“WHAT'S THAT CRAZY GUY UP TO NOW?”
It was amazing and almost reassuring to hear photographer Luis Escobar now sounding so calm and lighthearted, because his first reaction when he heard that our friend Micah True was missing in New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness was to grab the keys of his wife’s Chevy Tahoe, tell her, “I’m going,” and start barreling south from Santa Barbara, California on a 1,000-mile rescue mission. Texting while he drove, fighting his way through rush-hour traffic, Luis was steering with his knees while coordinating an all-points-bulletin with his thumbs.
I was in Los Angeles for an event that day, and while Luis was on the freeway, I was getting the rundown from Micah’s girlfriend, Maria. On March 27, she told me, Micah had set off for a run in the Gila and hadn’t been seen since. It was Thursday now, and I heard Maria’s distress, but c’mon: it’s Caballo Blanco we’re talking about, the wandering White Horse of Mexico’s Copper Canyons. As I wrote in Born to Run, the Horse has been roaming some of the trickiest and most inhospitable terrain in North America for decades, and no matter what kind of trouble his restless eye got him into, his legs always got him back out again. If Caballo wasn’t lost, he wouldn’t know where he was.
In fact, he’d just gotten lost on the day I met him in 2005. He’d set off for an easy hike that morning from Creel, a Mexican town on the fringe of the canyons, but got sidetracked by a tasty trail, started running, and ended up bushwhacking the Copper Canyons outback until he finally got his bearings just before nightfall. "I'm always getting lost and having to vertical-climb, water bottle between my teeth, buzzards circling over head," Caballo told me. "It's a beautiful thing.” That’s been the story of his life, stretching from his discovery of running during his backroom fight-club days in the 1980s — the same era when a fellow-wanderer named Smitty found him roaming the Hawaiian rain forests and showed him a secret cave he could make his home — right up to the present, when he’d recently pissed off some bandit named Jorge down in the Copper Canyons and had to blaze a new route along the edge of a cliff to avoid him.
I knew that this time, Caballo must have gotten an urge to spend a few nights in the Gila cliff dwellings, or had strayed out of the wild and onto the highway and was hitchhiking back to the lodge at that very moment, or was behind bars after locking hard heads with a park ranger and was too stubborn to phone for help, and I was about to tell Maria so when she said:
“I just wish Guadajuko was with him.”
Uh oh. Guadajuko, the “ghost dog,” was a half-wild Mexican mutt that Caballo had adopted down in the canyons three years ago after rescuing him from a river. They’d been inseparable ever since. The last time I saw Caballo, in Boulder, Colorado, Guadajuko had a cast on his leg from getting clipped by a bus. Caballo was carrying him around like a baby. No way Caballo would dither in the woods if Guadajuko was waiting for him. I cancelled my flight home from L.A. and got on the phone to Luis.
By the time Luis picked me up three hours later, he already had two other volunteers with him and a third was waiting at our next stop. We soon had to take the wheel and put him in the back seat, because his cellphone kept pinging all night with fresh offers of help: ultrarunning legend Scott Jurek was ramming gear into a bag and heading for Denver airport, while Kyle Skaggs — the Hardrock 100 record-holder who barely knew Micah — was already on the road from his farm in New Mexico. When we stopped around midnight to fill the tank somewhere in Arizona, it was free; a woman in Colorado had insisted on Paypal-ing us gas money.