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Chapter 26
Baby, this town rips the bones from your back;It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap …—BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, “Born to Run”

CABALLO BLANCO’S face was pink with pride, so I tried to think of something nice to say.

We’d just arrived in Batopilas, an ancient mining town tucked eight thousand feet below the lip ofthe canyon. It was founded four hundred years ago when Spanish explorers discovered silver ore inthe stony river, and it hasn’t changed much since then. It’s still a tiny strip of houses hugging theriverbank, a place where burros are as common as cars and the first telephone was installed whenthe rest of the world was programming iPods.

Getting down there took a cast-iron stomach and supreme faith in your fellow man, the man inquestion being the one driving the bus. The only way into Batopilas is a dirt road that corkscrewsalong the sheer face of a cliff, dropping seven thousand feet in less than ten miles. As the busstrained around hairpin turns, we hung on tight and looked far below at the wrecks of cars whosedrivers had miscalculated by few inches. Two years later, Caballo would make his owncontributiontothesteelcemetery(a) when the pickup truck he was driving caught the lip of the cliffand tumbled over. Caballo managed to dive out just in time and watched as the truck exploded farbelow. Later, chunks of the scorched carcass were scavenged as good-luck charms.

After the bus pulled over on the edge of town, we climbed down stiffly, our faces as war-paintedwith dust and sweat salt as Caballo’s had been the first the time I met him. “There she is!” Caballohollered. “That’s my place.”

We looked around, but the only thing in sight was the ancient ruin of an old mission across theriver. Its roof was gone and its red-stone walls were collapsing into the ruddy canyon they’d beencarved from, looking like a sand castle dissolving back into sand. It was perfect; Caballo had foundthe ideal home for a living ghost. I could only imagine how freaky it must be to pass here at nightand see his monstrous shadow dancing around behind his campfire as he wandered the ruins likeQuasimodo.

“Wow, that’s really something, uh … else,” I said.

“No, man,” he said. “Over here.” He pointed behind us, toward a faint goat trail disappearing intothe cactus. Caballo began to climb, and we fell in behind him, grabbing at brush for balance as weslipped and scrabbled up the stony path.

“Damn, Caballo,” Luis said. “This is the only driveway in the world that needs trail markers andan aid station at mile two.”

After a hundred yards or so, we came through a thicket of wild lime trees and found a small, clay-walled hut. Caballo had built it by hauling up rocks from the river, making the round-trip over thattreacherous path hundreds of times with river-slick stones in his hands. As a home, it suitedCaballo even better than the ruined mission; here in his handmade fortress of solitude, he could seeeverything in the river valley and remain unseen.

We wandered inside, and saw Caballo had a small camp bed, a pile of trashed sports sandals, andthree or four books about Crazy Horse and other Native Americans on a shelf next to a kerosenelamp. That was it; no electricity, no running water, no toilet. Out back, Caballo had cut away thecactus and smoothed a little place to kick back after a run, smoke something relaxing, and gaze offat the prehistoric wilderness. Whatever Barefoot Ted’s heavy Heidegger word was, no one wasever more an expression of their place than Caballo was of his hut.

Caballo was anxious to get us fed and off his hands so he could catch up on sleep. The next fewdays were going to take everything we had, and none of us had gotten much rest since El Paso. Heled us back down his hidden driveway and up the road to a tiny shop operating from the frontwindow of a house; you poked your head in and if shopkeeper Mario had what you wanted, yougot it. Upstairs, Mario rented us a few small rooms with a cold-water shower at the end of the hall.

Caballo wanted us to dump our bags and head off immediately for food, but Barefoot Ted insistedon stripping down and padding off to the shower to sluice away the road grime. He came outscreaming.

“Jesus! The shower’s got loose wires. I just got the shit shocked out of me!”

Eric looked at me. “You think Caballo did it?”

“Justifiable homicide,” I said. “No jury would convict.” The Barefoot Ted-Caballo Blanco stormfront hadn’t improved a bit since we’d left Creel. During one rest stop, Caballo climbed downfrom the roof and squeezed his way into the back of the bus to escape. “That guy doesn’t knowwhat silence is,” Caballo fumed. “He’s from L.A., man; he thinks you’ve got to fill every spacewith noise.”

