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Venturing into a Land of Wonder

Trip to Barrancas del Cobre / Copper Canyons, Mexico

Photo Cred: Chris Howard

Day 1: Travel day from Austin to Chihuahua

Woke up at 4:15 am, snoozed my alarm (OOPS!), and finally woke up again. I went to bed after midnight because I was anxious/excited about this trip to Mexico with my fam (and the three trips immediately after to Denver, LA/Transcon and Denver again). I spent so much time the night before trying to pack for 4 different types of trips with variable weather while trying to pack light but also bring some vegan snacks and it has been a challenging puzzle!

Our Lyft arrived at 4:45 am and we left for the airport. Our flight left at 6:15 am to Dallas. We ate vegan breakfast tacos from Taco Deli at the airport and got a coffee (for Jamie) and a chai with almond milk (for me).

We got to DFW and the caffeine from my chai latte was in full swing. I must have drank it way too fast because I was hyper! Those of you that know me know that I wake up naturally caffeinated so I usually avoid caffeine (but c’mon, chai?). I was so amped about the trip and the extra jolt of caffeine added to the excitement of the day.

Yesterday Robbie sent me information about another runner, Katie Visco, who was the 2nd youngest woman to run across the US in 2009. She is now planning on running across Australia in July, 2019 and the two of them had connected via social media/phone. Her mission in her run is to bring awareness to feminist issues and inspire women in the outdoors to be more confident in a world where society trains women to default to a less confident perception of themselves than their male counterparts.

She reached out to me on Instagram saying she would LOVE to talk to me about nutrition regarding Robbie’s transcon etc. I was thrilled to pick her brain and learn all she had to offer with regards to nutrition for Robbie’s run across the US since she had already proved herself as an incredible endurance athlete. I took her call at DFW and we got to chatting. We really hit it off and she was asking me so many questions.

She finally explicitly told me she was interested in my expertise in plant based nutrition for her training for her upcoming transcon run in Australia. We talked and talked and when I got off the phone with her I was a little shell shocked. I had been functioning under the framework and mindset from the beginning of our interaction that she would me offering me advice and expertise, when in fact it was the exact opposite. The very thing she is running for (helping women see themselves more confidently), she helped me be more aware of! My default had been a lower confidence perception of myself, when in fact I did have experiences and knowledge to offer her in the realm of vegan nutrition for women athletes! She helped me realize how prevalent the assumption is for many women (myself included) to view oneself less confidently even in this short exchange. I had automatically considered myself lower on the totem pole than her and assumed she had all the answers. This interaction, and her mission in the front of my mind really made me aware of the dissonance between my self perception and reality. Hopefully now that I’m more aware of if I will practice putting myself out there more confidently - Thanks Katie!

Anyway, I really hit it off with Katie and am excited to help her explore a plant based diet with specific considerations as a very high level endurance athlete aiming to run 30 miles each day across a continent. What an inspiring chick!

After the phone call I met up with the Denver clan (sisters, their partners and Max from NadaMoo!). We chatted and caught up a bit and headed to our gate where we met up with the parents (my ‘rents and Paige, Robbie’s mom). We boarded a VERY small plane

and our group of 10 took up about half of the plane. My mom distributed pesos to the group that we had pre ordered and we excitedly chit chatted for the duration of the 2 hour flight to Chihuahua.

When we got to Chihuahua, immigration and customs were a breeze. There was no line and we were able to get a 10 passenger camioneta to take us to our hotel in the center plaza of downtown Chihuahua.

I quickly chatted with the hotel employee about options for a lunch spot and he recommended an excellent restaurant (El Mesón de Catedral) where we sat on the terraza and had beer and a vegan slam fest. We ordered the quesadillas + huitlacoche (a fungi that grows on corn) + calabaza (squash) without queso and added beans, avocado and mushrooms. It was so delicious! The view of the cathedral, the camaraderie of family and the slow pace of Mexican life set the stage for the next week. We were all finally able to just chill. Together. This was it.

