Posts tagged Tarahumara Indios
by Ron Baird
When I first crossed paths in the early ‘80s with the man who eventually became known as Caballo Blanco, I was running down the Mount Sanitas trail and he was running up. We didn’t speak, maybe nodded.He was wearing thin nylon jogging shorts, running shoes and had a water bottle in his hand. He was tanned and lean and had unruly, long, dirty-blond hair.
In those days I was running 4-5 miles at a time and I would later learn that he was running 15-20. He had a nice-looking, tan, young woman with him. Every time I saw him in the passing years he was dressed the same. Forgive me if it gets fuzzy here because he always seemed a little ghost-like: he was there and then gone like he was barely tethered to the earth. Of course his hero and spirit guide was Geronimo of the Bedonkohe Apache tribe, who was thought to be able to appear and disappear at will. And of course, I wasn’t taking notes.
In 1989, I had been evicted from a mine cabin in James Canyon—the one with only a wood stove for utilities. The small creek passing by was my source of water and kerosene lamps were my only light. I typed my first news story for the Colorado Daily in that cabin under the ever- weakening illumination of those lamps. Micah was moving out of a small room appendaged onto a house on Magnolia Road that was renting for $110 dollars a month. He asked if I was interested. I said I was and rented it. He said he wanted to get out of the winters and was driving to Guatemala.
After that he visited me often when he came back in the summers and told me of running through the mountains and beaches, where camposinos would wave and yell “Caballo Blanco,” due, I guess, to his base skin color and shoulder length blond hair. Micah was a vegetarian and lived frugally by any standard, sleeping in a truck with a camper parked in a north Boulder industrial area. He bought another truck and made money in the summer with an under-the-table moving business—no liability insurance or regulatory approval. Many of his customers were friends. He told me one time he was driving a load of tightly arranged furniture to Colorado Springs but when he got there, a couch that was packed in the open back of the pickup had disappeared; probably popping out somewhere along I-25. He drove back and forth looking but never found it and ultimately had to pay for a replacement.
Each summer, he made enough money to go back to Guatemala. But there was a lot of violence in Guatemala at that time and in the summer of ’93 he met a group of Tarahumara Indios in the Leadville 100 and followed them back to Copper Canyon in the Mexican State of Chihuahua–a canyon larger, deeper and more complex than the U.S.’s Grand Canyon. The Tarahumara, who rejected assimilation with Spanish culture, had migrated thousands of miles from the south over the centuries before reaching that sanctuary. There were no roads, towns or utilities, and little water through much of the canyon so the Tarahumara were spread throughout the canyon.
So a subculture of runners known as Raramuri sprung up, running hundreds of miles in a few days carrying news to the widely spaced villages, or just for fun, and Micah knew he had found his physical if not his spiritual home. He would spend the nights and eat meals in Tarahumara stone huts for as little as two dollars.
He finally built a small adobe home for himself in the canyon. For several years he returned to the U.S. and Colorado particularly. One summer, while racing in the Hardrock 100 near Telluride, he got lost in a snow storm on one of the three passes the race course covered and had to be hauled out on a burro. When found he was wearing two large garbage bags over his shorts and T shirt. One summer, he took up bicycling to give his feet a rest and somehow crashed coming down Left Hand Canyon–knocking himself out. When found, he argued and lost against the ambulance ride, costing him $1,700. At the hospital, they told him he had severely dislocated his shoulder and it would cost $800 to reset it so he checked himself out of the hospital, walked across the parking lot to the office of a chiropractor/friend who set it right there without any sedation.
Micah was more of a philosophical survivalist than political activist but at the request of a Native American girlfriend he went to a large protest at the Nuclear Test Site in Nevada, where he broke through a gap in the security and headed off running into the desert. Seventeen hours later he gave himself up and they escorted him off the site without filing any charges against him.
By early 2000, his moving business was waning under the threats of regulation and sanctions so Micah began to envision—as a way of making a living–guiding “gringos” into Copper Canyon for running vacations. It started slowly but somehow he hung on and more and more people came down. In 2003 Micah organized the first Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon to aid the Raramuri, and invited world-class ultramarathoners to compete. The prizes were generally large amounts of corn. With that race, Micah become somewhat a legend in the distance running community, and Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run brought Micah and the Tarahumara to the world’s attention. No longer was Micah True such a ghostly figure; connected as he was to the world by a best selling book and the internet. And the Tarahumara, their culture, their style of running and their dispossessed status in Mexico–had become a well-known topic internationally.
Given this new-found notoriety, Micah became much in demand as a speaker. He took only expenses and talked mainly about the Tarahumara. On his seasonal migration back to the U.S. this year he stopped in the Gila National Forest in SW New Mexico on his way to Phoenix and took off on a planned 12-mile run. He never returned and was found dead four days later in a ravine. No cause has been determined for his death as of this writing.
But I think it was just his time. He came to Earth as an unwilling Angel and found his cause with the people of Copper Canyon. He died doing what he loved and left a legacy: The ultramarathoner world has vowed to continue the races in Copper Canyon and keep the light shining on the people there. I think Micah’s work was done and his soul is now free from the bonds of gravity.