It was October 24, 2019, and day #3 that the Monarch Ultra team was spending in the modern city of Monterrey, Mexico. Overall it was day #36 of the 47 day Monarch Ultra. Two days earlier we had an incredible tour with Priscilla Moreno, the friendly museum director of the children’s museum Papalote Museo del Niño Monterrey. It is a museum dedicated to teaching children about the environment.
I was still buzzing from my run the previous day in La Huasteca Canyon within Parque la Huasteca. Cory Austen, a teacher at the American School Foundation of Monterrey lives with his family in this jaw dropping canyon. It was his recommendation that the canyon would be a great spot for my leg of the Monarch Ultra. I was so grateful for that recommendation from Cory. La Huasteca Canyon ended up being the most spectacular run of my life.
The run for our day #3 in Monterrey would take place in Chipinque Ecological Reserve. Despite being a mere 20 kilometers away from Parque la Huasteca, Chipinque was a completely different ecosystem. There was no registered runners for this day. Monarch Ultra director Carlotta James would be the one who would carry the torch that day. Carlotta has so much drive and energy. If she was not speaking to school groups during our Monarch Ultra, she would have attended one of the 25 receptions across Canada, USA or Mexico to connect with thousands of people to share the message of conservation action.
Then if Carlotta James wasn’t doing interviews for newspapers, television and radio (in the end there was 70+media interviews/articles including newspaper, radio, TV and podcasts), she was staying up past 1:00 am each night to personally reply to all the comments on the Monarch Ultra social media channels (a reach of 5,000 to 25,000 people per day). I don’t know how she kept going. Any other time, Carlotta James was likely found to be running one of those unregistered section of the Monarch Ultra. Any sections that did not have registered runners was up to the directors Carlotta and Clay to run them to keep this relay going. This was the reason why I came down to Mexico. To hopefully give a morale boost and try to lighten the load of the extremely overworked directors with some running if I could. Chipinque Ecological Reserve would be Carlotta’s 8th time she ran in the Monarch Ultra relay. By the time the relay was completed on November 4th, Carlotta would have run 13 legs. Seven of these legs was an ultra distance of 50 kilometers or more.
We met up with our police escort several kilometers from the Chipinque Park entrance. They would escort Carlotta to as far as the park entrance, and then she would be running on her own. It was up a solid grade on the road and such a gruelling climb for Carlotta. She ran it at a superhuman pace. At the entrance we were met by a very friendly park ranger who went over the trail map with Carlotta. He asked Carlotta if she preferred park road, or off road trail. Without hesitation her answer was trail. This run in Chipinque would be the first actual trail run in the 36 days thus far of the Monarch Ultra.
Our new friends Luis and Claudia had been following the police escort and were there at the park as well. It was such a beautiful location. Even though a mere 20 kilometers from Huausteca Canyon to the Chipinque Ecological Reserve entrance, it felt like I was in another world. Everything was so green, lush and tropical. As we were mingling about, a couple of ladies from Monterrey Runner Girls club had arrived to join Carlotta on the trails. The club had been connecting with Carlotta and it was beautiful to see these ladies meet in person for the very first time.
Carlotta knew what she was going to do. She was going trail running. And boy was she stoked. Run director Clay (who himself has been running multiple legs to cover those unregistered sections) opted for a rest day and catch up with much needed office/computer work in the lodge where there is Wi-Fi. As well as being accessible if Carlotta needed help. Rodney and Guenther were going hiking. It had been 35 straight days of filming, photography and supporting runners for Rodney. For Guenther, the same straight 35 days of cooking, cleaning, driving and supporting runners. I can’t imagine how needed it was to have this one day for some “me time” for these two amazing humans.
Despite running Huausteca Canyon the previous day I decided really wanted to go hiking with Rodney and Guenther. I did not want to miss this. Who knows when I will ever get back there. If at all. To learn more about Chipinque, I recently contacted my new Monterrey friend Priscila Moreno. Priscila manages that amazing children’s museum Museo Papalote where she gave us this remarkable tour two days earlier.
Chipinque Ecological Reserve lies within a much larger park called Cumbres de Monterrey National Park. In responding to my questions about Chipinque my friend Priscila responded that “Chipinque and the Cerro de la Silla are different mountains but they are both part of the Sierra Madre Oriental. The Sierra Madre Oriental is a mountain range that goes almost continuously from Texas (Big Bend National Park) to Puebla. They are also inside the Cumbres de Monterrey National Park”. Encyclopedia Britannica mentions that Cumbres de Monterrey National Park was established in 1939, and has a total of 952 square miles (2,465 square kilometers). It was created under Mexican president Lázaro Cárdenas to protect the native flora and fauna against the spreading urbanization of the city of Monterrey.
So Clay stayed behind with his laptop. Luis and Claudia went to run some errands for the Monarch Ultra. Carlotta went running with a couple of ladies from the Monterrey Running Girls. And Rodney, Guenther and myself went hiking on the trails in Chipinque Ecological Reserve. This place was so peaceful and beautiful. It was only when we climbed to a higher elevation and looked down on the city of Monterrey did I fully realize how close I was to the city.