Photo Cred: Clara Serrano

After lunch we walked around the cathedral and the market and then I headed back to the hotel with Shelley so I could work on school and she could sneak in a nap. I’m in my final course from The Center for Nutrition Studies at eCornell online school getting my plant based nutrition certificate. The course work has been fantastic and is really poking at my scientific side. I love learning about all the studies and the results continue to encourage and impress me. I can’t say I’m surprised by the copious data and evidence for a whole foods plant based diet, but I do have a renewed sense of surprise for the fact that it’s still so hidden from the mainstream consciousness. I hope to re-read my coursework after I finish the program to really be able to have some of the data at my fingertips when people ask questions.

We later went out to dinner at a fabulous German inspired Mennonite Italian restaurant, El Hojaldre. It was super eclectic! We figured we’d be eating a lot of beans, tortillas etc in Urique since it is quite rural so we sprung for something different while in Chihuahua. Many of us ordered the pasta made from scratch (yes, it is a slow food kitchen so don’t go here if you’re in a hurry), which was absolutely perfect. The sauce ratio was spot on (a small amount with a lot of flavor) and each ingredient was fresh and delicious. My only regret was that I ordered the chico size instead of the grande.

By the time we got back to our hotel it was after 9:00 pm and we showered and hit the hay as the next day was our “real” travel day (9 hour train ride and then a 3 hour van ride).

Day 2: Travel day from Chihuahua to Urique, Mexico

The symphony of alarms all went off in the neighborhood of 4:30 am. We packed up, made Soylent for the train ride, and went downstairs to catch our camioneta (same driver as yesterday). He drove us to the train station and we stood in line to get our tickets. We were able to identify some other runners in the station: Raul from Texas (whose uncle spontaneously gave a tour to a faction of the fam in the congress building at the plaza yesterday), a Swedish father and daughter in their huarache sandals, and a German fellow, Christian - who was taking his first trip across the pond and was quite on guard since we were going to a more dangerous part of Mexico and he ventured pretty far outside his comfort zone.

Photo Cred: Clara Serrano

We boarded the train, El Chepe, and were directed to sit on the last carrillo - the car headed to Bauhichivo. The rest of the other runners boarded as well. Some of us tried to sleep and couldn’t. The excitement of the landscape and views were breathtaking and difficult to capture with my phone camera, but kept me staring out the window in awe. The time seemed to pass quickly enough because there were so many in our group to hang out with. Traveling together was so much fun as we got to share our excitement with each other.

John, my sister Jamie’s boyfriend was having so many firsts on this trip. It was his first time to Mexico and first time on a train and seeing the newness through his eyes also brought an additional layer of joy. While I had never traveled to Chihuahua before, I’ve been to Mexico countless times and have traveled to third world countries off the beaten path my whole life. So while parts of this experience are novel to me, getting to see the newness and excitement at a more holistic level reminded me to appreciate and notice the small things I might otherwise overlook because I’m “used to it.”

Robbie gets motion sickness pretty easily and felt nauseous the whole train ride. I felt so bad for him because last year he had to DNF in the 50 mile race due to horrific food poisoning. This was supposed to be the year he got to finish some unfinished business in the Copper Canyons, so the thought of him being ill was certainly an extra layer of agony.

At about 1:00 pm the train stopped for a 15 minute break for us to get out and walk around a small and bustling market as well as grab some lunch. We ordered gorditas with beans, nopales (cactus), and flor de maguey (creamy flower from a century plant) on fresh blue corn gorditas. They were SO DELICIOUS! We quickly gazed at the artisan market goods and walked down to take in the view. The overlook was stunning; our first real glimpse at the magnitude of the canyons around us. The train whistled (our warning it was time to get back on) so we hustled back on to the train. Luckily, we all made it, however we were separated so it took us a while (while the train was moving) to get back to our economy coach (last car) to regroup and do a roll call. Phew!

