José “Chepe” Rodriguez has built a sweet life in Mammoth, rescuing motorists and running for the hills
“I was born and raised at a truck stop in Mexico,” José “Chepe” Rodriguez told me on Wednesday, April 26 as he worked in his shop, JR Tire, in Mammoth Lakes. I’ve had many conversations with Chepe over the few years I’ve known him, and every time I see him, he peppers in some new and fascinating tidbit about himself. This time, it was that he used to weigh 250 pounds, and started jogging after his doctor told him he’d be dead if he didn’t do something about his health.
“So I started running. I worked for Mammoth Disposal for 20 years, driving the truck, and I’d just gotten bigger and bigger. Now, people I used to see every day don’t recognize me from back then!”
These days, Chepe’s racking up races faster than he’s replacing tires. “It took me about eight years to lose 100 pounds,” he says. Chepe’s now got three Tioga Pass Runs under his belt (a 12.4-mile race with 3,200 feet of elevation gain that starts in Lee Vining and ends at the Tioga Pass entrance station to Yosemite). He just ran the Ezakimak (backwards for “Kamikaze,” a however-you-can-get-up-fastest 2,000-foot blitz from the bottom to the top of Mammoth Mountain) for the first time on April 15, but says he can’t find his race results listed. “My kids are already calling me a liar, so I need to show them I was there,” he told me when we discussed the race this week. Mammoth’s Event Production Manager Caroline Casey is currently under fire from both of us to dig up Chepe’s results.
Chepe is a fixture in Mammoth— early in the mornings, you can find him grabbing a coffee from Schat’s Bakery, his friendly husky, Loba, riding in the back of his white truck emblazoned with the “JR Tire” logo.
If you frequent the Shady Rest trails, you’ll likely also have passed Chepe and Loba running, in all kinds of weather, almost every day the week. They’re out in snowstorms, Chepe wearing heavy boots and a bright green reflective jacket. “I run in the mornings before work, and after work. You can see me wearing a headlamp, running straight uphill” behind the Geothermal plant, Chepe said.
I told him I’d also taken my dogs jogging up that hill along the trail. He clarified that he doesn’t stick to the switchbacks. “No, I go straight up!” Chepe said.
I first met Chepe when my mechanic sent me to him because my spare tire was flat. His shop, located behind the former site of McDonald’s, is a one-car garage, and Loba serves as his welcoming committee. Turns out, my spare tire wasn’t just flat, it was completely falling apart. Chepe replaced it for some unbelievably low price and made me a customer for life. I go to see him any time I need anything, but I’d make the pilgrimage over to JR Tire just to chat with Chepe for twenty minutes and hear where he’s been running lately. Often his wife, Raquel, or one of his four daughters is hanging out too. On Wednesday, his five-year-old Grandson, J.J. (short for Julian José, named after his grandfather), was riding his bike around. “It’s more family than business,” Chepe says of the shop he opened in 1999.