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Chris McDougall and the Search for Caballo Blanco

Posted on 14 April 2012

Photo by Luis Escobar

It’s been only two weeks since the body of ultrarunner Micah True, aka Caballo Blanco, was found in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. As with any unexpected tragedy, there’s still a lingering mix of shock and disbelief. In a riveting piece for Outside Online, Christopher McDougall describes the weeklong search for his friend who had mysteriously never returned  from a 12-mile trail run. Other ultraunners, including Scott Jurek, took part in the search. McDougall had driven from L.A. to assist in the operations, which involved a small army of Search and Rescue professionals and volunteers.

Caballo had deeply touched many people– and not just those who had read about him in Born to Run. McDougall explains:

Caballo was the first runner I’d ever seen who busted out big miles in skimpy sandals, and he opened my eyes to the idea that distance running is humankind’s first fine art; for most of our existence, it was the one natural weapon we had in a world dominated by creatures who could out-swim, out-sprint, out-climb, and out-fight us. I was certain when I went down to the Copper Canyons that I really had nothing to learn: I figured the Tarahumara were genetic freaks and my own running days were over due to chronic injuries. Then I meet Caballo, my eerie astral twin: we were the same height, the same shoe size, and the same age when we first encountered the Tarahumara, and he’d also struggled with broken-down legs. He took me into the hills, showed me a few things, and sent me home with the idea that maybe, just maybe, the Tarahumara were custodians of a transferable skill that even an overweight mope like me could master.

So how did Caballo die? McDougall offers a few theories:

Scott Jurek began wondering if a drug cartel had contracted a hit on Caballo, planning it for his home turf to avoid detection. Barefoot Ted left me a message hinting that maybe it was no accident; after all, Gila was Geronimo’s hideaway and Caballo always said he wanted to end his days Apache-style with one final walk into the wilderness. Someone I’d never met emailed to remind me of the opening epigram in Born to Run: “The best runner leaves no trace.”As of today, the coroner hasn’t discovered what killed Caballo. The most credible theory I’ve heard is Chagas disease, a tropical parasitic infection that gradually weakens the heart. Caballo had told me about weird fainting spells he’d had over the years, and not long ago he’d felt so listless and feverish that he thought he’d contracted West Nile. Both symptoms could indicate Chagas. But just writing those words makes me feel pompous and stupid, because it’s exactly the kind of thing that would make that cut-the-crap grin creep across Caballo’s face. 

“McOso, who cares how Geronimo died?” he’d say. “Let’s just talk about how he lived.

So by all means, read the McDougall article. Because Caballo did leave a trace. With us, the runners whom he left behind.– Bill Katovsky

 

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