Our car was so hot. There was no A/C. We spent some time in the air conditioned snack car and much of our time standing in between the cars where there were open windows with fresh mountain air and a view unlike anything. El Chepe is the last passenger train in Mexico! It was so fun to hang out the window and let the wind blow in my hair and take in the beautiful views.

The train finally pulled in to Bauhuichivo at 3:30 pm and we booked it to try to find transportation for 10 people to Urique. It is a first come first serve situation with the taxis/camionetas at the train station and there are a limited amount waiting there. We were able to get a 14 passenger van (with no trunk space at all), and shoved us and all our bags in the van for about 30 minutes. Then we stopped at a nearby town and three locals got out of our van and the German man, and Swedish father/daughter got onto our van. At this point someone showed up with a ladder and rope so we were able to secure our bags on the roof rack.

The next segment of transport to Urique was 52 km, or about 32 miles. It took two hours! We were on a single lane dirt road on very windy and steep mountain switchbacks that did not allow for any room for another vehicle or slight error.

The views were MINDBLOWING! We stopped at a mirador for a few minutes and I didn’t want to leave. We were up at almost 8k feet of elevation looking down into a giant canyon deeper and wider than the Grand Canyon. We could see the town of Urique, the river that creates this massive landform, and make out the paths that the race would be on. Seeing most of the route of the race topographically from a bird’s eye view was truly unique.

We piled back into our camioneta and dropped down to the bottom of the canyon (about 6k feet) to the tiny town of Urique (1,900 ft elev.). We saw lupine flowers and pine forests at the top and dipped down to a more desert ecosystem with giant cactus and trees with a singular white flower at the end of each branch. It was such a gorgeous drive down as we watched the sunset and the tops of the mountains lit like they were on fire in contrast to the shadow of the rest of the canyon.

Upon arrival we met up with the race director, Orlando, who chatted with us and called our host to accompany us to the house we reserved. While we were waiting around at the plaza, we met an 11 year old boy, Silverio, who plans to run the kids race. He came right up to us and was interested in talking and being nearby. We found out that he was Manuel Luna’s youngest son. Manuel Luna was one of the originial runners of the Ultra Caballo Blanco race when the book Born to Run was written.

The scaffolding for the finish line was already up and we were right in the center of all the town’s action. Michael and Kimberly of Más Locos (Tarahumara advocacy group) introduced themselves and invited us to come help them tomorrow at 1:00 pm to sort the medals for the kid’s race and make the kids sandwiches. Each year people in the U.S. donate their race medals and they bring them down and give each child a medal for participating in the kid’s race. It’s neat because each medal is different and unique (NYC marathon, Berlin Marathon, Boston Marathon etc etc). The kids LOVE their individualized medals and wear them all day.

Finally our host showed up and we walked across the river on a long and VERY wobbly pedestrian suspension bridge across the river. It was already dark at this point and when we showed up to the house it didn’t quite seem to have all the amenities promised (like only two beds instead of three or a working stove for cooking or heated water). Myrna, host, told us that she knew of another house we could have a look at. A fragment of our group decided we would just go camp at Entre Amigos (a well established organic garden/farm and campground half a mile outside of town where most of the foreigners stay). But once she took us to the house, it was LITERALLY right at the finish line of the race! How could you say no to that location?! We checked it out and there were 10 beds, 2 bathrooms, space for camping in the backyard, and the owner said he was planning on bringing over a stove, curtains for the doorways and more towels immediately. We decided to stay there.

Jamie and I set up our tent in the backyard (along with Jamie suz, John and Shelley. We all went out to eat at Mama Tita’s where we had beans, rice, and delicious nopales with green onion and chiles colorados and fresh warm corn tortillas.

We ate, met up with a former Tarahumara stud, Nacho. He and his grandson ate dinner with us and explained that he needed two headlamps by tomorrow. He also explained that he had run Leadville and was one of the top three Tarahumara when the race first began many years ago.

We came back after dinner and pretty much crashed. It was so nice to be in tenty again! When we were setting it up I realized “omg! We don’t have to break this down tomorrow morning! We can sleep in and leave it set up! What luxury!”

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