After we’d gotten settled at Mario’s, Caballo brought us to another of his Mamás. We didn’t evenhave to order; as soon as we arrived, Do.a Mila began pulling out whatever she had in the fridge.

Soon, platters were being handed around of guacamole, frijoles, sliced cactus and tomatoes dousedin tangy vinegar, Spanish rice, and a fragrant beef stew thickened with chicken liver.

“Pack it in,” Caballo had said. “You’re going to need it tomorrow.” He was taking us on a littlewarm-up hike, Caballo said. Just a jaunt up a nearby mountain to give us a taste of the terrain we’dbe tackling on the trek to the racecourse. He kept saying it was no big deal, but then he’d warn uswe’d better pound down the food and get right to bed. I became even more apprehensive after awhite-haired old American ambled in and joined us.

“How’s the giddyup, Hoss?” he greeted Caballo. His was Bob Francis. He had first wandereddowntoBatopilasinthe’60s,andpartofhimhadne(name) ver left. Even though he had kidsand grand-kids back in San Diego, Bob still spent most of the year wandering the canyons aroundBatopilas, sometimes guiding trekkers, sometimes just visiting Patricio Luna, a Tarahumara friendwho was Manuel Luna’s uncle. They met thirty years before, when Bob got lost in the canyons.

Patricio found him, fed him, and brought him back to his family’s cave for the night.

Because of his long friendship with Patricio, Bob is one of the only Americans to have everattended a Tarahumara tesgüinada—the marathon drinking party that precedes and occasionallyprevents the ball races. Even Caballo hasn’t reached that level of trust with the Tarahumara, andafter listening to Bob’s stories, he wasn’t sure he wanted to.

“All of a sudden, Tarahumara I’ve been friends with for years, guys I knew as shy, gentle amigos,are in my face, butting against me with their chests, spitting insults at me, ready to fight,” Bobsaid. “Meanwhile, their wives are in the bushes with other men, and their grown-up daughters arewrestling naked. They keep the kids away from these deals; you can imagine why.”

Anything goes at a tesgüinada, Bob explained, because everything is blamed on the peyote,moonshine tequila, and tesgüino, the potent corn beer. As wild as these parties get, they actuallyserve a noble and sober purpose: they act as a pressure valve to vent explosive emotions. Just likethe rest of us, the Tarahumara have secret desires and grievances, but in a society where everyonerelies on one another and there are no police to get between them, there has to be a way to satisfylusts and grudges. What better than a booze-fest? Everyone gets ripped, goes wild, and then,chastened by bruises and hangovers, they dust themselves off and get on with their lives.

“I could have been married or murdered twenty times before the night was over,” Bob said. “But Iwas smart enough to put down the gourd and get myself out of there before the real shenanigansstarted.” If one outsider knew the Barrancas as well as Caballo, it was Bob, which was why, eventhough he was liquored up and in a bit of a ranting mood, I paid careful attention when he got intoit with Ted.

“Those fucking things are going to be dead tomorrow,” Bob said, pointing at the FiveFingers onTed’s feet.

“I’m not going to wear them,” Ted said.

“Now you’re talking sense,” Bob said.

“I’m going barefoot,” Ted said.

Bob turned to Caballo. “He messing with us, Hoss?”

Caballo just smiled.

————Early the next morning, Caballo came for us as dawn was breaking over the canyon. “That’s wherewe’re headed tomorrow,” Caballo said, pointing through the window of my room toward amountain rearing in the distance. Between us and the mountain was a sea of rolling foothills sothickly overgrown that it was hard to see how a trail could punch through. “We’ll run one of thoselittle guys this morning.”

“How much water do we need?” Scott asked.

“I only carry this,” Caballo said, waving a sixteen-ounce plastic bottle. “There’s a freshwaterspring up top to refill.”

“Food?”

“Nah,” Caballo shrugged as he and Scott left to check on the others. “We’ll be back by lunch.”

“I’m bringing the big boy,” Eric said to me, gurgling springwater into the bladder on his ninetysix-ounce hydration backpack. “I think you should, too.”

“Really? Caballo says we’re only going about ten miles.”

“Can’t hurt to carry the max when you go off-road,” Eric said. “Even if you don’t need it, it’straining for when you do. And you never know—something happens, you could be out therelonger than you think.”

