His heart was pounding, and the whispering wind caressed his skin as he hurried across the landscape. He was beginning to break a sweat, for he had been running for quite a while and the miles were adding up. But why was he running in the Gila Wilderness? Was something chasing him? There were all sorts of predators living in the New Mexico national park, so it was a feasible theory. But why weren’t any of his friends or family worried about his safety when he entered the wilderness alone?
Micah True had developed a love for running as a young adult, and over the years had competed in many races; a lot of them up to four times as long as marathons. It was a regular occurrence for him to run up to 170 miles each week, and he later became inspired by Tarahumara Indians living by the Copper Canyons of New Mexico, whom were legendary distance runners that were known to wear sandals on their runs. So, what provoked this lifestyle of running?
Before running, Micah worked, doing many different odd jobs, and eventually found his way into prize-fighting. He competed under the name “Gypsy Cowboy” and fought 20 professional bouts. He had to keep on training so that he could win his battles, and part of his routine included running to increase and mediate his stamina. The more he ran, the more he realized it was something he loved; and from here, he quite literally ran off to pursue a completely different lifestyle that allowed him to be free.
The name Micah was born with was Michael Hickman, though he later changed it to Micah True. He chose Micah from the bible, and True from his faithful companion, a canine named True Dog. He took this name after a break up with a rich girl in Hawaii, where he lived in a cave for 10 months. It was also at this point where he took up long distance running; leading him to the Guatemalan villagers in New Mexico. As he ran amongst them, they gave him the name Caballo Blanco, or White Horse, because of his long blonde hair and pale skin.
As Micah True became acquainted with the Tarahumara runners, he learnt about the droughts the villagers suffer and their lack of food as a result. Having a soft spot for the villagers and wanting to help them out as best he could, Micah organized the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon in which competitors could win prizes of corn. As this annual event continued, more Tarahumara Indians from the impoverished area participated, and rather than just corn, they also received maize and cash as prizes.
In the time Caballo Blanco spent in Mexico, he found an isolated area in Batopilas were he decided to build a house. He carried rocks from the river valley to use as a foundation in the sloped area he chose and used cement and other bits and pieces to secure the walls. As he continued to run, a stray dog often joined him for the chase; and Blanco took him in as his own, naming him Guadajuko. He also met his partner Maria Walton; though he liked to call her by the spirit name La Mariposa, meaning ‘the butterfly’.
In 2009, Cristopher McDougall wrote a book called “Born to Run”, which discusses endurance running theories, and also has a focus on the Tarahumara villagers. He visited them in the Copper Canyon to learn more about how they run and discussed the ultra-marathon that True organized. Micah became a central character in this best-selling book, which changed his life. Becoming a new celebrity gave him a voice, and Micah went on to speak at various events and use his status to fundraise for his Copper Canyon marathons.
Nothing was out of the ordinary on a Tuesday morning when Micah took off for an adventure through the Gila Wilderness. Being late March, the days held a beautiful warmth, and the nights, an icy chill. Dressed simply in his shorts, a t-shirt and his running shoes, Micah’s friends and family easily assumed that he would be back by nightfall; but they also knew that there was a possibility of him returning later if he let his feet take him where they wanted to go; leaving no limits. Everything was normal; or so they believed…
The hours that passed turned into days, and by the time Saturday hit, there still hadn’t been any word from Micah. He would have normally returned by now, so what happened? Did he become immobile after suffering a nasty injury? Did he get attacked by a wild animal? Was he lost in the vast area? As his friends and family contemplated the various scenarios, they only became more restless; how could they let themselves relax when someone important to them was missing?
Home to many predators including cougars, black bears, and the endangered Mexican wolves, the Gila Wilderness expands across an area of over 225k hectares. It has many mountainous slopes, and essentially in the middle of nowhere, many tracks, particularly ones unpaved by dirt are thick and dense; making them hard to trek through and easy to get lost in. Being a natural explorer in his runs, Micah True chose a less travelled route, and ventured deep into the somewhat familiar territory.
With such a large area for Micah to wander, a search and rescue team was put together. It included many different search modes including planes and helicopters for a birds-eye view to spot even the tiniest thing from above, to dogs tracking his scent, horses trekking through the wilderness in case he needed an escort out of the area, and many volunteers, as well as friends were out there. Over three days, the search was conducted across an area 50 yards on either side of the marked trails, however, no one could find a trace of Micah…
The search coordinator, Tom Bemis was becoming grim. From what began as a positive rescue, now seemed like there wasn’t much hope of any good news. Being in the middle of nowhere, it held true that Micah could be absolutely anywhere; especially considering he didn’t always take the easiest paths during his jogs. Bemis had roughly 150 trained volunteers to work with across the vast area; all eager and anxious, wanting to participate in the search and find the man.
