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Chapter 16
FUNNY, because Shaggy was looking at the same thing and all he saw was a middle-aged guywith a demonic knee.

Shaggy’s ear caught the problem first. For hours, he’d been listening to the faint whish … whish… whish of Juan’s and Martimano’s sandals, a sound like a drummer beating rhythm with thebrushes. Their soles didn’t hit the ground so much as caress it, scratching back lightly as each footkicked toward their butts and circled around for the next stride. Hour after hour: whish … whish… whish …But as they came down Mount Elbert on the single-track trail toward mile 70, Shaggy detected alittle hitch in the beat. Martimano seemed to be babying one foot, placing it carefully rather thanwhipping it right around. Juan noticed, too; he kept glancing back at Martimano uncertainly.

“.Qué pasa?” Shaggy asked. “What’s up?”

Martimano didn’t answer right away, most likely because he was mentally scanning the previoustwelve hours to see if he could pinpoint the cause of his pain: was it running those thirteen mileswearing trail shoes for the first time in his life? Or pivoting around those jagged switchbacks in thedark? Or slip-sliding over slick stones in a raging river? Or was it…“La bruja,” Martimano said; must’ve been the witch. The whole episode back at the firehousesuddenly made sense. Ann’s glare, the mumbo jumbo she spat at him, the shocked look onpeople’s faces, Kitty’s refusal to repeat it in Spanish, Shaggy’s comment—it was obvious. Annhad cursed him. “I passed her,” Martimano said later, “but then she cast a spell on my knee.”

Martimano had been afraid something like this would happen ever since the Pescador had refusedto bring along their shaman. Back home in the Barrancas, the shamans protect the iskiate andpinole from witchcraft, and combat any spells in the runner’s hips and knees and butts bymassaging them with smooth stones and mashed medicinal herbs. But the Tarahumara had noshaman by their side in Leadville, and look what happened: for the first time in forty-two years,Martimano’s knee was giving out.

When Shaggy realized what was going on, he felt a sudden pang of affection. They’re not gods, herealized. They’re just guys. And like every guy, the thing they loved most could bring them themost misery and confusion. Running a hundred miles wasn’t painless for the Tarahumara, either;they had to face their doubts, and silence the little devil on their shoulder who kept whisperingexcellent reasons in their ear for quitting.

Shaggy looked over at Juan, who was torn between taking off or sticking with his mentor. “Goahead,” Shaggy told Juan and his pacer. “I’ve got your boy. Go run that bruja down like a deer!”

Juan nodded, and soon disappeared around a bend in the trail.

Shaggy gave Martimano a wink. “It’s tú y yo, amigo.”

“Guadajuko,” Martimano said. Cool by me.

The scent of the finish line was tickling Ann’s nose. By the time Juan made it to the Halfmoon aidstation at mile 72, Ann had nearly doubled her lead; she was twenty-two minutes ahead with justtwenty-eight miles to go.

Just to pull even, Juan would have to steal back close to one minute every mile, and he was aboutto enter the worst possible place to start trying: a seven-mile stretch of asphalt. Ann, with her road-racing expertise and air-injected Nikes, could uncoil her long legs and let fly. Juan, who’d nevertouched blacktop until that day, would have to handle the strange surface in homemade sandals.

“His feet are really going to suffer,” Juan’s pacer called out to a TV crew by the roadside. As soonas Juan came off the dirt and hit the hardtop, he bent his knees and shortened his stride, getting allthe shock absorption he needed from the up-and-down compression of his legs. He adjusted sowell, in fact, that his amazed pacer began falling back, unable to keep up.

Juan chased Ann on his own. He covered the seven miles to the Fish Hatchery in almost exactlythe time it had taken him that morning, then cut left and onto the muddy trail leading to thedreaded Powerline Climb. Many Leadville runners fear Powerline nearly as much as Hope Pass.

“I’ve seen people sitting by the side of the trail, crying,” one Leadville vet recalled. But Juanleaned into it like he’d been waiting for it all day, running up near-vertical pitches that force mostrunners to push their knees down with their hands.

Ahead, Ann was approaching the peak, but her eyes were nearly closed with exhaustion, as if shecouldn’t bear to even look at the last bit of slope. Switchback by switchback, Juan steadily reeledher in— until abruptly, he pulled up short and started hopping on one foot. Disaster had struck; thethong on one of his sandals had snapped, and he had nothing to replace it with. As Ann wascresting the mountain, Juan was taking a seat on a rock and examining what was left of the strap.

He rethreaded the sandal, and found there was just enough thong left to hold the sole on his foot.

He knotted the shortened strap carefully and gave it a couple of test steps. Good to go.

Ann, meanwhile, had made it to the homestretch. All she had left was the ten miles of rolling dirttrail around Turquoise Lake before the screams of the Sixth Street party animals hauled her uphillto the finish line. It was just past eight in the evening and the woods around her were sinking intodarkness—and that’s when something burst out of the trees behind her. It came on her so fast, Anncouldn’t even react; she froze in place in the middle of the trail, too startled to move, as Juandarted to her left with one stride and back onto the trail with the next, his white cape swirlingaround him as he whisked past Ann and disappeared down the trail.