I was enjoying observing Rodney and Guenther admiring the splendours around them as they immersed themselves in nature. Just as much as I was enjoying myself being in these incredible natural surroundings. We continued to climb for well over an hour. The higher up and away from the city and onto the less travelled trails, the more it felt I was transitioning into actual native flora. The forest became much denser, and free from invasive species. When Rodney (who is from Nicaragua) said “this is now more like what I was hoping to see” it authenticated that my suspicions were correct.
We did not have a map with us, but just kept climbing on this one trail to see where it took us to. Where we ended up at was totally unexpected. It was a road that has fallen into disrepair and closed to vehicular traffic. There was this gatehouse that felt like it had not been in use for several decades. Trees were overtaking it. Many questions that I just could not find answers to. Was this at one time a wealthy landowners estate? Why was it abandoned? Where did this unused road lead to?
There was one thing that was very evident, however. Whatever the history of this place, now that it was being left alone to it’s own devices, it was slowly being reclaimed by nature. Although I never got a photo, when I looked extremely closely I could see what appeared to be remains of a stone fence or a possible foundation in the forest. It was really hard to see amongst the new growth. As I quietly stood there with no sound other than my own breath, I marveled with what was transpiring. Though it would never return to what it would have been like before mankind intervened, in a few hundred years nature will have reclaimed much of it. Even with this harshest conditions of a rock hard road, a beautiful tapestry of exquisite plant life was starting to take over. In the stillness a little snake slithered by, oblivious to me being nearby. On the road it was extremely exposed. It became extremely still and froze to appear like a stick on the road as a sort of survival instinct when I got closer.
On our planet the number of fully wild places left are heartbreakingly rare. Those places where all the pulses and cycles of creation continue uninterrupted, undeterred by the hand of man. Wild nature does not need our “helping hand” and our governance. It does however need our full protection. When environmental protection laws are reversed it opens the way for short-term liquidation and plundering of the land. More roads. More harvests. More extractions. More destruction.
What is never factored in is how much of a balm nature is to our souls. Richard Mgrdechian wrote an article titled “The Importance of Spending Time in Nature“. He shared these 5 points, “nature improves vitality, nature reduces chances of depression, nature enhances immunity, nature increases Vitamin D and nature boosts happiness”. You just cannot put a price on that.
So Rodney, Guenther and myself headed back down after being refreshed and renewed from spending time in nature. After 35 days on the road with the Monarch Ultra, Chipinque Ecological reserve gave Rodney and Guenther a renewed energy for those 12 remaining days. It is so wonderful that Mexican president Lázaro Cárdenas in 1939 had the foresight to see the value of these mountains left in their natural state and established this beautiful park.
When we got back down we shortly after met up with Carlotta and the two ladies from Monterrey Running Girls. After running in nature on those beautiful trails, they were so energised and full of life. In an e-mail back here in Canada, Carlotta reflected her thoughts to me on Chipinque. Which reads as follows, “Running through Chipinque was one of my favourite legs of the Monarch Ultra; running along mountain trails and surrounded by incredible natural beauty has a powerful impact on my soul. During the run, I had lots of time to reflect on what had happened so far during the journey. I felt complete bliss and gratitude as I ran through the forests and spectacular trails of Chipinque, and it’s a memory that will stay with me forever. I felt gratitude for this journey, for all the people I met along the way, and for the strength to keep running to promote the important mission we were on. The wildlife was also incredible, I saw more species of butterflies and wildflowers in Chipinque than anywhere else. Coatimundis also call Chipinque their home, and many ran across the trails. They are really cute!”
Our Monterrey friends Luis and Claudia returned from “running errands” and boy did they ever spoil us. They knew we had a long drive ahead so they brought us a wonderful chicken supper. They brought jugs of water, cases of Gatorade, bags of ice and loads of fresh fruit for our next few days on the road. Not only that, Luis and Claudia went out and had vinyl decals made for our van in Mexico. Just like the decals our RV had when it travelled in Canada and the United States. It was such a thrill to help apply these decals. Then we all gathered in the park lodge for a wonderful meal with our Monterrey friends Luis and Claudia before we hit the road.
I asked Luis why did he and Claudia go out of their way to help us so much. Because they didn’t really know us that well. Luis mentioned that “Claudia was amazed with this gigantic monster run and very inspired by our determination. She wanted to help because she knew we would be probably at 80% of our journey, tired and we would need supplies and encouragement”. Luis mentioned it was also their nature to be friendly and hospitable. And that the Monarch Ultra and Vuelo Monarca are very much the same cause. Bringing awareness of the plight of the Monarch butterfly and the environment.
Having this day in Chipinque Ecological Reserve was so needed for the Monarch Ultra crew. Spending this time either running or hiking in nature was a balm for the soul. It was refreshing, rejuvenating and invigorating for each member. It gave each Monarch Ultra team member a fresh jolt of energy for these next twelve days on the road. Everyone except for run director Clay Williams that is. Clay opted to spend the entire day on his computer. And boy was he exhausted by the end of the day. He even fell asleep on the hard pavement of the parking lot. We let him sleep, but stayed close nearby to make sure a car would not run over him. He was still needed to run some more legs of the Monarch Ultra. 😉
Video from You Tube Channel of Parque Chipinque