Saying Goodbye To A Man I Never Met – Part II

Photo credit: Idaly Reyes

“When you run on the Earth and with the Earth, you can run forever.” – Raramuri Proverb

pilgrimage – noun
1. A journey of a pilgrim; especially : one to a shrine or a sacred place
2. The course of life on earth

Entering the canyon trek

After taking the Micah True oath, we marched on toward Urique with our Camelbaks, packed lunch a day’s supply of water.  A group of local residents guided us. They earned money to go on a graduation trip. There were ways to give back all along the way. The hike was on one of the most spectacular treks I have done on a single day through canyons, steep inclines and descents and with much of the countryside reminding me of my pilgrimage along Camino de Santiago in Spain last year. It was a reminder that this was just that –  a pilgrimage. And interspersed along the serene scenery were well-irrigated poppy fields and heavily-armed guards with their beautiful plants destined for opium and heroin from a high international demand for a high at all costs. They never bothered us and we didn’t bother them. Coexistence at it’s finest.

Our guides for our 24-mile hike to Urique, our final destination. They got us there safely!

We thought, as the hikers, that we had the most adventurous day until we found out about the part of our group who took the shuttle down instead of hiking. Several defected from the shuttle because of the treacherous drive and decided to hike the last several miles to Urique. A few steps into the hike, one of the guys tripped and came tumbling down the trail making a bloody mess of himself. He had to go to a local house and ask for help. Can you imagine what the local family must have been thinking? What are these crazy gringos up to now?

After arriving in town, we picked up our bags at Entre Amigos, a communal lodging hostel that had the vibe of a mini-Woodstock although many staying there were too young to have followed the Grateful Dead like I did in my 20s. I saw Jerry play at his last venue when many were probably still in diapers. At Entre Amigos, I finally got to meet Flint, a strong runner and amazing writer who I had been in touch with on Facebook and writes a blog that arises from his beautiful soul.

I stayed right on the main strip of town at Hotel Paraiso de Urique with my new crazy (in a good way) roommate, Kelley. If you have to ask what crazy is, then you aren’t, but if you are, you know how nice it is to find someone of your same breed. There aren’t too many people in life who get you. Stay connected with the ones who do.

The nights in Urique were a stark contrast from the solitude of our last hotel. Mariachi bands played all night long, roosters had no sense of time crowing around the clock, but with each new stop came a new mood to absorb and I like it.

Entre Amigos


Entre Amigos


The farm at Entre Amigos

The town had plenty of shops with clothing, groceries, and a specialty shop (that we entered through someone’s home) for handmade huaraches. I had a pair made, limped down to my hotel wearing them and changed back into my running shoes. They would have to wait until my swollen, hiking feet recovered from the trip.

We ate most of our meals at the famous Mama Tita’s at the center of town. Breakfast began with a cup of warm pinole – a corn-based meal of the Tarahumara – that reminded me of a thinner Cream of Wheat but sweet and filled my hungry morning belly after the long days of hiking and running. On hand were always plenty of tortillas, refried beans and huevos. The people in the town welcomed us with open arms and we felt home even if for a week. Mexico seemed far less dangerous than many places I have been in the US, especially beginning this week with an attempted massacre in my own city on the campus of one of the largest universities in the country. We all need to let go of our fears and explore the world around us more often.

Warm pinole for breakfast

My Tarahumara huraches!

The next day, we hiked 6 steep miles to Los Alisos for the homegoing of Micah True under the grapefruit tree, a place with splendid memories for Maria and Micah . Micah’s ashes were passed around to each of us to share our energy and prayers with him and some of his possessions were burned in accordance with Apache rites. It was an intimate ceremony that we were blessed to be part of so I’ll refrain from describing it further. I’m sure the way Maria led it that it was just what Micah wanted and he was there smiling over us.

Beginning the trek to Los Alisos for Caballo Blanco's memorial

A plethora of grapefruit from the trees

The memorial under the grapefruit tree at Los Alisos. A sacred place for Maria and Micah True.

Thursday night, I joined a group of twenty heading to Cabanas San Isidro outside Cerocahui back at the top of the canyon for a Temazcal Sweat Lodge ceremony. It is a an ancient means of purification of the mind, body and spirit where hot, volcanic rocks are placed in the middle of the hut with special herbs and participants sit on the ground surrounding the rocks. Our session was much hotter than the first group and we were in there for a long time until a few men just had to get out. I like the heat so much that I could have slept there all night, especially because the quaint, little cabins for our night’s stay were freezing cold up with howling winds in the pine-covered hills. It was an interesting evening, but I was ready to return back to Urique.

We all had to crawl into that little cylinder and sit on the ground!

As we returned to Urique, yet another shift of energy waved over the town. The Tarahumara, adorned in vibrant clothing and a soft, peaceful presence arrived. It must be such a strange thing to have a large group of outsiders (chabochi – foreigner or he with spider webbing across face – as we are called in Tarahumara) come to town yearly. Intimidating. Our world has lived a traumatic history of bad things happening when foreigners invade towns. But, this yearly celebration brings a love, empathy and respect from one to another created by one man simply paying it forward.

