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Chapter 20
NINE MONTHS LATER, I found myself back on the Mexican border with a ticking clock andzero margin for error. It was Saturday evening, February 25, 2006, and I had twenty-four hours tofind Caballo again.

As soon as he got a reply from Scott Jurek, Caballo began setting up a trapeze act of logistics. Heonly had a tiny window of opportunity, since the race couldn’t take place during the fall harvest,the winter rainy season, or the blistering heat of summer, when many of the Tarahumara migratetoward cooler caves higher in the canyons. Caballo also had to avoid Christmas, Easter Week, theFiesta Guadalupana and at least a half-dozen traditional wedding weekends.

Caballo finally figured he could wedge the race in on Sunday, March 5. Then the real tricky workbegan: because he’d barely have enough time to Paul Revere from village to village to announcethe race logistics, he had to figure out exactly where and when the Tarahumara runners shouldmeet up with us on the hike to the racecourse. If he miscalculated, it was over; it was already atremendous long shot that any Tarahumara would show up, and if they got to the meeting spot andwe were a no-show, they’d be gone.

Caballo made his best-guess estimates, then set off into the can yons to spread the word, as hemessaged me a few weeks later:

Ran 30 some miles out to Tarahumara country and back today, like the messenger that I am. Themessage fueled me more than the bag of pinole in my pocket. Was lucky enough to see bothManuel Luna and Felipe Quimare on the same loop, the same day. When I spoke to each of them, Icould sense excitement even in the Geronimo like solemnness that is the face of Manuel.

But while things were looking up for Caballo, my end of the operation was maddeningly difficult.

Once word hit the grapevine that Jurek might be going toe-to-toe with the Tarahumara, other ultraaces suddenly wanted a piece of the action. But there was no telling how many would really showup—and that included the star attraction himself.

In true Jurek fashion, Scott had told almost no one what he was up to, so word of his plans onlybegan to spread a little more than a month before the race. He’d even kept me guessing, and I waspretty much his point man; Scott e-mailed me a few times with travel questions, but as crunch timeapproached, he dropped off the radar. Two weeks before race day, I was startled to see a postingon the Runner’s World message board from a runner in Texas who’d gotten a jolt of his own thatmorning when he arrived at the starting line of the Austin Marathon and found himself standingnext to America’s greatest (and contender for most reclusive) ultrarunner.

Austin? Last I’d heard, Scott was supposed to be two thousand miles away at that very moment,crossing Baja with his wife to catch the Chihuahua-Pacific train to Creel. And what was the dealwith the urban marathon—why was Scott flying across the country for a junior varsity road race,when he was supposed to be fine-tuning for the showdown of a lifetime on trails? He was up tosomething, no doubt about it; and as usual, whatever strategy he was developing remained lockedin his own head.

So, until the moment I arrived in El Paso, Texas, that Saturday, I had no idea if I was leading aplatoon or hucking solo. I checked into the airport Hilton, made arrangements for a ride across theborder at five the next morning, then doubled back to the airport. I was pretty sure I was wastingmy time, but there was a chance I’d be picking up Jenn “Mookie” Shelton and Billy “Bonehead”

Barnett, a pair of twenty-one-year-old hotshots who’d been electrifying the East Coast ultra circuit,at least whenever they weren’t otherwise occupied surfing, partying, or posting bail for simpleassault (Jenn), disorderly conduct (Billy), or public indecency (both, for a burst of trail-sidepassion that resulted in an arrest and community service).

Jenn and Billy had only started running two years before, but Billy was already winning some ofthe toughest 50ks on the East Coast, while “the young and beautiful Jenn Shelton,” as the ultraraceblogger Joey Anderson called her, had just clocked o............
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