Caballo Blanco Documentary Run Free: A Call for Support

A documentary about Caballo Blanco, his race, and his legend is in the works. We now have a chance to be a part of it.

This is a story about the Copper Canyon Ultramarathon race through the eyes of its founder Micah True (Caballo Blanco). Because Micah has since passed, this is the only footage of Micah telling his own story in his own words. The footage has been filmed over the course of five years, but we need help finishing it.

From Kickstarter:

WHY WE NEED YOUR HELP

So far we’ve made three trips overland into the canyons and four flights across the USA which resulted in more than 60 hours of interviews and race footage. All of the footage has been logged and digitized. We’ve created a rough cut and our movie is now in the final editing stage. We’ve done everything on our own up until this point but we can’t continue without your help. We are looking for funds that will enable us to pay our crew, equipment rental, graphics, titles, music licensing, audio post production, color correction and distributing the movie through a website and film festivals.

Please consider supporting our fundraising campaign through Kickstarter and remember – if we don’t hit our goal we will receive NOTHING!

LUIS ESCOBAR PHOTO GALLERY

HOW THE FUNDS WILL BE USED

  • FIELD PRODUCTION 15% – Crew, equipment and travel
  • POSTPRODUCTION 60% – Personnel, Edit Suite Rental, Graphics, Color Correction, Music Licensing, Sound Mix.
  • MARKETING & DISTRIBUTION 15% – Photography, Film Festivals, Website, Online Distribution
  • Kickstarter Fees 10%

FROM CABALLO BLANCO’S PAST

Sometimes great stories are missed or overlooked because there isn’t a budget for them. We only have one month left to raise the necessary funds on Kickstarter. Help us tell Caballo Blanco’s story.

Back this project on KICKSTARTER.

Thanks in advance for your support.

RUN FREE MOVIE TRAILER

Run Free Movie Trailer from Noren Films on Vimeo.

VIDEO FOOTAGE OF 2009 RACE START

Direct YouTube Link HERE

BEHIND THE SCENES MOVIE PRODUCTION

Back this project on KICKSTARTER.

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Seeking Dispersers: A Call to Embrace A Wild Life

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A few months after quitting our jobs and hitting the road, Shacky and I have had the unique experience of meeting many people and noting their reactions to our new lifestyle. We are carefree, scruffy, and drawn like magnets to the most remote and off-the-grid locations. We don’t shower often and are sometimes mud-splattered. Frankly, we expected some disdain from civilized society. But these have been the reactions:

One older gentleman stared at Shacky from afar, then approached him and said, “You look like you lead an interesting life.”

A weed-loving hippie spotted us at a trailhead, and greeted us warmly like life-long friends.

A couple of young men hover around the RV and try hard to look inside. When they see that we own it, they yell, “Well done!”

People say we are living the dream. Not the American dream of working hard and building a comfortable life, but the other dream of wandering the planet with little possessions and no plans to speak of. When people hear of our lifestyle, their eyes light up.

Are we all drawn to a nomadic life?

A few months ago I read a great article by Mike Miller about our genetic disposition for high risk and high reward. Suddenly, everything made perfect sense.

Miller begins by telling the story of seven of his friends whose lives ended early. Many reaped some amazing rewards in their short lives, but walked dangerous ground. Miller then goes on to examine our own human draw to a lifestyle of high risk.

He tells it better than I can, so here is his article:

By Mike Miller

I’ve had a lot of time lately to reflect on Micah’s life and death. I’ve shared some of those thoughts in other venues but I’ve also had the opportunity to step back and ponder the bigger picture, because for me, Micah was not the first larger-than-life, charismatic, dynamic, inspirational man to enter my life, change the way I think, and leave again far too early.

For me, he was the seventh.

There are many commonalities amongst all of these men, and I’ve been thinking about things like:

  • What makes for a well-lived life?
  • What makes for a good death?
  • Why does it seem like the best among us leave far too soon?
  • What is it that made these men who they were?
  • And what drove them to do the things they did?

I would love to tell you stories about all these great men, because there are amazing stories to be told, but I don’t think I have eight days to speak so I’ll try to keep it brief.