Among the Tarahumara was Arnulfo Quimare, the cell-phone carrying, Rock Star, Mac Daddy of the Tarahumara who beat Scott Jurek in 2006 on that first race where outsiders were brought in.  Much respect, Mr. Quimare.

Arnulfo Quimare - Photo credit: Rodrigo Silva Garcia-Zuazua

Friday night, we had a caldo – traditional bean and beef celebration – with the Tarahumara and then they were given blankets to stay warm at night. All Tarahumara runners run, eat and stay free in Urique from during the long weekend of the race and every Tarahumara who participates in the race receives a voucher good for 110 pounds of corn for each loop they complete (up to 4 loops). They also receive an additional voucher for finishing the race , for a total 5 vouchers, or 550 pounds of corn. The vouchers are available not only for corn, but also other types of food items. There were 450 Tarahumara and Mexican Nationals along with 140 International runners set to run Sunday’s race.

The Children’s 4K race took place the day before ours. Energy filled the town as several hundred children ran the streets with many of our runners – Patrick Sweeney, Norbert Blobel, Tyler Tomasello, Juan Escobar – running like children to the finish! So much join in the air to run with and like a child! Each child received a medal and a bag full of school supplies.

Photo credit: Rodrigo Silva Garcia-Zuazua

They took off like lightening! Some tumbling all over each other!

Patrick Sweeney in the Children's Race. Photo credit: Rodrigo Silva Garcia-Zuazua

The day before the race was the town celebration of local villages and those who traveled from afar. And it was time to pay respect to Micah True and Leobardo Diaz Estrada, President of the Urique municipality who died just a few weeks prior in a car accident along the canyon roads.

Photo credit: Rodrigo Silva Garcia-Zuazua

Photo credit: Rodrigo Silva Garcia-Zuazua

The Race -

Oh, yeah. There was a race at the end of this trip. My roommate, Kelley, called it  ”A spiritual event with a race at the end.” The night before the race, I lied in bed awake all night with a burning fever. Oh, life. You always have great timing. It was already going to be a challenge for this flatlander from Florida who is used to running at sea level with a steamy coating of humidity on flat roads (except for my weekly bridge training which didn’t equate!). I had a great time tackling the mountains for the first half of the race, but as the sun rose, so did my fever. It was unlike any race I experienced running among the pungent aroma of marijuana and truckloads of men yelling chiquita, but the towns boomed with lots of cheers that pushed me forward. “Animo!” Cheer up! Chin up!

Young Tarahumara girl running for life

Despite the cheers, coming into the last stage with ten of fifty miles to go, I felt defeated. I thought I missed the cutoff time for the last stage of the race. I had already called home and given my concession speech and list of excuses of why I wouldn’t finish this race. My fever and fatigue had gotten the best of me. Honestly, it was my mind (the usual culprit) that was my greatest demise. The race is set up so that you come into the main town three times. On the second pass, if you are slower, you see those who have finished the race and are celebrating victory and those defeated. At that moment, I had a choice how I wanted this story to end. My family wrote me letters of encouragement all week. There were ones that said, “congratulations” after the race. They said they were so proud of me. How would I answer those if I stopped?

Josue Stephens and Maria, the race directors, said I looked great and encouraged me to get back out there. They said that they would have a medal waiting for me. With a quick chug of Red Bull, I was off for my last ten miles!  I ran it for my family. I ran it for my new Mas Loco friends. I ran it for Maria and Josue.  I ran it for Caballo Blanco to continue his dream. I ran it for me. Along the way, I ran into Zac, who was also on his last ten miles – of his first race! Can you imagine that? Surround yourself with people who inspire you, right? Well, Josue’s great influence encouraged Zac to run his first running race of his life and it happened to be fifty miles. “Watch out when you hang with Josue. He might inspire you to run fifty miles!” said Zac. That’s not a story you hear every day. I also passed one of my shuttle buddies, Wally, going up for his last ten miles with the ultra “lean.” If you have never seen the lean, imagine trying to conquer a mountain bent over sideways in an “L.” It’s a crazy phenomenon that I experienced in my 100-mile race. Wally’s partner, Patrick, who was there for support, but not an avid runner/hiker, was by his side the last ten miles. What do I love about ultra running? The stories of triumph and overcoming adversity are some of the most inspiring that I have ever witnessed.

