Back when Bedford’s stables served purely practical purposes and Katonah existed elsewhere altogether, a hide-clad hobo rounded a 365-mile circuit from the Hudson in the West to the Connecticut River in the east, crashing in caves and completing each lap every 34 days with near clockwork accuracy.
Dubbed “The Leatherman” for his tattered but trademark ensemble cobbled together from old boots, he was a familiar fixture across the region from 1858 to his death in 1889—a benevolent character despite his hair-raising appearance. Though he seldom spoke, the endeared drifter wandered into the hearts of housewives, husbands and children alike, many of whom set out snacks on their stoops to fuel his voracious vagabond hunger. But his true identity and just why he walked such a precise pattern was never known, and that mystery only further immortalized him local lore (and even a Pearl Jam song).
On May 1, an expected 1,000 runners will descend upon Ward Pound Ridge Reservation in Cross River to pay homage to the historic hermit through a 10K trail race on a scaled-down version of the “Leatherman’s Loop.” And with its avant-garde approach, 45-degree sand climb and a full half-mile of mud, it’s one that’s sure to throw anyone for a loop; a six mile one, to be exact.
The now nationally renowned run is the brainchild of cross-country guru Tony Godino, who was taken by the legend of the Leatherman and sought to draw attention to the tale.
“As a history buff, his story was just something I always found intriguing,” he said. “So when I got permission to put on the first race 25 years ago, I decided to call it the Leatherman’s Loop.”
Godino and co-founder Dave Cope laid out the course choosing specific trails that not only runners would appreciate, but that bore some of the same natural impediments the Leatherman himself braved in his decades of wanderlust.
Part history lesson, part existentialism and all about the run, it’s appropriate that, as far as 10K running races go, the Leatherman’s Loop is as unconventional as they come.
“I took all of the rules of a successful running race and did the opposite, and somehow it worked out for us,” joked Godino.
In place of a starting pistol will be a pan flute, a fitting tribute to the reservation’s indigenous residents. This year’s event will open with a Native American blessing from Tiokasin Ghosthorse of the Cheyenne River Lakota and a mood-setting spiritual recitation from Danny Martin, a Westchester priest-turned-environmentalist. And as always, you won’t be seeing those typical marathon t-shirts covered in corporate indicia: the race neither solicits nor accepts sponsorships of any kind.
“We’re the only race that I know of in the country that is this large that doesn’t accept or seek sponsorships; I’ve actually been approached and turned them down,” Godino remarked, citing a desire to avoid inviting a promotional element into the event aspect and "keep it about the runners.”
While the race itself makes no official alliances, participants can (and frequently do) sprint for good and worthwhile causes. Teams this year will run for Montefiore Hospital and the George C. Fund, founded in memory of a regular runner, George C. Chatzopoulos, who lost his life in a surfing accident.
Godino says the 2011 sign up sheet shows registrants clear across the country, from as far away as Oregon and Washington State.
“We’ve even got one family coming in this year from Omaha whose actual last name is Leatherman.”
In a morbid twist, even the real Leatherman may be coming out this spring, though don’t expect to see him at the starting line. A state Supreme Court ruling recently greenlighted controversial plans by the Ossining Historical Society to exhume his remains for forensic study and reinter them in a more publicly-accessible location elsewhere in Sparta Cemetery. Some Leatherman loyalists maintain that anatomical sampling for the sake of "expanding historical record" would be disrespectful considering his apparent desire to maintain anonymity in life, and have launched leavetheleathermanalone.com to voice their views.
Godino has his own theories on the Leatherman.
“Most people think he was a recluse—I disagree. I think he had a lot on his mind and had something to say but somehow lacked the ability to communicate what was working him.”
While the Leatherman was the inspiration, Godino’s race, celebrating its 25th year, has become equally legendary in its own right.
“We’ve set a tone that’s really soft. We never really sought out the elite runners. We attracted them indirectly, and we love them to show up, but we’re about normal people who just want the experience [of doing this].”
An appropriate mantra for the race honoring a man who himself lived a life of journey with no ostensible destination.
The starting flute will sound on Sunday, May 1 following an 8 a.m. course check at the Meadow Park parking area—look for the teepee. For more, visithttp://www.leathermansloop.org.