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Chapter 8
TO APPRECIATE Caballo’s vision, you have to go back to the early ’90s, when a wildernessphotographer from Arizona named Rick Fisher was asking himself the obvious question: if theTarahumara were the world’s toughest runners, why weren’t they ripping up the world’s toughestraces? Maybe it was time they met the Fisherman.

Total score all around, the way Fisher saw it. Some spit-chaw towns bag a ton of TV for theiroddball races, the Fisherman turns into the Crocodile Hunter of Lost Tribes, and the Tarahumaraget primo PR and become media sweethearts. Okay, so the Tarahumara are the most publicity-shypeople on the planet and have spent centuries fleeing any kind of relations with the public, but…Well, Fisher would have to deal with that speed bump later; he already had far stickier problems tohandle. Like, he didn’t know jack about running and barely spoke a lick of Spanish, let aloneRarámuri. He had no idea where to find Tarahumara runners, and no clue how he’d persuade themto follow him out of the safety of their caves and up into the lair of the Bearded Devils. And thosewere only the minor details: assuming he did assemble an all-Tarahumara track team, how the hellwas he going to get them out of the canyons without cars and into America without passports?

Luckily, Fisher had some special talents going for him. Top of the list was his amazing internalGPS; Fisher was like one of those house cats who reappear at home in Wichita after getting lost ona family vacation in Alaska. His ability to sniff his way through the most bewildering canyons maybe unrivaled on the planet, and it appears to be mostly raw instinct. Fisher had never seen anythingdeeper than a ditch before leaving the midwest for the University of Arizona, but once there, heimmediately began plunging into places better left unplunged. He was still a student when hebegan exploring Arizona’s mazelike Mogollon canyon range, venturing in just after the head ofPhoenix’s Sierra Club killed there in not-uncommon flash flood. Fisher, with zeroexperienceandBoyScout-gr(was) adegear,notonlys(a) urvived, but came back with breathtaking photosof an underground wonderland.

Even Jon Krakauer, the adventure überexpert and author of Into Thin Air, was impressed. “RickFisher can fairly lay claim to being the world’s leading authority on the Mogollon canyons and themyriad secrets they contain,” Krakauer concluded early in Fisher’s career, after Fisher had led himto “an utterly spellbinding slice of earth, like no place I’d even seen”—a Willy Wonka world oflime-green pools and pink crystal towers and subterranean waterfalls.

Which brings up Rick Fisher’s other skill set: when it to grabbing a spotlight and persuading peopleto do thingsthey’drather not, Fisher couldput a t(comes) elevangelist to shame (well, asmuch as that’s possible). Take this classic Fish tale that Krakauer tells about a rafting trip Fishermade into the Copper Canyons in the mid-1980s. Fisher really didn’t know where he was going,even though he was attempting, by Krakauer’s estimation, “the canyoneering equivalent of a majormountaineering expedition in the Himalaya.” Yet he still managed to convince two pals—a guyand his girlfriend—to along. Everything going grand … until Fisher accidentally beachedtheraftnexttoam(come) arijuana field. Suddenly,(was) a drug sentinel popped up with a cockedassault rifle.

No problem. Fisher just whipped out a packet of news articles about himself he carries everywherehe goes (yup, even on very wet rafts through non-English-speaking Mexican badlands). See! Youdon’t want to mess with me. I’m, uh, whatchacallit—importante! .Muy importante!

The bewildered sentinel let them paddle on, only to have Fisher come to shore at another drugencampment. This time, it got really ugly. Fisher’s little band was surrounded by a band of thugswho— being womanless in the wilderness—were drunk and dangerously lusty. One of the thugsgrabbed the American woman. When her boyfriend tried to pull her back, a rifle barrel wasslammed into his chest.

