Ward Pound Ridge Reservation • Cross River, NY • May Day 2011
The day broke at 5:30am with a gleam of sunshine over the hills of the Rez bringing with it a promise of more sun to come.
Early rising Loop organizers and some runners who had stayed the night at the Rez were already busy as the early morning fog burned off the Cross River.
Over 1,100 runners would arrive in the next several hours, ready to become one with the mud, the river, and the forest. For the first time ever, the Loop was held in May. The Leatherman Harriers, faced with a choice of 1.) Easter Sunday, 2.) the week before Easter, or 3.) the week after Easter, chose #3—Sunday, May the 1st.
It was a fortuitous choice. The other alternative—Sunday, April 18th—had been accompanied by buckets of rain in the preceeding days, leaving the river swollen—4 feet over normal and overflowing its banks. The first crossing was nearly impassable during a course check (only 4 of the intrepid dozen runners even attempted to ford the torrent, click photo to left to see the first crossing). At the second crossing—let’s just say no one said anything as the course checkers hopped over the nearby convenient bridge. Splashdown looked like a fast moving lake 100 feet wide. Runners took a look and then took off over the 2007 detour bridge. If the Loop were run that day it may have meant an unprecedented ‘zero river crossing’ course. Unthinkable!
Fortunately we did not have to make that choice and were instead presented with the most glorious day in the year so far.
At just after 6am, Loop veterans Mike Markhoff, Bill Bradsell, Ken Littlefield, and Mitch Stein took to the trail for a last minute check of the previously set course markings. Between these four runners we had nearly 40 Loops of experience heading out. The course check was in good hands.
Last year the Loop organizers invited Micah True, aka “Caballo Blanco” to be our official Loop starter. He enjoyed it so much that when we invited him back for this year’s Loop he responded with an enthusiastic “si”—and we had the added pleasure of meeting Maria Walton aka “La Mariposa Apache” his girlfriend and running soulmate.
Friends of the Loop Christy and Dean Leggiero gave up their chance to run this year in order to apply their storytelling talents to creating a 25th anniversary video about the Loop. They recruited friends and family to help with the venture. Some runners may have spoken with them this year before or after the Loop. Editing work is underway… we can’t wait to see the finished product. World premiere locations are being investigated!
The Loop parking crew arrived at 7am ready to pack in the cars. First runner Todd Jonasz picked up his bib and t-shirt just at 7am and the crowd grew from there. The registration area was handled—as always—by Judy Godino and her crew of bib specialists and t-shirt wranglers. Runners who had 10 or more Loops under their belt were given an official bell ringing to recognize their accomplishment.
Bagels and coffee arrived shortly after 7am with volunteers cutting and setting up at the food tent. Photographers were already roaming the area getting group shots and capturing the day in digital form. The video crew was busy talking to runners about their expectations and past experiences. David and Sam Ceisler were set up ready to receive donations for the 3rd annual “Help Feed The Leatherman” food drive to benefit the Community Center of Northern Westchester. Dan DeLuca, author of “The Old Leather Man” was also on hand to take in the event.
The bag pipers fired up their horns at 8:45 to call runners to the starting line 250 yards across the field. Runners made their way and jockeyed for position at the very long starting line.
Mike Paletta called the runners to order and introduced the original four trail runners who came up with the idea and founded the Leatherman’s Loop 25 years before. Ken Littlefield, Dave Cope, Pete Thompson, and Tony Godino came running down from a small hill overlooking the starting lineup to the cheers of runners. Mike also welcomed “El Caballo Blanco” back to the Rez and the Loop. Danny Martin led the runners in the Loop’s traditional Navajo/Irish Blessing. During Danny’s blessing, Tiokasen Ghosthorse, the official race starter, played on his wooden flute. At the close of Tiokasen’s music, Tony Godino said “Well, time to get going!” and gestured with his arms to start the Loop. The race was on!
The running crowd surged forward in an uneven line, quickly converging to a point with the fastest sprinters out front. Novice and veteran runners were not far behind. First mud was early this year, right at the turn into the Fox Hill trail that enters the forest after the sprint. Temperatures were already in the 60s with sun streaming through the just budding spring trees making the temperature seem hotter – should have had that last sip of water! An elemental beast of the forest emerged to remind runners that they were not alone. Fortunately the deer’s 11 year old target was perhaps forewarned (or luckier!) and avoided Buck’s fate.
The crowd stretched out and trotted through the narrowing trails until the first water crossing – wide and slow flowing – with that tricky slick rock on the far side exit. Onwards past the boardwalks to Kimberley Bridge and then the fisherman’s trail. “Sullivan’s Surprise” water crossing was deep on the right, rocky on the left. Quite a few people were startled by the hole in the middle of the riverbed about halfway across. The mudflats claimed at least two more pairs of shoes (that we heard about). Expeditions will be sent out for recoveries but prognosis is not good at this point.
Runners who made it through the mud flats were greeted by the sounds of a mariachi band. Several groups stopped to dance with the musicians before trekking up The Wall to rejoin Deer Hollow trail and the long climb ahead that seems to grow longer each year.
The pine forest was a welcome respite from the growing warmth, with cool shade offered by the towering evergreens. At the bottom a pair of Viola players (Viola-inists?) saw runners off with some original compositions. Only one mile to go—already sounds of cheers at Splashdown echoed through the approaching woods. At the final river crossing, runners were greeted by the cheers of thousands (or maybe nearly a hundred) spectators and finishers. Runners sprang out the bank on the far side thinking they were close to the finish. The cruel little insult hill loomed brief but large before the 200 yard dash to the finish flags.
Water, bagels, oranges, bananas, and—for some—pies awaited at the end of the Loop. A few runners paid a visit to the LVAC tent to treat scrapes, bruises, and a few more serious injuries. Meeting good friends, new friends, old friends, and the occasional longtime rival was all part of the day.
As we were leaving the meadow, wanting it all to last as long as possible, we were already thinking about next year…