or how fast you went. I don’t know if anyone was disappointed when he finally posted but it made my day and reminded me to get back down there next year.
He began by summarizing the race numbers (I think it was over 500 locals and 70 visitors from around the world, both records) and how much money and corn was raised for the locals. He thanked everyone for coming and posted the results. “Everybody won.” And that’s how it was with Micah. Life was simple: be true and you win. I laughed out loud, and then went for a run.