I put down my handheld bottle and reached for my hydration pack. “Bring iodine pills in case youneed to purify water. And shove in some gels, too,” Eric added. “On race day, you’re going to needtwo hundred calories an hour. The trick is learning how to take in a little at a time, so you’ve got asteady drip of fuel without overwhelming your stomach. This’ll be good practice.”

We walked through Batopilas, past shopkeepers hand-sprinkling water on the stones to keep thedust down. Schoolkids in spotless white shirts, their black hair sleek with water, interrupted theirchatter to politely wish us “Buenos días.”

“Gonna be a hot one,” Caballo said, as we ducked into a storefront with no sign out front. “.Hayteléfono?” he asked the woman who greeted us. Are the phones working?

“Todavía no” she said, shaking her head in resignation. Not yet. Clarita had the only two publicphones in all Batopilas, but service had been knocked out for the past three days, leavingshortwave radio the only form of communication. For the first time, it hit me how cut off we were;we had no way of knowing what was going on in the outside world, or letting the outside worldknow what was happening to us. We were putting a hell of a lot of trust in Caballo, and once again,I had to wonder why; as knowledgeable as Caballo was, it still seemed crazy to put our lives in thehands of a guy who didn’t seem too concerned about his own.

But for the moment, the grumble of my stomach and the aroma of Clarita’s breakfast managed topush those thoughts aside. Clarita served up big plates of huevos rancheros, the fried eggssmothered in homemade salsa and freshly chopped cilantro and sitting atop thick, hand-pattedtortillas. The food was too delicious to wolf down, so we lingered, refilling our coffee a few timesbefore getting up to go. Eric and I followed Scott’s example and tucked an extra tortilla in ourpockets for later.

Only after we finished did I realize that the Party Kids hadn’t shown up. I checked my watch; itwas already pushing 10 a.m.

“We’re leaving them,” Caballo said.

“I’ll run back for them,” Luis offered.

“No,” Caballo said. “They could still be in bed. We’ve got to hit it if we’re going to dodge theafternoon heat.”

Maybe it was for the best; they could use a day to rehydrate and power up for the hike tomorrow.

“No matter what, don’t let them try to follow us,” Caballo told Luis’s father, who was stayingbehind. “They get lost out there, we’ll never see them again. That’s no joke.”

Eric and I cinched tight our hydration packs, and I pulled a bandanna over my head. It was alreadysteamy. Caballo slid through a gap in the retaining wall and began picking his way over theboulders to the edge of the river. Barefoot Ted pushed ahead to join him, showing off how nimblyhe could hop from rock to rock in his bare feet. If Caballo was impressed, he wasn’t showing it.

“YOU GUYS! HOLD UP!” Jenn and Billy were sprinting down the street behind us. Billy had hisshirt in his hand, and Jenn’s shoelaces were untied.

“You sure you want to come?” Scott asked when they panted up. “You haven’t even eatenanything.”

Jenn tore a PowerBar in two and gave half to Billy. They were each carrying a skinny water bottlethat couldn’t have held more than six swallows. “We’re good,” Billy said.

We followed the stony riverbank for a mile, then turned into a dry gully. Without a word, we allspontaneously broke into a trot. The gully was wide and sandy, leaving plenty of room for Scottand Barefoot Ted to flank Caballo and run three abreast.

“Check out their feet,” said Eric. Even though Scott was in the Brooks trail shoe he’d helpeddesign and Caballo was in sandals, they both skimmed their feet over the ground just the way Teddid in his bare feet, their foot strikes in perfect sync. It was like watching a team of Lipizzanerstallions circle the show ring.

After about a mile, Caballo veered onto a steep, rocky washout that climbed up into the mountain.

Eric and I eased back to a walk, obeying the ultrarunner’s creed: “If you can’t see the top, walk.”

When you’re running fifty miles, there’s no dividend in bashing up the hills and then being windedon the way down; you only lose a few seconds if you walk, and then you can make them back upby flying downhill. Eric believes that’s one reason ultrarunners don’t get hurt and never seem toburn out: “They know how to train, not strain.”

