In Memory of Caballo Blanco

People’s Guide correspondent Mike Huckaby remembers the legendary Micah True, who passed away suddenly this March. True forged ties with the Tarahumara community and instigated the famous Copper Canyon Ultramarathon. 

by Mike Huckaby

I remember the first time I met Micah. It must have been 1996, and we were coming back from a big Semana Santa celebration in Norogachi. We had taken the five hour dusty, rutted dirt road in by way of Cusarare.

Noragachi sits on the banks of the Rio Urique, but high up on the mesas at about 7000 feet, where the river is little more than a babbling brook. When we arrived late in the day, there were dozens of trucks, and hundreds of Tarahumara braving biting winds to reenact the battle between the Soldados and the Fariseos. They danced the stations of the cross, and performed the Pascole in front of the ancient adobe church during the day, and all through the night. After the obligatory burning of a priapismic Judas at dawn, we took our leave and headed out on the more direct road to the Guachochi intersection less than an hour away.

Once we gained a little speed we were flagged down by this crazy gringo with long blond hair blowing in the breeze. Naturally, it was inconceivable to pass up someone waiting for a ride on the desolate sierra byways, and doubly inconceivable to pass up someone so animated and obviously intent on being on their way. We had to rearrange the cab of Cathy’s little Mazda so we could all sit up front in the bench seat. The gringo introduced himself as Caballo Blanco, the White Horse, and yammered the whole way to the highway about trails and routes and villages and ranchos, and having spent time in the sierras we knew how infectious the region could be. By the time he got out, we had become fast friends, although of course we had no idea when we would see him again.

Over the years we would catch a glimpse of each other. At Mario’s or Dona Mica’s in Batopilas. At Margarita’s in Creel, where a good bowl of beans could be had for a dollar. And another for a Tecate, of which one is never enough. Or at Luly’s, who had the only espresso machine in Creel back then. Cathy and I were hikers and he was a runner, and although he could cover ground like a Tarahumara and we were indefatigable turtles, we could swap stories on orchards and hot springs, river crossings and pot fields, and people we had in common. He had a great facility for village names and cross country routes. And he loved to run. But what he really loved, was to run with the Tarahumara.

When we caught wind of his 2009 Ultramarathon, we were really excited for him. We thought we could be a part of it as spectators. It was a four to five day walk for us to get to Urique from Divisadero, and maybe we could take folks down to watch his race, and bask in the afterglow. In spite of being incredibly busy, he would take time to talk with us and our group. He would question our routes and we would compare times- days versus hours. He railed against Batopilas’ lack of cooperation, and embraced Urique’s enthusiasm for his vision, and extolled korima. He hated the chase for money from sponsors, and reluctantly allowed the less-bad to underwrite the race. He even pulled the poster for the 2009 race because Salomon shoes hornswoggled a prominent logo insertion. But, if there is one recurring image I have of Caballo Blanco, it is that look of pure satisfaction of a race well done. After he could catch his breath and get a decent night’s sleep, he would be at his computer at Keith’s campground, and turn around with a huge grin. “We gave out 100,000 pounds of corn”, he would say, “that’s 50 tons!”

That’s Korima. The act of giving by those who have to those who don’t. It has an equivalent tradition in many parts of the world. For Micah, that was really the cost of admission to the Caballo Blanco Ultramarathon. Giving back to the community. Naturally, it was a stroke of genius to offer corn as prizes. Elite runners from around the world would donate the corn and the money prizes. And in return they would catch his infectious spirit, and the chance to run with truly happy people.

shrine for Caballo Blanco

One Response to “In Memory of Caballo Blanco”

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  1. Carl Franz says:

    Mike, your article is a wonderful remembrance of a remarkable man. I first met Caballo at Margarita’s, in the mid ’90’s. I was in Creel, doing research for an article for Outside magazine, and Caballo had parked his old pickup/camper in front of Margarita’s. He came in for dinner and as you describe, pulled all of us at the table into his unique whirlwind of high energy and unbounded enthusiasm. He was a People’s Guide fan so it didn’t take long before we’d come to a mutually satisfying arrangement — I paid the gas for his truck and Caballo drove me to the places I needed to check out for my article. And just as you describe, over the years that followed, Caballo and I kept bumping into each other in out-of-the-way corners of the Sierra. I remember, too, that he built a tiny house in Batopilas, on a narrow ledge overlooking the town’s main street. As far as I know, Micah had lived much of his adult life as a nomad, so this represented a huge commitment to him — and marked, I believe, the beginning of his efforts to create the Tarahumara ultramarathon.

    The rich history of the Sierra Tarahumara includes many unforgettable characters. To paraphrase one of my favorite “dichos”:

    ¡como Caballo Blanco, no habra dos!