I’ll tell you about a biologist friend of mine who studied the world’s greatest carnivores, grizzlies and Siberian tigers. In the end, he was killed and eaten by a bear at age 49.

Another friend was one of the world’s best mountain climbers. He was killed in an avalanche at age 40.

Another was an endurance athlete who didn’t own a car, but rather rode to races on his single speed road bike. He was a Hardrocker, and a finisher of a race where he ran 700 miles in 12 days. He died in the last mile of the Tucson marathon at age 40.

My own father was born into an Amish family, but when he was 12 his neighbor took him for a ride in his plane. Four years later, my father left his family and the Amish community to pursue his dream of being a pilot. When he died, he was a pilot for a commercial airline, captain of the 747. He was killed in the crash of a plane that he wasn’t even flying at age 58.

These five men all died doing the things that they loved. Every one of them however, had taken great risks in their lives. In the end, they died doing things that for them were relatively easy and safe.

For most people, the things they were doing would have been impossible, dangerous, physically demanding, lonely, and frightening. But for these men it was what they did every day of their lives. They were doing what they loved, but that’s not what killed them.

They died not because their activities were dangerous, but because they spent so much time doing those things that pure statistical probability made it likely that they would be doing them when their time came.

That’s beautiful, man. I hope we all live lives like that.

I miss all these men greatly and would gladly give a year of my life for one more week with any one of them. But they led amazing lives and died well with no regrets. I cannot feel sad for them, only for us who have been left behind.

But I said there were seven and I’ve only mentioned five.

Another friend who had also been a grizzly bear biologist left that field and became a computer programmer because he thought it would be a more secure future. He chose safety, but he always regretted that decision. He used to tell me “Bart and Alex are out there making a life and I’m stuck here making a living.”

He was making plans to move to Alaska and join his friend Bart, but instead died in front of his computer late one night of a brain aneurism. He was 45.

Sure, Bart got eaten by a bear and Alex died in an avalanche. You might think they died because they lived risky lives. But they had no regrets and they outlived my friend who had chosen safety and regretted it. That is truly sad.

Safety is an illusion, my friends. It doesn’t exist.

We cannot control the timing or manner of our passing, but we can control our lives. The lesson of this is to live the best life we can and not get so caught up being afraid of death.

The seventh one pains me most of all. Another spectacular, larger than life personality. He grew up in Jackson Hole in the 50s and became a mountaineer and skier, putting up many first ascents and first descents.

He had to move to Canada because his conscience wouldn’t allow him to fight. When he came back to the States many years later, he became my friend. We skied and climbed together for a couple years before he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer and given six months to live.

He beat that by three years and we got to climb a few more mountains together, but in the end he suffered a long, painful death that was terrible to watch, fighting with insurance companies and kept alive by drugs and machines.

Although he lived longer than any of my other friends, I would not have wished that on any of them. It would have been a fate far worse.

I’ve thought a lot over the years about these men and what made them different. As a biologist, I can tell you that in every population of animals there is a small segment of the populations that are prone to disperse.

These dispersers don’t stay at home and fight for a territory to defend. They head off into the unknown by themselves. Many of them die lonely deaths in wild places, but occasionally one succeeds. They find another population or an empty patch of habitat where they can be wildly successful, spreading their genes far and wide. That keeps the dispersal gene from going extinct.

It is a high risk, high reward strategy, but it is critical. Without these dispersers, populations would not be able to expand, or adapt. They would become inbred and stagnant and eventually extinct. Dispersers keep populations vital by connecting them.

Humans have a dispersal gene too. Throughout history, humans have struck out in search of new lands and new people, undaunted by the risk they take. In today’s world there are no undiscovered lands, but there are still empty places in the world and people to connect to.

Dispersers are out there climbing the peaks, studying the wildlife, flying the skies, running the trails, and connecting with new people. They can’t help it. It’s in their genes.

Unfortunately in today’s world, there are fewer and fewer outlets for dispersers and many of them end up stuck in cubicles trying to shoehorn themselves into a life that somehow never seems to fit. They have an innate, deep-seeded need to get out, so they go outside before or after work.

They dream of travelling the world and seeing new places and meeting new people. Their non-disperser friends will never understand why they can’t help themselves.

