Since my Dad died last week, I’ve been thinking a lot about life and death — about how I want to spend my days and then exit when my life clock strikes midnight. And many of these thoughts surface while I’m running, especially when I’m hitting the concrete in the pitch black of the early a.m.
Yesterday while downing my first double Jameson, I read a story in the NYT that profiled a man — a runner — known as Micah True. His life and death provides an inspiring look at how an individual can chart his or her own course in life, make a real difference to others, and then leave behind a legacy defined by friendships and accomplishments.
Here’s an excerpt from the story by Barry Bearak, “Caballo Blanco’s Last Run: The Micah True Story“:
GILA HOT SPRINGS, N.M. — Micah True went off alone on a Tuesday morning to run through the rugged trails of the Gila Wilderness, and now it was already Saturday and he had not been seen again.
The search for him, once hopeful, was turning desperate. Weather stoked the fear. The missing man was wearing only shorts, a T-shirt and running shoes. It was late March. Daytimes were warm, but the cold scythed through the spruce forest in the depth of night, the temperatures cutting into the 20s.
For three days, rescue teams had fanned out for 50 yards on each side of the marked trails. Riders on horseback ventured through the gnarly brush, pushing past the felled branches of pinyon-juniper and ponderosa pine. An airplane and a helicopter circled in the sky, their pilots squinting above the ridges, woodlands, river canyons and meadows.
“We’re in the middle of nowhere, and this guy could be anywhere,” Tom Bemis, the rescue coordinator appointed by the state police, said gloomily. He was sitting in a command center, marking lines on a map that covered 200,000 acres. Some 150 trained volunteers were at his disposal, and dozens of others were there too, arrived from all over the country, eager and anxious, asking to enlist in the search.
“Coming out of the woodwork,” Bemis said wryly.
Not only did Micah True have loyal friends, but he also had a devoted following. At age 58, he was a mythic figure, known by the nickname Caballo Blanco, or White Horse. He was a famous ultrarunner, competing in races two, three or four times as long as marathons. The day he vanished, he said he was going on a 12-mile jaunt, for him as routine as a lap around a high school track.
But True’s mythic renown owed less to his ability to run than to his capacity to inspire. He was a free spirit who survived on cornmeal, beans and wild dreams, aloof to the allure of money and possessions. He lived in the remote Copper Canyons of northern Mexico to be near the reclusive Tarahumara Indians, reputed to be the greatest natural runners in the world.
His story was exuberantly molded into legend in the 2009 best-seller “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. Caballo Blanco, however private and self-effacing, was suddenly delivered to the world as a prophet, “the lone wanderer of the High Sierras.” To many, he represented the road not taken, a purer path, away from career, away from capitalism, away from the clock.
Micah True lived life his way and by his own standards. And he did it essentially “off the grid.” Good for him.
And even if you are not interested in True’s life, or in long-distance running, this article is worth reading. If you believe that there is no excellent writing in newspapers these days — or that long-form journalism is dead — this article will challenge those notions.
Here’s another excerpt:
MICAH TRUE’S CORPSE, encased in a body bag and draped over a brown mule, was taken through the forest and out to the main trailhead in midafternoon on Sunday, April 1. Maria Walton ran up a slope to meet it, calling out, “I love you,” and kissing the end of the bundle that appeared to be the feet.
Just then, a heavy wind began to blow. Dirt spun in the air. A hearse had been parked in an adjacent lot since morning, and the driver, dressed in a coat and tie, looked away to shield his eyes.
The mule was slowly led to the vehicle, and the body bag was lifted through the open door at the rear. Walton insisted that Guadajuko be permitted a farewell, cradling the dog in her arms and taking him over. “We’re going to see Daddy, your best buddy,” she said, sobbing.
Ray Molina, haggard and exhausted, hugged Walton and then leaned against his old Mercedes and talked about finding the corpse. “Micah was bloodied up, so I think he took a tumble and then a hypothermic night did him in,” he said.
Mike Barragree, an investigator for the state medical examiner’s office, had gone with the team that reclaimed the body. He speculated that “some sort of cardiac event” was the likely cause of death, and that turned out to be correct: idiopathic cardiomyopathy, a heart ailment.
The search and recovery mission was finally over. The remembrances had already begun. The evening before, Walton and Scott Leese and many of the Mas Locos hung out at a campground that also had a few small cottages. The moon was a half-circle. The stars were abundant. Someone had thought to buy beer.
For them, this was a requiem for a dead friend. They ate tortillas and eggs and canned stew, heating the food on an old white stove and subduing their sorrow with laughter. They each had a favorite Caballo Blanco story to tell, or two or three. The past flooded into the present.
Above all, their friend wanted to be authentic, they said, and no one could doubt that he had been. This was no small thing.
His death was terribly sad, and yet there was also perfection about it.
Micah True died while running through a magnificent wilderness, and then many of his closest friends came together to search for him, stepping through the same alluring canyons and forests and streams, again and again calling out his name.
All in all, not a bad way to go.