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suddenly found it hard to breathe

When Caballo and I stepped outside, I was stunned to find the entire town there to greet us. Whilewe’d been inside having breakfast, garlands of fresh flowers and paper streamers had been strungacross the street, and a mariachi band in dress sombreros and torero suits had begun strumming afew warm-up tunes. Women and children were already dancing in the street, while the mayor wasaiming a shotgun at the sky, practicing how he could fire it without shredding the streamers.

I checked my watch, and suddenly found it hard to breathe: thirty minutes till the start. The thirty-five-mile hike to Urique had, as Caballo predicted, “chewed me up and crapped me out,” and inhalf an hour, I had to do it all over again and go fifteen miles farther. Caballo had laid out adiabolical course; we’d be climbing and descending sixty-five hundred feet in fifty miles, exactlythe altitude gain of the first half of the Leadville Trail 100. Caballo was no fan of the Leadvillerace directors, but when it came to choosing terrain, he was just as pitiless.

Caballo and I climbed the hill to the little hotel. Jenn and Billy were still in their room, arguingover whether Billy needed to carry the extra water bottle which, it turned out, he couldn’t findanyway. I had a spare I was using to store espresso, so I hustled to my room, dumped the coffee,and tossed it to Billy.

“Now eat something! And hustle up!” Caballo scolded. “The mayor is gonna blast that thing atseven sharp.”

Caballo and I grabbed our gear—a hydration backpack loaded with gels and PowerBars for me, awater bottle and tiny bag of pinole for Caballo—and we headed back down the hill. Fifteenminutes to go. We rounded the corner toward Tita’s restaurant, and found the street party hadgrown into a mini-Mardi Gras. Luis and Ted were twirling old women and fending off Luis’s dad,who kept cutting in. Scott and Bob Francis were clapping and singing along as best they couldwith the mariachis. The Urique Tarahumara had set up their own percussion brigade, beating timeon the sidewalk with their palia sticks.

Caballo was delighted. He pushed into the throng and began a Muhammad Ali shuffle, bobbingand weaving and punching his fists in the air. The crowd roared. Mamá Tita blew him kisses.

“.ándale! We’re going to dance all day!” Caballo shouted through his cupped hands. “But only ifnobody dies. Take care out there!” He turned to the mariachis and dragged a finger across histhroat. Kill the music. Showtime.
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