If you are a Disperser, there are some qualities that you’d better have if you’re going to be successful:

1. You better be strong because you are going to encounter some hardship and you may have to defend yourself.

2. You better have a positive attitude because you just have to believe that the grass is greener on the other side.

3. You better persevere because you have a long way to go.

4. You better be comfortable alone, because you’re going to be alone a lot.

5. You better be smart so you can adapt to changing situations.

6. You better be peaceable because when you get to where you are going, it will be you against everyone else.

7. You better be charismatic because you’re going to want the people you meet to like you.

8. You’d better have love in your heart because the whole point is to spread genes, right?

Have you ever watched nature shows on TV? You’ve seen the dispersing wolf trying to ingratiate themselves into a new pack. They don’t come in aggressive and belligerent. They come in humble and submissive, wagging their tails. You see the same thing amongst children on a playground or musicians entering a picking circle at a bluegrass festival.

This too is a trait of dispersers and I suspect that if someone had been there to observe it, it would have been the way that Micah approached the Raramuri, humble and submissive and wagging his tail. It works.

We know what Micah did for the Raramuri. The race provided food and money to many but Micah didn’t want to just give them handouts to meet their material needs. He also wanted to show them that they were respected and honored by many other people and that they should be proud of their culture. That is not a lesson that they heard very often. The Raramuri responded.

Micah did the same for many of us. Us Dispersers. He gave us a name. He called us Mas Locos, and when the world was at war he brought us together in peace at the bottom of a canyon in Mexico, because that’s what Dispersers do. They connect us.

He taught us, like the Raramuri, that we are not alone. That there are others out there like us who have never really felt part of this modern world. He provided a venue where we could express all the innate qualities we share: strength, perseverance, peace, love, humility. He instilled in us a sense of pride in who we are, and we went home changed people.

Now that Micah has left us, I hope that we will take his lessons to heart and we will disperse out into the world with peace and love in our hearts and strength in our bodies. I hope we will find ways to make it a more connected and vital place.

Micah showed us one way, but there are many others. It’s up to us to find them. While we are searching for our own path, I hope we keep in mind one last trait that all of my friends have shared: They gave back far more than they ever got out of the world, and they never bothered to collect much in the way of material wealth.

Instead, they collected experience and relationships. When they died, they were wealthy and happy men. It’s a high-risk strategy, but the rewards are also great. Giving is more powerful than getting.

I’d like to finish with a word to the non-dispersers out there:

You will never understand us. We know that, just as we will never understand you. The things we do seem risky and frightening to you. You are going to give us advice like:

  • Never run alone.
  • Always tell someone where you are going.
  • Be prepared for anything and always carry a massive pack loaded with rain gear, warm layers, extra food and water, a huge first aid kit, a flashlight, a cell phone, a GPS, and a SPOT.

It’s good advice and we should probably take it, but often we will respectfully ignore you because we are Dispersers. Our destiny lies in places beyond the reach of cell phones and search parties. We have to travel light, and we have to be free to adapt to changing conditions.

We are comfortable being alone and we are comfortable with a little risk. The things we do are not frightening to us. We don’t do them in order to face fear. We do them because it is what fuels our spirit and recharges our soul. We can’t help ourselves. It’s in our genes.

Sure, some of us will die out there in the lonely wild places, but we are OK with that because we are more concerned with living than dying.

Dying in the woods does not frighten us. What frightens us are cities and paperwork, car crashes, and sitting on a sofa watching TV. We fear dying a long, slow death trapped in a bed, and becoming a financial and emotional burden to our loved ones.

I’m not here to tell you to be stupid, take risks, ignore safety, or be unprepared. But nothing in that advice would have kept my friends from dying. It may have shortened the search, but it wouldn’t have saved their lives.

Ultimately, everyone is responsible for assuming the level of risk they are comfortable with, and there is nothing wrong with being safe. But there is nothing wrong with an occasional calculated risk either.

If Micah had listened to that advice, he would never have gone to Guatemala in the middle of a civil war and would not have gotten the name Caballo Blanco. He probably would not have become a trail runner because there were no other people to run with in those days.

He would not have met the Raramuri in Leadville, traveled to Copper Canyon to live with them, and he would never have started his race. Many of us would not have been inspired and the world would have missed something beautiful.