As we walked, we caught up with Barefoot Ted. He’d had to slow down to pick his way over thejagged, fist-sized stones. I squinted up at the trail ahead: we had at least another mile of crumblyrock to climb before the trail leveled and, hopefully, smoothed.

“Ted, where are your FiveFingers?” I asked.

“Don’t need ’em,” he said. “I made a deal with Caballo that if I handled this hike, he wouldn’t getmad anymore if I went barefoot.”

“He rigged the bet,” I said. “This is like running up the side of a gravel pit.”

“Humans didn’t invent rough surfaces, Oso,” Ted said. “We invented the smooth ones. Your footis perfectly happy molding itself around rocks. All you’ve got to do is relax and let your foot flex.

It’s like a foot massage. Oh, hey!” he called after us as Eric and I pulled ahead. “Here’s a great tip.

Next time your feet are sore, walk on slippery stones in a cold creek. Unbelievable!”

Eric and I left Ted singing to himself as he hopped and trotted along. The glare off the stones wasblinding and heat kept rising, making it feel as if we were climbing straight into the sun. In a way,we were; after two miles, I checked the altimeter on my watch and saw we’d climbed over athousand feet. Soon, though, the trail plateaued and softened from stones to footworn dirt.

The others were a few hundred yards ahead, so Eric and I started to run to close the gap. Before wecaught them, Barefoot Ted came whisking by. “Time for a drink,” he said, waving his empty waterbottle. “I’ll wait for you guys at the spring.”

The trail veered abruptly upward again, jagging back and forth in lightning-bolt switchbacks.

Fifteen hundred feet… two thousand … We bent into the slope, feeling as though we only gained afew inches every step. After three hours and six miles of hard climbing, we hadn’t hit the spring;we hadn’t seen shade since we left the riverbank.

“See?” Eric said, waving the nozzle of his hydration pack. “Those guys have got to be parched.”

“And starving,” I added, ripping open a raw-food granola bar.

At thirty-five hundred feet, we found Caballo and the rest of the crew waiting in a hollow under ajuniper tree. “Anyone need iodine pills?” I asked.

“Don’t think so,” Luis said. “Take a look.”

Under the tree was a natural stone basin carved out by centuries of cool, trickling spring water.

Except there was no water.

“We’re in a drought,” Caballo said. “I forgot about that.”

But there was a chance another spring might be flowing a few hundred feet higher up themountain. Caballo volunteered to run up and check. Jenn, Billy, and Luis were too thirsty to waitand went with him. Ted gave his bottle to Luis to fill up for him and sat to wait in the shade withus. I gave him a few sips from my pack, while Scott shared some pita and hummus.

“You don’t use goos?” Eric asked.

“I like real food,” Scott said. “It’s just as portable and you get real calories, not just a fast burn.”

As a corporate-sponsored elite athlete, Scott had the worldwide buffet of nutrition at his fingertips,but after experimenting with the entire spectrum—everything from deer meat to Happy Meals toorganic raw-food bars—he’d ended up with a diet a lot like the Tarahumara.

“Growing up in Minnesota, I used to be a total junk eater,” he said. “Lunch used to be twoMcChickens and large fries.” When he was a Nordic skier and cross-country runner in high school,his coaches were always telling him he needed plenty of lean meat to rebuild his muscles after atough workout, yet the more Scott researched traditional endurance athletes, the more vegetarianshe found.

Like the Marathon Monks in Japan he’d just been reading about; they ran an ultramarathon everyday for seven years, covering some twenty-five thousand miles on nothing but miso soup, tofu, andvegetables. And what about Percy Cerutty, the mad Australian genius who coached some of thegreatest milers of all time? Cerutty believed food shouldn’t even be cooked, let alone slaughtered;he put his athletes through triple sessions on a diet of raw oats, fruit, nuts, and cheese. Even CliffYoung, the sixty-three-year-old farmer who stunned Australia in 1983 by beating the bestultrarunners in the country in a 507- mile race from Sydney to Melbourne, did it all on beans, beer,and oatmeal (“I used to feed the calves by hand and they thought I was their mother,” Young said.

“I couldn’t sleep too good those nights when I knew they would get slaughtered.” He switched tograins and potatoes, and slept a whole lot better. Ran pretty good, too).

