Caballo Blanco / Micah True Tribute From New Zealand
In 2008 I travelled to Leadville to race the 100 miler. I was a little disappointed with my result which ended in pain and a buckle (not the big one), even though only about 35% of entrants finished in the appalling weather. I was determined to return.
Before the 2008 race, I had read about the Tarahumara people of Mexico's Copper Canyons and the man who lived with them - Caballo Blanco. I read about their exploits at the Leadville Trail 100, their sandals made from old tyres and their remarkable running ability. Their story seemed linked to Blanco's and also connected to Leadville. I knew that Blanco (or Micah True) had been at Leadville when they had raced and then journeyed to Mexico. He has become very well known indeed.
I returned to Leadville in 2010 to complete my second trail 100 miler, achieve my sub 25 hour dream on that course, which I felt was realistic for a guy living at sea level - this would excise the sub par result from before. This was quite a focus at the time and not easy coming from way off in New Zealand at sea level. For those who are not aware leadvilles main challenge is the altitude.
I spent around 3 weeks in and around Leadville prior to the race - acclimatising and doing my research on segments of the course. One day, about 6 days before the race, I got up and drove 10 minutes to Turqoise Lake. When I arrived there was a guy asleep in a very rusty pickup truck. As I stretched, he unwound himself from the truck, opened the door and released a little mongrel dog I later learnt must be Guadajuko or "White Ghost". The dog shot off and started chasing the little American squirels in the woods while I wandered over to introduce myself. He looked like a gnarly runner of about 50 or so and very engaging. It was obvious he had slept the night in his truck and it was also a fair bet he was here for the race - 'hardcore' was one of my first thoughts.
He introduced himself as Micah (years later I wonder if he said Michael but at the time that was what I thought he said) and asked if I was off around the lake and should we run together. We trotted through the trees chatting as we settled on a pace that suited us both. Obviously my accent was different so we chatted about where we were from and our racing interests. He listened with interest to my stories of Marathon Des Sables and the different cultures in that famous race. When I asked about where he had come from, he said he had driven up from the Copper Canyons area of Mexico, where he lived with the Tarahumara people. They were great runners with a special attitude to the mountains and he had learnt a great deal from them. Obviously he had an almost spiritual affinity with the area and the people. It was pretty obvious he did not agree with modern America's way of living and also many people's attitudes to life and the environment. I didn't know he was well known and it wouldn't have mattered if I did. We were two runners out sharing some time together on a beautiful day, preparing for something we loved.
We ran along that trail with the lake on our left, in and out of the trees, taking care not to trip on the many rocky sections while the dog shot ahead continually darting off to chase more squirrels. It was obvious to me he had run for many years and didn't really care about the latest kit. His gear was like his old truck. He ran smoothly and enjoyed the sensation of running and being in the mountains. We talked about the race. I got the impression he had not yet formally entered but would line up with the rest of us.
He had a friendly aura about him and looked pretty relaxed with his life. When I asked if he got any problems getting his dog across the border he laughed and said "no, why would I?" He was amused to hear that in my native England and now New Zealand there was no way you could do this. There were forms to fill in and probably a period of quarantine, vets certificates for being rabies free etc etc. It was obvious he loved that dog and he said he had picked it up as a stray in Mexico. On we ran in the early sunshine of the day and soon got to Mayqueen, which would be the first aid station of the race ahead. I said I had to turn. He was going on for another hour, so we said goodbye and good luck for the race. As he ran on he shouted back to me… don't' get sucked into the system... and was gone. I don't think I am particularly sucked into it but maybe its a relative thing and he was certainly a little further off mainstream than myself. I thought about his values all the way back and some of them ring true.
He was one of those guys who seeks peace and fulfilment and who had probably found it, partly through running and more precisely running with the Tarahumara. Certainly, I enjoyed his company and he pulled me back a bit from my detailed focus on this race and back to the purity of why I even started to run, allowing me to just relax and embrace the enjoyment of doing something I love.
Now, years later, I've just heard that Caballo Blanco / Micah True / Michael Hickman is dead. Apparently, on his way home, he had stopped at Gila Wilderness Lodge (New Mexico) and gone for a long run with his dog. The following day he told the owner he would be back in a couple of hours and could he watch the dog as his paws were still sore from yesterday's run. He tied the dog up and ran into the trails nearby and never came back. A big search was mounted and many friends arrived to help. Five days later his body was found near a stream in a rugged area. Hopefully, a post mortem will reveal the cause of death but I hope he passed peacefully doing what he loved in a beautiful area.
Although I only met him briefly... it was memorable. He was a fellow runner who obviously lived life to the full. Even down here in New Zealand we have heard of him and his efforts to set up a successful race in Copper Canyons and of his respect for the people that live there. This is just a small tribute of many to the man. A picture of Turqoise lake the day we ran arround it is shown here. Many people will miss the man and I hope his dog is well looked after with a few runs in the woods from time to time. Rest in peace Micah. Maybe you saw me pick up a sub 25 hour buckle at the prizegiving - thanks for the company.