If Micah hadn’t done these things, he would never have met Maria or Guadajuko. His last few years might have been lonely and sad rather than full of love and peace and joy. I want to say a special thanks to Maria for providing that to him in his final years.

So please, let us go.

Let us explore, connect, and inspire. Head off into the wild, lonely, empty places with wild abandon. Let us go beyond the range of cell phones and search parties. We know what we are doing; we are listening to out hearts and following our destinies.

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Ultra Marathons Are Bad for My Heart? I Don’t Give a Shit.

Thanks to lazy journalism and slow news days, the questionable ultra running “study” recently published in Scientific American Magazine has caught the eye of major media and is making its rounds on the web.

Media companies such as CNN and Huffington Post have all jumped on the bandwagon with shocking headlines and overused scare tactics. Here are some of the stories:

The Original Scientific American Article, “Ultra Marathons Might Be Ultra Bad for Your Heart

CNN’s coverage, “Extreme Endurance Exercise Carries Risks” … which contains the following quote:

 “You can do light to moderate exercise as long as you want. We’re genetically designed for that kind of activity. We’re just not designed to run 26 miles at a time, or 100, or go on a full distance triathlon for 12 hours as hard as you can go.”

Huffington Post basic coverage, so regurgitated they didn’t even bother changing the title.

The Science Codex article: “Excessive endurance training can be too much of a good thing.

Here is a short rebuttal from Runner’s World, which make some good points but doesn’t even begin to cover the bullshittedness of these articles.

And to redeem Huffington Post is this great reply from fellow runner and journalist Kenny Yum.

Last but not least, here is a reply from my ultra friend Jennifer over at Today’s Parent.

I’ve tried to narrow down what exactly it is that makes me irate about these articles. I came up with the following:

1. Shit Ass Journalism

This is so typical of overworked and underpaid journalists. We latch onto a hot or controversial headline, and we spread it like wildfire, regardless of its accuracy or relevance.

Because I’ve worked in busy media companies, I understand the pressures that come with churning out content, but I’ve always had a huge problem with regurgitating crap from other sources just so we can “get the story”.

We KNOW it’s crap. We KNOW it’s stupid. But we still put it out, because the other guy did. That’s what irritates me.

Make your own stories. Do some research. Argue the opposite. Spark some debate. Have an original thought. It’s stories like these that really drive me to freelance and editorial independence.

I believe that putting out content just for the sake of having a new link is always bad. Aim for thought-provoking, high-quality content. Don’t repeat what everyone else is saying. If you have nothing original or helpful to say, keep your mouth shut.

2. Disrespectful References About Micah True

It grinds my gears how, despite the fact that Micah spent so much of his time and energy into promoting ultra running, his death is now being used as a reason to NOT run ultras.

This is combined with the fact that there is no concrete evidence that ultra running caused Micah’s death. Some doctors even told Maria that ultra running may well have extended his life.

The last part that annoys me is the insinuation that it was THAT last particular run that killed Micah – “a short trail run,” as it has been described. The implication is that he ran so much, that this short trail run was ultimately more than he could handle. I don’t buy that.

I think that Micah ran great distances, and his body was conditioned to running. He happened to be on the trail at the time that he died, but who knows if he just as well might have been at home washing his dishes. Again, there’s no real way to draw those conclusions. So this is not proof against the entire sport of ultra running.

3. Making People Feel Justified About Crappy Lifestyles

Considering so few of the population is actually made up of ultra runners, why is it that this story has spread like wildfire?

Because sedentary people are sharing it. Because it makes inactive people feel good about their shitty lifestyles. Because next time they go to a fast-food drive-in, they can reason, “Oh, at least I’m not running ultras. That’s REALLY bad for me.”

Articles like these contribute to a larger epidemic. They are not targeted to ultra runners at all. They are targeted to the tell-me-it’s-OK-to-sit-on-my-ass-all-weekend crowd. Even though the article SAYS it encourages moderate physical activity, that’s not what people take from it.

Instead, this will be used as argument against long distance running. An excuse for staying home. A justification for a crappy lifestyle.