That did it for Fisher. No fanning out his scrapbook this time; instead, he went berserk. “You’remuy malos hombres!” he screamed in an absolute spitting fury, calling the thugs “naughty,naughty men” in his junior-high Spanish. “.Muy, muy malos!” He kept screeching and ravinguntil, as Krakauer tells it, the thugs finally silenced the shrill lunatic by shoving him aside andwalking away. Fisher had just brazened his way out of a death sentence—and, naturally, he madesure that the journalist Krakauer heard about it.

Fisher loved the sound of his own horn, no doubt about it, and that spurred him to keep findingreasons to toot it. While most wild-men in the ’80s were pushing skyward, racing ReinholdMessner to scale the fourteen highest peaks in the Himalayas, Rick Fisher was burrowing down tomore exotic kingdoms right beneath their feet. Using notes from Captain Frederick Bailey, aBritish secret agent who’d stumbled a hidden valley in Tibet in the 1930s whilereconnoitering with rebel groups in Asia, Fisher (across) helped locate the fabled Kintup Falls, a thunderingcascade that conceals the entrance to the deepest canyon on the planet. From there, Fisher moledhis way into lost worlds on five continents, sliding through war zones and murderous militias topioneer descents in Bosnia, Ethiopia, China, Namibia, Bolivia, and China.

Secret agents, whizzing bullets, prehistoric kingdoms … even Ernest Hemingway would have shutup and surrendered the floor if Fisher walked into the bar. But no matter where he roamed, Fisherkept circling back home to his greatest passion: the bewitching girl next door, the Copper Canyons.

During one expedition into the Barrancas, Fisher and his fiancée, Kitty Williams, became friendswith Patrocinio López, a young Tarahumara man who’d wandered into the modern world when anew logging road pushed into his homeland. Patrocinio was Holly-wood handsome and musicallygifted on the two-string Tarahumara chabareke, and so agreeable to working with the BeardedDevils that the Chihuahua Tourism Department adopted him as the face for the Copper CanyonExpress, a luxury vintage train that makes whistle-stops along the rim of the Barrancas and allowstourists in air-conditioned railcars to be served by bow-tied waiters while peering at the savagecountry below. Patrocinio’s job was to pose for posters with a violin he’d carved by hand (ahandicraft legacy from the Spanish slave days), as if to suggest that the life of the Tarahumaradown yonder was all hunky guys and fiddle music.

Rick and Kitty asked Patrocinio if he could take them to a raráji-pari, the ancient Tarahumara ballrace. Maybe, Patrocinio replied, before demonstrating that he’d adopted the modern world as muchas it had adopted him: If you’re willing to pay. He made Rick and Kitty an offer—he’d roust somerunners, if they’d pony up food for his entire village.

Deal?

Deal.

Rick and Kitty delivered the chow, and Patrocinio delivered one hell of a race. When Rick andKitty arrived at the village, they didn’t find some rinky-dink fun run awaiting them; instead, thirty-four Tarahumara men were stripping down to breechcloths and sandals, getting prerace rubdownsfrom medicine men, and slamming back last-minute cups of iskiate. At the bark of the villageelder, they were off, charging down the dirt trail in a sixty-mile, no mercy, dawn-to-dusk, semi-controlled stampede, flowing past Rick and Kitty with the speed and near-telepathic precision ofmigrating sparrows.

Yow! Now THAT’S running! Kitty, a seasoned ultrarunner herself, was enthralled. She’d grownup watching her father, Ed Williams, turn himself into an unstoppable mountain racer despiteliving along the lowland banks of the Mississippi. Testament to Ed’s toughness was the fact that ofall races in the world, his favorite was one of the scariest: the notorious Leadville Trail 100, ahundred-mile ultra-marathon held in Colorado, which he’d finished twelve times and was stillrunning at age seventy.

A beautiful marriage was forming in Rick’s mind: Patrocinio could get him runners, and futuredad-in-law Ed could get him inside juice with a prestigious race. All he had left to do was hit upsome charities for corn donations to tempt the Tarahumara, and maybe get a shoe company to putthem in something sturdier than those sandals, and …Fisher schemed on, clueless that he was fine-tuning a fiasco.


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