A letter from my son

At the five mile turnaround, I wished that I had some company along the dark and desolate trail to finish this race. Once again, the Universe conspired to give me exactly what I needed. I ran into Juan Escobar, a cardiologist from El Paso, Tx who I met earlier in the trip and saw at the last stage of the race when I felt defeated. He was surprised to see me after my talk of quitting. I asked if we could the last five miles together and he agreed! Not only does life give you what you need, it has a sense of humor. Juan is the exact opposite of me at the end of a race. I stop talking all together and he has no off button. He agreed to do all of the talking until the finish and it did make time go by much faster. He still didn’t have a spirit animal name so I gave him the name El Loro – parrot. Fitting. As Juan and I approached town and the last several hundred yards, my roommate, Kelley, who finished hours before, joined us to the finish in her bare feet! It’s a finish I will remember for life. Of the 529 people who started the race, 247 finished (less than 50%). I finished #239, but I finished and I am now a Mas Loco! I am grateful to so many who carried me across that finish line from near and far.

Here is a profile of the race from Juan’s Garmin:

Can you feel the emotion in finishing this race? Photo credit: Rodrigo Silva Garcia-Zuazua

Race directors, Josue and Maria, with Zac who not only finished his first 50-mile race, but his FIRST running race! Photo credit: Josue Stephens


My Kelley and Norbert...Photo credit: Photo credit: Rodrigo Silva Garcia-Zuazua

My only race finish photo in side Doug Diego Rhode's restaurant. I couldn't find the single one before I put it in a collage.

The next day, I flew out of the canyons to the Chihuahua airport with Sean Meissner (who had a stellar finish), Sean, Norbert and Maria. Goodbye for now. With every journey I embark, I return with a little pain and period of questioning but it always results in growth. Like the bud prying its way through dirt and muck, I know I will continue to bloom like a daisy. The trip ended and a new journey is just beginning. The race made me want to challenge myself more. But, it wasn’t just about running.

We came to the canyons for many reasons and bonded through Micah each feeling a part of him on our individual journey. So, I didn’t say goodbye to a man I didn’t know. In the Canyons, I knew him. Through Maria, I knew him. Among the Tarahumara, I knew him. In in the town of Urique, I knew him. And it wasn’t a goodbye, it was, “It’s good to know you, Micah True.” He inspired all of us to live and run free embracing Mother Earth. Corre Libre – Run Free!

One of the amazing things to witness were the new love stories like Graham, from Scotland, and Kate, from England. They were attached at the hip the moment Kate joined our group on the third day of our journey. Graham told me yesterday, “I simply cannot imagine a life without Kate now…and in 44 years…feeling that way is a first for me. Glad you were there to see the start of it all.” Everyone should experience a love like this once in their life.

Graham and Kate on race day

Graham and Kate reunited over the pond

From one continent to the next, the love continues…

The canyons change you if you let them. How they have changed me I don’t even fully understand. But, I found a part of me that was lost for a long time. I’m going to embrace the change…As Kate told me, from an old French Proverb, Life wants the best for you.

The Tarahumara heading home until next year's race. Photo credit: Josue Stephens

If you would like to give back to the Tarahumara, please go to

One journey ends and another begins!

Photo of Mexico approaching the border. Adios, Caballo Blanco, until next year...We know you will always reside there and in the hearts of so many. (Photo credit: Kirsten Pieper)

And we shall see where those paths lead from here. The next chapter begins.

Looking forward to strengthening new connections and reunions in the canyons next year.

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  1. Jim Dees says:

    Transformative experience. Thanks for sharing it with me!

  2. Michele Cohen says:

    I’m sitting here speechless after devouring every word of your incredible journey. The strength you have to venture outside of your comfort zone is to be admired. I sit here weak and tired from my treatments and dream of the day I will return back to the level of strength that I took for granted for so many years. That is what I admire the most about your spirit of adventure. You know your strength. You test your strength. You show no fear. You go for things and opportunities in life that you ice would have said no way. I know that there is a reason for my illness. I’m doing the best with what I’ve been given. I hope when I return back to my life as it once was that I embrace my universe and take off in search of the reason for this down time in my life. Keep sharing your experiences because you never know how your sharing can drive others into action. We’ve always seen your outside beauty but now we are seeing the inside and it far outshines the outside. Many blessings to you and your family! Xoxo. Michele

    • Claire says:


      What a wonderful surprise to see your post on here. Not a day goes by that I am not thinking of you and praying for you. I texted you a few weeks ago, but it may not have been a good time for you. I was just showing my daughter yesterday how beautiful you are – and of course inside and out. I tell myself a phrase when I am going through running challenges and it is so fitting for every aspect of life – “She never knew how strong she was until strong was the only choice she had.” That is you! I don’t believe in saying things like this happened for a reason, but no matter why it happened, you will make a beautiful story of this. You have already begun it and the story is unwritten. You don’t know how many people you are inspiring each day. As you encourage me to share my experiences, I encourage you to journal and share your story, too. I feel so blessed to have known you for several years and see our connection evolve. Many continued prayers of God’s power to heal. XO Claire

      P.S. Your words inspire me to write on!

  3. DJ says:

    Awesome recap of an incredible week! So glad we got to meet :)

    • Claire says:

      So glad we met and got to run some of the trails at Fort Clinch together, too! Congrats, again, on your win!


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