That pisses me off because we work so hard to encourage people to stay active. We know the life-change that can come from completing an ultra. The boost of self-confidence, the physical benefits, the stress-relief, and the love of nature. But articles like these present us as insane maniacs who will die early.

One of my Facebook friends Tanya summed it up well when she wrote,

“Many of us have received more life in our years rather than just years in our lives due to running.”

Ultra running is bad for my heart? That’s fine. You die your way, and I’ll die mine.

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How Will Caballo Blanco’s Death Change Ultra Running?

Photo Credit: Luis Escobar Photographer

Over the past few days, the running community has been swarmed with news of Caballo Blanco’s death (Born to Run star aka Micah True).

I won’t repeat how tragic this is, or how deep of a loss the running community has suffered. But I can’t help wonder how, going forward, this event will make its mark in ultra running. What will change? And how will we move ahead?

I never had the privilege of meeting Caballo Blanco, although we chatted briefly via Facebook. I can’t claim he was a close friend, but he was someone I followed, drew inspiration from, and very much admired.

Much good has been said about Caballo, and I won’t repeat his exceptional qualities here. But in addition to those great things, I was also drawn to his quirkiness and his slightly fiercer side.

I enjoyed watching Caballo’s hardass demeanor and the way his personality would sometimes clash with others. Caballo didn’t give a shit about a lot of things, yet he cared deeply about others.

He was his own man. He could not be bought out, compromised, or predicted. Some even wondered if his disappearance had been intentional or planned. Surely he was capable of anything? Did any of us really know him?

Now that he’s gone, I wonder about the future of ultra running. Here are four categories that I think will be touched by Caballo’s death.

1. What will happen to… the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon?

This race was Caballo’s baby. It was his dream. North American ultra elites race alongside Mexico’s best Tarahumaran runners. The vibe is carefree and generous. Entries are not charged, but donations are given freely to support the local community. Caballo made damn sure of this.

But over the years, this low-key race has caught the world’s attention. Some have tried to use it for profit, or to push a variety of interests and agendas.

Caballo was the one who kept the integrity of this race. He viciously fought for the Tarahumara’s best interest and showed no mercy to those who might harm the culture.

What will become of Copper Canyons now that Caballo is gone? Will it be the next large-scale event, sponsored by big names and priced with a hefty registration fee? Will it be made more accessible to boost attendance? Will the course be simplified so more people can finish? Will the lure and magic of the Tarahumaran presence disappear?

2. What will happen to… the Tarahumara?

Caballo was the loudest and fiercest defender of the Tarahumara. He sheltered them like family and was skeptical of those who wanted to get close. He trusted few.

What will happen to the Tarahumara now? Who will fight for them?

3. What will happen to… the Born to Run brand?

All who have not yet read Born to Run are picking up a copy. They want to know who Caballo was and what all the fuss is about.

What does this mean for the Born to Run brand? Higher book sales? More Luna Sandals sold? A renewed interest in barefoot running?

4. What will happen to… the spirit of ultra running?

Caballo had a spirit that could not be matched. He embraced running in its purest sense. He ran for the sheer joy of it. Not to compete in races. Not to log his runs. Not to improve his training. He ran because he loved it. Period.

As our race schedules fill up and we pursue PRs, will we still remember the joy of bounding over a mountain for no reason at all? Will we forget how to run as Caballo did, or will his death inspire us to represent his spirit even more?

I don’t have the answers, but I hope for the best. I personally fear for the future of Copper Canyons and the Tarahumara, but am determined to be a small voice on Caballo’s behalf. I hope that you will too.

A Call to Action

In Caballo’s honor this week, I encourage you to run once without logging it as a workout, or thinking of it as training. Don’t track your mileage and don’t time yourself.

Pay attention to your surroundings, have compassion for the life around you, and work to protect and preserve your trails as well as the people who run them.

The spirit of ultra running must always embrace selflessness, generosity, adventure, and strength. These are things that cannot die.

Here is a poem my friend Trisha wrote for Caballo:

Run close to the mountains
Stay a heartbeat away
Cover the low moon with your wings
And walk tomorrow’s miles today

Watch the sun race the sky
And know you’ll pass her once again
When time frees your soul and you find
the fabled trail that doesn’t end

Dust ascends on the horizon
A deep, rumbling thunder without rain
The sound of rampant hearts, a legion
Earthly, feral and unconstrained

The search will end as it began
A trail of footprints, a bird and a feather
When a white horse dies on a sandy road
All wild hearts mourn together

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I have a confession to make.