Scott wasn’t sure why meatless diets worked for history’s great runners, but he figured he’d trustthe results first and figure out the science later. From that point on, no animal products would passhis lips—no eggs, no cheese, not even ice cream—and not much sugar or white flour, either. Hestopped carrying Snickers and PowerBars during his long runs; instead, he loaded a fanny packwith rice burritos, pita stuffed with hummus and Kalamata olives, and home-baked bread smearedwith adzuki beans and quinoa spread. When he sprained his ankle, he eschewed ibuprofen andrelied instead on wolfsbane and whomping portions of garlic and ginger.

“Sure, I had my doubts,” Scott said. “Everyone told me I’d get weaker, I wouldn’t recover betweenworkouts, I’d get stress fractures and anemia. But I found that I actually feel better, because I’meating foods with more high-quality nutrients. And after I won Western States, I never lookedback.”

By basing his diet on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, Scott is deriving maximum nutritionfrom the lowest possible number of calories, so his body isn’t forced to carry or process anyuseless bulk. And because carbohydrates clear the stomach faster than protein, it’s easier to jam alot of workout time into his day, since he doesn’t have to sit around waiting for a meatball sub tosettle. Vegetables, grains, and legumes contain all the amino acids necessary to build muscle fromscratch. Like a Tarahumara runner, he’s ready to go any distance, any time.

Unless, of course, he runs out of water.

“Not good, guys,” Luis called as he trotted back down. “That one’s dry, too.” He was gettingworried; he’d just tried to piss, and after four hours of sweating in 95-degree heat, it came outlooking like convenience-store coffee. “I think we should run for it.”

Scott and Caballo agreed. “If we open it up, we’ll be down in an hour,” Caballo said. “Oso,” heasked me. “You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said. “And we’re still packing water.”

“All right, let’s do it,” Barefoot Ted said.

We began running single file down the trail, Caballo and Scott up front. Barefoot Ted wasamazing; he was speeding down the mountain hard on the heels of Luis and Scott, two of the bestdownhillers in the sport. With all that talent pushing up against each other, the pace was gettingferocious. “YEEEEEAAAHHH, BABY!” Jenn and Billy were hollering.

“Let’s hang back,” Eric said. “We’re going to crash if we try to hang with them.”

We settled into an easy lope, falling far behind as the others slashed back and forth down theswitchbacks. Running downhill can trash your quads, not to mention snap your ankle, so the trickis to pretend you’re running uphill: keep your feet spinning under your body like you’re alumberjack rolling a log, and control your speed by leaning back and shortening your stride.

By midafternoon, the heat had bottled up in the canyon until it was over 100 degrees. We’d lostsight of the others, so Eric and I took our time, running easily and sipping often from our quicklyemptying hydration packs, feeling our way carefully down the confusing web of trails, unawarethat an hour before, Jenn and Billy had vanished.

“Goat’s blood is good” Billy kept insisting. “We can drink the blood, then eat the meat. Goat meatis good.” He’d read a book by a guy whose trick for cheating death in the Arizona desert was tostone a wild horse to death and suck the blood from its throat. Geronimo used to do that, too, Billythought. Wait, it might’ve been Kit Carson….

Drink the blood? Jenn, her throat so parched it hurt to talk, just stared at him. He’s losing it, shethought. We can barely walk, and Bone-head’s talking about killing a goat we can’t catch with aknife we don’t have. He’s in worse shape than I am. He’s—Suddenly, her stomach clenched so badly she could barely breathe. She got it. Billy didn’t soundcrazy because of the heat. He sounded crazy because the only sane thing left to talk about was theone thing he wouldn’t admit: there was no way out of this.

On a good day, no one in the world could have dropped Jenn and Billy on a measly six-mile trailrun, but this was turning out to be a pretty bad day. The heat, their hangovers, and their emptystomachs had caught up with them before they’d made it halfway down the mountain. They lostsight of Caballo on one of the switchbacks, then they hit a fork in the trail. Next thing they knew,they were alone.