He didn’t even look tired! It’s like he was just… having fun! Ann was so crushed, she decided toquit. She was less than an hour from the finish line, but the Tarahumara joyfulness that so excitedJoe Vigil had totally disheartened her. Here she was, absolutely killing herself to hold the lead, andthis guy looked like he could have snatched it any time he pleased. It was humiliating; she nowrealized that as soon as she’d sprung her Queen’s Gambit, Juan had marked her for the kill. Herhusband eventually got her moving again, and just in time; Martimano and the rest of theTarahumara pack were coming up fast.

Juan crossed the finish line in 17:30, setting a new Leadville course record by twenty-five minutes.

(He also established another first by shyly ducking under the tape instead of breasting it, neverhaving seen one before.) Ann finished nearly a half hour later, in 18:06. Right behind her,Martimano and his bewitched knee finished third, with Manuel Luna and the rest of theTarahumara charging home in fourth, fifth, seventh, tenth, and eleventh.

“Wow, what a race!” Scott Tinley raved for the TV audience as he pushed a microphone into AnnTrason’s face. She blinked into the camera lights, looking like she was about to faint, but managedto rally one last burst of fight.

“Sometimes,” she said, “it takes a woman to bring out the best in a man.”

Hey, and right back atcha, the Tarahumara could have replied; thanks to Ann’s heroic attempt tosingle-handedly defeat an entire team of distance-running savants, she had smashed her ownLeadville best by more than two hours, setting a new women’s record that has never been broken.

But the Tarahumara weren’t free to say anything at the moment, even if they’d been so inclined.

They’d stepped off the racecourse and into a shit storm.

This should have been their moment. Finally, after centuries of horror and fear, after being huntedfor their scalps, enslaved for their strength, and bullied for their land, the Tarahumara wererespected. They had proven themselves, indisputably, the greatest ultrarunners on earth. The worldwould see they had fantastic skills worth studying, a way of life worth preserving, a homelandworth protecting.

Joe Vigil was already selling his house and quitting his job; that’s how excited he was. Now thatLeadville had built a bridge between American and Tarahumara culture, he was ready to carry outa plan he’d been contemplating for a long time. At sixty-five years old, he was ready to retire fromAdams State anyway. He and his wife, Caroline, would move to Arizona’s Mexican border, wherehe’d set up a base camp for Tarahumara studies. It might take another few years, but in themeantime, he’d come back to Leadville every summer and tighten his relationship with theTarahumara racers. He’d start learning their language … get them on a treadmill with heart-rateand maximal-oxygen-consumption monitors … maybe even arrange workshops with hisOlympians! Because that was the cool part—Ann had been right there with them, which meantwhatever the Tarahumara were doing, the rest of us could learn!

It was beautiful. For about a minute.

If you think you’re using one goddamn picture of my Tarahumara, Rick Fisher declared whenTony Post and the other Rockport executives hurried over with their congratulations, you’d bettercome up with some money.

Tony Post was appalled. “He really went off. He came across like he was totally enraged, like thekind of guy who’d hunt you down and kill you. Not literally,” Post hastened to add. “He justseemed like this hothead who would argue forever and never admit he was wrong.”

“He was a pain in the ass,” Ken Chlouber added. “He wasn’t a pain in the ass until we had big-time sponsors and TV crews, and then he held Rockport hostage to use film of the Indians. Hetried to make life miserable for me as the race president, he was totally self-serving, and he didn’ttake care of them at all.”

Fisher’s response was to go sort of nuts, just the way he had that time when he was surrounded bydrug thugs in the Copper Canyons and only survived by going berserk. “It was a fixed race!”

Fisher claimed. “They had a blonde, blue-eyed female they wanted to win, and she didn’t win.”

Fisher claimed all the journalists had been bought off with a secret three-day bacchanal funded bythe Leadville race directors and held at a luxury resort in Aspen. One journalist even tried to bribehim, Fisher told me, offering Fisher money to get Juan to hold back and tie with Trason. “Thisjournalist, a very reputable guy, said it’s going to be a disaster if he wins, and the fact is, from thepoint of view of white runners, it was an absolute disaster that the Tarahumara won.” Why?

“Because of this sick American idea that women can compete with men.” (Asked the journalist’sname, Fisher refused to answer.)Accusing Ken Chlouber and “the elite from the media establishment” of conspiring against theevent’s star attraction made no sense at all, but Fisher was just getting warmed up. He claimed thatone of his runners had been slipped a drugged Coke that caused him to “collapse and becomedeathly ill,” while another had been sexually molested by some “white person” who used thepretext of giving a post-workout rub-down to slip his hand under the Tarahumara’s breechclothand “massage his penis and scrotum.” As for Rockport, Fisher claimed the company’s sponsorshipwas grudging at best and criminal at worst. “They promised to put a shoe factory in the CopperCanyons … the whole deal was a corrupt deal… when Rockport looked at the books, they foundthey’d been fleeced and the president of the company was fired …”

The Tarahumara watched the chabochis scream at each other. They heard the angry words, andsaw the angry arms chopping in their direction. The Tarahumara didn’t know what was being said,but they got the message. Faced with anger and hostility, the world’s greatest underground athletesreacted as they always had; they headed back home to their canyons, fading like a dream andtaking their secrets with them. After their triumph in 1994, the Tarahumara would never return toLeadville.

One man followed them. He was never seen in Leadville again either. It was the Tarahumara’sstrange new friend, Shaggy—soon to be known as Caballo Blanco, lone wanderer of the HighSierras.


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