I only just now read Born to Run.

I have known for a long time that this was the runner’s Bible, particularly barefoot runners. I knew what a big deal it was. I knew how many people it had inspired. And I knew that all my friends had read it. Yet I still hung back.

I got Born to Run when it first came out and everyone was reading it. I watched the hype and all the book tours. But I let it sit on my shelf. For weeks. Months. Until the hype was mostly over. Until people stopped talking about it. And everyone assumed that I had read it.

I have an interesting relationship with books. Books were my best friends all through childhood and adolescence. They’re what got me through life.

My dad used to always refer to his books as real people, and it was always clear to me that he loved his books more than he loved me. I wasn’t to ever harm any of his books. If a spine was bent, or if a cover was creased, I would have to face his consequences.

My dad’s approach to reading was extreme, but it did engrave in me a profound respect for books. I approach a book now with near-reverence.

I can read fast, but at the same time I read slow because I stop a lot. I read until I get a thought and then I stop to really think about it. Then I act on it. And I don’t come back to continue reading until I’ve done what I need to do. Until I’ve applied what I’ve learned.

I knew that Born to Run would take me a long time to read. I knew, deep inside, that it would somehow change my life. And I wasn’t ready for change when I bought it. So I let it sit.

I knew that I would love this book, because I love running. But I wanted to love running on my own terms. I wanted to tackle my first ultra before cracking the cover. I wanted to explore barefoot and minimalist running before turning any pages.

So much of my knowledge is book knowledge. But running is one of the few things that I can truly experience. I didn’t want to read about it. I just wanted to run.

I also didn’t want to be carried away by a fad. A quick barefoot run, and then back to normal life. I didn’t want anyone to say that I came to love ultras because of Born to Run. Or that I tried barefoot running because of this book. I wanted to love ultras on my own terms. And run barefoot for the sheer joy of it.

So I did.

I ran my first ultra and fell in love with the 50k+ distance all on my own. I took off my shoes and never put them on again, all by myself. I didn’t want to know the stats or the proof or the studies. I just wanted to know that it was right for me because it FELT right. I wanted to know, based on feel, that I could never run any other way.

Last month I finally picked up Born to Run. The time was right. And last night I finally finished it.

It was like watching the first movie of a series, when that movie was the last to come out. You already knew the ending. But you didn’t know the beginning. And suddenly everything makes sense.

Born to Run was exactly like that for me. I already knew that I loved ultras and I always would. I knew that running barefoot would always work for me. But I didn’t know why.

I’m not a better runner because of Born to Run. It’s not going to make me any faster or make me push any further. But I do feel wiser. I feel like I’m on the right track. And I feel that just because people don’t get what I do, doesn’t mean that it’s wrong.

I think this book strengthened my resolve to fully embrace who I am and what I love. I recently confided to a friend: “I can’t shake the feeling that my whole life is supposed to be about running. It’s the only thing that consumes me.”

I used to try to explain myself to others. I felt that I had to justify my passions. Why do I run barefoot? Why do I run so much? Why do I make running a priority?

But I’m done with that.

This book showed me the why behind a lot of these questions, but it also showed me something more important: That I don’t need to explain it. I can just know it. And I can just run.

To me, Born to Run will always conjure up the image of Caballo Blanco cutting through dips and turns and crevices too dangerous to speak of. A mere shadow slipping through spaces so narrow with drops so steep that it’s senseless. Life and death all hanging on a long run. And I want that. I have for a long time.

These aren’t risks that anyone can explain. According to the voices of reason, this is not what I’m supposed to want. Who wants to get lost? Who wants to get exhausted? Who wants to fall down?

I’m supposed to want to stay where it’s safe. To compromise my dreams of wilderness and wanderings, and while I’m at it – to put on some god damn shoes.

Except that I can’t. And I fear that the day I loosen the grip on my passions is the day someone pries them from my cold dead fingers.

They should look for me at the bottom of a canyon.

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