Disoriented, Jenn and Billy wandered off the mountain and into a stone maze that webbed in everydirection. The rock walls were mirroring the heat so hideously, Jenn suspected she and Billy werejust going whichever way looked a little shadier. Jenn felt dizzy, as if her mind were floating freeof her body. They hadn’t eaten since splitting that PowerBar six hours before, and hadn’t had a sipof water since noon. Even if heat stroke didn’t wipe them out, Jenn knew, they were still doomed:

the 100- plus degree heat would drop, but keep on dropping. Come nightfall, they’d be shivering inthe freezing dark in their surf shorts and T-shirts, dying of thirst and exposure in one of the mostunreachable corners of Mexico.

What weird corpses they’d make, Jenn thought as they trudged along. Whoever found them wouldhave to wonder how a pair of twenty-two-year-old lifeguards in surf baggies ended up at thebottom of a Mexican canyon, looking like they’d been tossed in from Baja by a rogue wave. Jennhad never been so thirsty in her life; she’d lost twelve pounds during a hundred-mile race beforeand still didn’t feel as desperate as she did now.

“Look!”

“The Luck of the Bonehead!” Jenn marveled. Under a stone ledge, Billy had spotted a pool offresh water. They ran toward it, fumbling the tops off their water bottles, then stopped.

The water wasn’t water. It was black mud and green scum, buzzing with flies and churned by wildgoats and burros. Jenn bent down for a closer look. Ugh! The smell was nasty They knew what onesip could do; come nightfall, they could be too weak with fever and diarrhea to walk, or infectedwith cholera or giardia or guinea worm disease, which has no cure except slowly pulling the threefoot-long worms out of the abscesses that erupt on your skin and eye sockets.

But they knew what would happen without that sip. Jenn had just read about those two best friendswho’d gotten lost in a canyon in New Mexico and became so sun-crazed after a single day withoutwater that one stabbed the other to death. She’d seen photos of hikers who’d been found in DeathValley with their mouths choked with dirt, their last moments alive spent trying to suck moisturefrom scorching sand. She and Billy could stay away from the puddle and die of thirst, or theycould swallow a few gulps and risk dying from something else.

“Let’s hold off,” Billy said. “If we don’t find our way out in one hour, we’ll come back.”

“Okay. This way?” she said, pointing away from Batopilas and straight toward a wilderness thatstretched four hundred miles to the Sea of Cortez.

Billy shrugged. They’d been too rushed and groggy that morning to pay attention to where theywere going, not that it would have mattered: everything looked exactly the same. As they walked,Jenn flashed back to the way she’d scoffed at her mother the night before she and Billy had left forEl Paso. “Jenn,” her mother had implored. “You don’t know these people. How do you knowthey’ll take care of you if something goes wrong?”

Dang, Jenn thought. Mom nailed that one.

“How long’s it been?” she asked Billy.

“About ten minutes.”

“I can’t wait anymore. Let’s go back.”

“All right.”

When they found the puddle again, Jenn was ready to drop to her knees and start slurping, butBilly held her back. He swirled aside the mold, covered the open mouth of his water bottle with hishand, then filled it from the bottom of the puddle, half hoping the water would be a little lessbacteria-ridden beneath the muck. He handed his bottle to Jenn, then filled hers the same way.

“I always knew you’d kill me,” Jenn said. They clinked their bottles, said “Cheers,” and started togulp, trying not to gag.

They drank their bottles dry, refilled them, and started walking west again into the wilderness.

Before they’d gotten far, they noticed deep shadows were stretching farther across the canyon.

“We’ve got to get more water,” Billy said. He hated the idea of backtracking, but their only chanceof surviving through the night was getting to the puddle and hunkering down till dawn. Maybe ifthey chugged three bottles full of water, they’d be hydrated enough to climb up the mountain for alast look around before dark.

They turned and, once again, trudged back into the maze.

“Billy,” Jenn said. “We’re really in trouble.”

Billy didn’t answer. His head was killing him, and he couldn’t shake a line from “Howl” that keptbeating in time to the throbbing in his skull:

… who disappeared into the volcanoes of Mexico leaving behind nothing but the shadow ofdungarees and the lava and ash of poetry….

Disappeared in Mexico, Billy thought. Leaving nothing behind.

“Billy,” Jenn repeated. They’d put each other through some bad times in the past, she and theBonehead, but they’d found a way to stop breaking each other’s hearts and become best friends.

