Monday, October 19, 2009

Caballo in the Bay: not a ghost!

40 years ago, André Frossard, a French Academicien, wrote a book with a provocative title: "God exists, I met him!" This Friday I can say: "Caballo Blanco is not a ghost, I met him!"

Caballo is the main hero of Christopher McDougall's book, Born to Run, which, to my surprise, made the New York Times bestseller list for 12 weeks in a row! Not that it doesn't deserve such a success, but I was not imagining thousands of readers when I got one of the first copies back this Spring at the Zombie Runner store in Palo Alto (see my book report).
If you have read Born to Run, you must wonder what drew the white horse (aka Caballo Blanco or Micah True) out of his recluse life in the Copper canyons of Mexico. What got him to leave his Tarahumara and Raramuri friends and come to visit the Silicon Valley, Seattle, LA, Phoenix this month. Tu put things in perspective, Caballo has spend years living an ascetic life in inhospitable canyons in Mexico. He got so immersed into this recluse tribe that they gave him a Spanish name. Blanco relating to his caucasian origins. And the local children scared of seeing a gringo for the first time in these canyons reported seeing a ghost...

Caballo is on a mission. Not one of the Spanish and religious missions which conquered the Tarahumara lands and pushed them to run farther and faster in remote canyons. On the opposite, a mission to protect this pure and ancestral culture which made this people excelling at ultra running. Not a sport for them, but a pastime and a way of of living, hunting, travelling, commuting, escaping our world, and hiding...

Caballo is touring the West to raise money for the Norawas de Raramuri foundation. A foundation to support two annual races he setup 5 years ago, which goal is to provide the Tarahumara a chance to race locally as they cannot afford to travel around the world, not to mention the danger of exposing this genuine culture to our artificial and commercial environment as we have seen in past experiences at Leadville in the 90s (look at chapters 11-13 of Chris' book).

So, this Friday night, a few local runners were invited to meet with Caballo. From Kati's invite I thought that would be a very intimate encounter and I was really excited about it (I had proposed Kati to organize a special event at a local running store to support the fundraising). To the point that I missed the homecoming celebration at Cupertino High School where Max was a prince and a king candidate for his last year before graduating. Anyway, what a surprise when I found out that 80 or more other aficionados joined the party from as far as Vacaville (Vivianne and John) and Tahoe (Kati)! The party was hosted by a local ultra icon who I had the pleasure to discover through this opportunity, Mike Nuttall.

Mike is one of the three co-founders of the legendary design company IDEO in Palo Alto. His house at the top of Portolla Valley has incredible and gorgeous views over the Bay on one side, and is right on the mid-Peninsula trail network. The perfect home for an ultra runner and it was entertaining to hear Mike share his love and passion for running, as well as how he got into it.

Back to the hero of the night, Caballo (pictures courtesy of Scott Dunlap).
Caballo started his presentation by making it very clear that the Tarahumra did not send him. "They do no need help. They never have to ask or beg. They share. If they don't have anything to share or trade, it's not a problem, they will share something later. They have a beautiful zen-like detachment with things."

Here are a few random notes and quotes which will resonate more with the ones who read Born to Run, and run...
  1. Raramuri means light-footed ones.
  2. If you come to run the Copper Canyon Marathon, Caballo will assign you an animal best capturing the traits he sees in you. A spirit animal. Or, if he is out of inspiration, a spirit vegetable...
  3. In 1993, the Raramuri really came to run Leadville for food, definitely not for the sponsors. There was a severe drough back in the canyon in 1993 and 1994.
  4. In the 80s, I didn't like myself, I was taking running too seriously.
  5. We distribute literally tons of corn to the top runners. And the gringos who place are welcome ot give back their own ton of corn and even the cash prize.
  6. Unfortunately, because of socio-economic reasons linked to biofuel developments, corn became extremely expensive in Mexico.
  7. I'm signing a lot of books (Chris's book), although I didn't write or even read it!
  8. The race is held every first Sunday of March.
  9. By the way, Chris keeps saying that the race is 50 miles, but it's actually 47.
  10. All Raramuri are running and exercising, all their life. There was this 95-year old man hiking up a tough trail. Nobody had told him to stop. I really like this philosophy of "live until you die."
  11. There are about 40,000 Tarahumara remaining in Mexico.
  12. The less footwear, the more focused on the trail you are.
Last but not least, when asked how he felt about what he does for the Raramuri, Caballo concluded his speech with a sincere "I don't know if this is the right thing to do, but I go with my feelings, and I'm convince this increased awareness will ultimately benefit them." For sure, I personally feel more confident in Caballo taking initiatives in this area as he is almost one of them. Rather than letting stranger commercial or federal organizations field testing programs from the outside. What a fascinating experience with a secular civilization. Thank you to Mike and Kati for spreading the word this way!
With that, plus the time I had to spend with the family and on some work deadlines, I did not join the Saturday morning group run I advertised earlier on my blog. I had my share of Caballo's spirit and philosophy. And, in particular after listening to us, I was more interested in running solo, as he does most of the time in his canyons. Maintaining a sustainable life balance in a hectic life...


Anonymous said...

Quelle aubaine de rencontrer cet homme, représentant d'un " petit peuple"(?) hors du commun!

Scott Dunlap said...

Great to see you there, Jean. Caballo will be back at zombierunner on 10/23 if anyone is interested.