Some ultra-runners who had travelled to the wilderness to aid the search were becoming impatient with the way in which the search had been carried out. All the main paths had been searched, but the more difficult areas such as elk tracks and the nooks and crannies amongst the cliffs hadn’t been attempted; and these athletes wanted to search there. This annoyed Bemis, as they were searching for a lost man; not going on a leisurely walk. He was also concerned that these men would get lost too, if they attempted that search alone.
One of Micah’s closest friends, Ray Molina hurried to the Gila Wilderness as soon as he heard that True was missing, which wasn’t until Friday, which was a few days after Micah was gone; and he took a couple of other close friends with him. They were eager to help look for him, but soon became restless and anxious when they weren’t assigned to a search and rescue team that day. By the next morning, Ray, Jessica Haines, and Dean Bannon still weren’t placed in an organized rescue team and became frustrated.
Ray and his friends decided they had enough of waiting around to be placed in a search party and packed only the essentials before going off on their own. They started by crossing the Gila River, which was nearby, and hurried along the nearest brook; using only a folded map and their instincts to search amongst the river, mountains, and difficult terrain. They never gave up, constantly calling out Micah’s name as they pushed forward, hoping to find something; anything that would lead them to their friend.
Ray knew Micah very well, and his friends also agreed that the man wouldn’t be found on one of the trails. Instead, they ascended a ridge that lead to the Gila high country on a steep and unreliable path; the sort of geography that True would venture through. It was true that Micah would disappear from civilization, but the fact that he left his dog behind too meant something was clearly wrong. Getting anxious and frustrated with their lack of findings, Ray knew there was something they had overlooked; and when he studied the map once more, he was sure he found the missing piece of the puzzle.
Ray discovered a tiny blue squiggle on the map, labelling Little Dry Creek. His group found some other searchers and asked if anyone had checked there yet. A group had started on horseback, but it became too difficult for them to progress further, so they abandoned it. It was late afternoon when a new sense of purpose quivered amongst the group, and rather than wait until the next day to check it out, the three of them set off again, braving the evening wilderness in hopes of finding their friend.
The creek had varied depths, ranging from ankle height, travelling right up to the knees. Since the banks were very narrow, there were times that the search party had to pass through the water, or leap across to another patch of land; particularly when the brush was too dense for them to pass. With submerged rocks everywhere, it was a dangerous trek that could make them unable to walk if they made one mistake, so they travelled slowly; they couldn’t have the rescuers being the ones who needed rescuing!
After 45 minutes of trekking through Little Dry Creek, the group came across a faded shoeprint in the mud that matched the description of the shoes Micah was wearing when he left for his adventure. Excited, they continued onwards. Even though it was getting late, how could they not continue? Another ten minutes passed, and they found another set of tracks, much more defined than before; it was definitely Micah. Picking up their pace as more shoeprints lead them to him, the search party was more eager than ever to reunite with the missing man.
Finally, after an hour and a half of following Micah’s trail, the group spotted something blood-red ahead of them. Ray was first to rush towards it, thoughts racing through his head that it was his friend, and although he might be hurt, he was alive. Jessica however, initially thought it was a dead animal, and had been taught not to approach fresh carcasses so hastily. Those thoughts left though, when she noticed Ray’s reaction to their discovery. Something was wrong. Hurrying to the red shape, she soon found out what.
The three-man team had stumbled across Micah True’s body. Ray was heartbroken, being the first to discover his friend. With no GPS or radio out in this wilderness, the group discussed what to do; eventually electing to leave him there so they didn’t disturb the scene, and head back to get help the next day to bring Micah back to his loved ones. Upon sharing the news, two athletes hurried back to watch over him through the night, and a collection team was organized for daylight.
A flurry of emotions overwhelmed the scene when Micah was brought back to the rest of the team; particularly from his girlfriend Maria Walton. When she saw the body, bag draped over a mule, the first words out of her mouth was that she loved him; and then she brought his dog Guadajuko over to his body to say goodbye to his best friend. It wasn’t long before a hearse arrived to take him away, and the medical examiner who had gone with the retrieval time had guessed that the cause of death was some sort of cardiac event.
Upon hearing the news of Micah True’s death, many fans were in shock and flocked together for his memorial service. However, just a memorial for such a man didn’t seem quite right; and a run-in honor of his life was organized. It was a simple, quiet event that reflected Micah himself, with roughly 200 people turning up for the event in Boulder, Colorado. Many would agree that although Micah True may have passed away, he is still around in spirit; especially as his legacy lives on.