She’d gotten Billy into this, and she felt worse for what was about to happen to him than whatwould happen to her.

“This is for real, Billy,” Jenn said. Tears began trickling down her face. “We’re going to die outhere. We’re going to die today.”

“SHUT UP!” Billy screamed, so rattled by the sight of Jenn’s tears that he erupted in a total non-Bonehead frenzy. “JUST SHUT UP!”

The outburst stunned both of them into silence. And in that silence, they heard a sound: rocksclattering somewhere behind them.

“HEY!” Jenn and Billy shouted together. “HEY! HEY! HEY!”

They began running before realizing that they didn’t know what they were running toward.

Caballo had warned them that if they faced one danger out there greater than being lost, it wasbeing found.

Jenn and Billy froze, trying to peer into the shadows below the canyon’s crest. Could it be theTarahumara? A Tarahumara hunter would be invisible, Caballo had told them; he’d watch from adistance, and if he didn’t like what he saw, he’d disappear back into the forest. What if it was drugcartel enforcers? Whoever it was, they had to risk it.

“HEY!” they shouted. “WHO’S THERE?”

They listened until the last echo of their voices died away. Then a shadow split from the canyonwall, and began moving toward them.

“You hear that?” Eric asked me.

It had taken us two hours to pick our way down the mountain. We’d kept losing the trail, and hadto stop to backtrack and search our memories for landmarks before continuing. Wild goats hadturned the mountain into a web of faint, crisscrossing trails, and with the sun fading below thecanyon lip, it was getting hard to keep track of which direction we were going.

Finally, we spotted a dry creek bed down below that I was pretty sure led to the river. Just in time,too; I’d finished my water half an hour before and was already pasty mouthed. I broke into a jog,but Eric called me back. “Let’s make sure,” he said. He climbed back up the cliff to check ourbearings.

“Looks good,” he called. He started to climb down—and that’s when he heard voices echoing fromsomewhere inside the gorges. He called me up, and together we began following the echoes. A fewmoments later, we found Jenn and Billy. Tears were still streaking Jenn’s face. Eric gave them hiswater, while I handed them the last of my goos.

“You really drank out of that?” I asked, looking at the wild burro dung in the puddle and hopingthey’d confused it with another one.

“Yeah,” Jenn said. “We were just coming back for more.”

I dug out my camera in case an infectious-disease specialist wanted to see exactly what had gotteninto their bowels. Foul as it was, though, that puddle had saved their lives: if Jenn and Billy hadn’tcome back for another drink at precisely that moment, they’d still be walking deeper and deeperinto no-man’s-land, the canyon walls closing behind them.

“Can you run a little more?” I asked Jenn. “I think we’re not that far from the village.”

“Okay,” Jenn said.

We set off at an easy trot, but as the water and goo revived them, Jenn and Billy set a pace I couldbarely keep up with. Once again, I was amazed at their ability to bounce back from the dead. Ericled us down the creek bed, then spotted a bend in the gorge he recognized. We doglegged left, andeven with the light getting dim, I could see that the dust ahead of us had been tromped by feet. Amile and a half later, we emerged from the gorges to find Scott and Luis waiting anxiously for uson the outskirts of Batopilas.

We got four liters of water from a little grocery store and dumped in a handful of iodine pills. “Idon’t know if it will work,” Eric said, “but maybe you can flush out whatever bacteria youswallowed.” Jenn and Billy sat on the curb and began gulping. While they drank, Scott explainedthat no one had noticed that Jenn and Billy were missing until the rest of the group had gotten offthe mountain. By then, everyone was so dangerously dehydrated that turning back to search wouldhave put them all in danger. Caballo grabbed a bottle of water and went back on his own, urgingthe others to sit tight; the last thing he wanted was for all his gringos to go scattering into thecanyons at nightfall.

About half an hour later, Caballo ran back into Batopilas, red-faced and drenched in sweat. He’dmissed us in the branching gorges, and when he realized the hopelessness of his one-man searchparty, he’d returned to town for help. He looked at Eric and me— tired but still on our feet—andthen at the two ace young ultrarunners, exhausted and distraught on the curb. I could tell whatCaballo was thinking before he said it.

“What’s your secret, man?” he asked Eric, nodding toward me. “How’d you fix this guy?”


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