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Chapter 29
The past is never dead. It’s not even past.

—WILLIAM FAULKNER, Requiem for a NunI WAS ALREADY awake and staring into the dark when Caballo came scratching at my door.

“Oso?” he whispered.

“C’mon in,” I whispered back. I blinked on my watch: 4:30.

In half an hour, we were supposed to start out for our rendezvous with the Tarahumara. Monthsearlier, Caballo had told them to meet us in a little glen of shade trees on the trail up Batopilasmountain. The plan was to push up and over the peak, then down the back side and across the riverto the village of Urique. I didn’t know what Caballo would do if the Tarahumara didn’t show up—or what I’d do if they did.

Travelers on horseback give themselves three days for the thirty-five-mile journey from Batopilasto Urique; Caballo planned to do it in one. If I fell behind, would I be the one wandering lost in thecanyons this time? And what if the Tarahumara didn’t show—would Caballo lead us into no-man’s-land to search for them? Did he even know where he was going?

Those were the thoughts that kept me from sleeping. But Caballo, it turned out, had worries of hisown. He came in and sat on the edge of my bed.

“Do you think the kids are up for it?” he asked.

Remarkably, they seemed fine after their near-death day in the canyons. They’d put away a goodmeal of tortillas and frijoles that evening, and I hadn’t heard any sounds of distress from thebathroom during the night.

“How long till giardia hits?” I asked. Giardia parasites, I knew, had to incubate for a while in theintestines before erupting into diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps.

“A week or two.”

“So if they don’t come down with something else by this morning, they might be okay till after therace.”

“Hmm,” Caballo muttered. “Yeah.” He paused, obviously chewing over something else. “Look,”

he went on. “I’m going to have to pop Barefoot Ted between the eyes.” The problem this timewasn’t Ted’s feet; it was his mouth. “If he gets in the face of the Rarámuri, they’re going to getreal uncomfortable,” Caballo said. “They’re going to think he’s another Fisher and split.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to tell him he’s got to keep it shut tight. I don’t like telling people what to do, but he’sgot to get the message.”

I got up and helped him roust the others. The night before, a friend of Caballo’s had loaded ourbags on a burro and set off for Urique, so all we had to carry was enough food and water to get usthere. Bob Francis, the old backcountry guide, had volunteered to drive Luis’s father the long wayaround the mountain in his 4×4 pickup, sparing him the hike. Everyone else turned out quickly,and by 5 a.m., we were picking our way over the boulders toward the river. The canyon moonglittered on the water and bats were still darting overhead as Caballo led us to a faint footpathskirting the water line. We fitted into single file and shuffled into an easy jog.

“The Party Kids are amazing,” Eric said, watching them glide along behind Caballo.

“They’re more like the Comeback Kids,” I agreed. “But Caballo’s big worry is—” I pointed aheadto Barefoot Ted, whose outfit for the hike consisted of red shorts, his green FiveFinger toe shoes,and an anatomically correct skeleton amulet around his neck. Instead of a shirt, he wore a redraincoat with the hood knotted under his chin and the rest flapping loose over his shoulders like acape. Jingling from his ankle was a string of bells, which he’d gotten because he’d readsomewhere that Tarahumara elders wore them.

“Good mojo,” Eric grinned. “We’ve got our own witch doctor.”

By sunup, we’d left the river and turned up into the mountains. Caballo was pushing hard, evenharder than he had the day before. We ate on the move, chomping down quick bites of tortilla andenergy bars, sipping conservatively on our water in case it had to last all day. When it got lightenough to see, I turned and looked back to get my bearings. The village had vanished likeBrigadoon, swallowed whole by the forest. Even the trail behind us seemed to dissolve into thethick green foliage as soon as we passed. It felt like we were sinking into a bottomless green sea.

“Not too much farther,” I could hear Caballo saying. He was pointing to something I couldn’tmake out yet. “See that cluster of trees? That’s where they’ll be.”

“The Arnulfo,” Luis said, wonder in his voice. “I’d rather meet him than Michael Jordan.”

I got closer and saw the trees. I didn’t see any people.

“The flu’s been going around,” Caballo said, slowing down and tilting back his head to squint atthe hills above us for signs of life. “There’s a chance some of the runners will come later. If they’resick. Or if they have to take care of their families.”

Eric and I glanced at each other. Caballo had never mentioned anything about the flu before. Ieased my hydration pack off my shoulders and got ready ............
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