There is an age in everyone’s youth when belief in the mythical stories of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy are abandoned, and yet the possibilities of fairy tales themselves still feel very real. Young women continue to cling to the elusive dream of being rescued by a handsome prince and happily ever after dangles enticingly as the end goal of every ambition. But the most renowned fairy tales, those retold by the Brothers Grimm of Germany in the 1800s, are dark and violent and far more representative of everyday life than the lighthearted modern versions we were enchanted by as children.
I didn’t want to ride my bike on Sunday, but I woke up early to watch a live stage of the Tour de France, the world’s most popular cycling contest, and the road biking spark was lit. I needed to take it easy on my body though, so I asked my housemate if she wanted to join me for a slow 20-mile ‘recovery’ spin along one of our favorite routes, The River Loop. Just as she agreed, her friend Mike walked by on our street, and she hollered out an open window and managed to rope him in as well. We cruised North on Route 5 for a while before Mike inquired if we wanted to climb Academy, a local hill that led to a school. It was a slight diversion and would add some mileage, but it was a fun climb and it got us off a busy road, so we gladly accepted the challenge. We cruised up the road past a lost triathlete who was consulting a map, tried to offer directions to little avail, and then quickly dropped her.
Descending the potholed backside of the climb, I suggested we divert our course once again to a smoother, less-trafficked road that would add another couple of smooth miles. No big deal. We reconnected with Route 5 before crossing the river and entering New Hampshire. River Road, the key connector in our favorite social loop, is a quiet road that hugs the Connecticut River and has a series of single-lane bridges, one of which had been under construction for months.
The signage was no deterrent because my housemate, Lauren, had ridden the same route a few weeks earlier and said that so long as we arrived outside of work hours, we should be able to walk right across the bridge just as she had done. And if that was no longer the case, this major piece of roadway infrastructure spanned a dribbling creek no more than ten feet in width, and we all agreed we could just trudge through it with our bikes on our shoulders.
As we approached the bridge, I could see some movement near the construction zone and there were a number of cars parked on the side of the road. Despite the fact that it was a holiday weekend, I was concerned that they might actually be working. Lauren assuaged my fears and said, “I don’t think those cars are for the construction, but let’s go see and we’ll just ask if we can walk across.” I replied, “I feel like we’re about to negotiate with a bridge troll.”
There was a large man in jeans and a t-shirt walking near the construction zone and he had his pick-up truck parked in a dirt driveway just to the left of the closure. He appeared to be a worker, and as we approached, he informed us that the road was closed. We acknowledged the obvious as we had all read the copious signage along the route indicating such, and then Lauren added, “I was here a few weeks ago, and we just walked across. I mean, I don’t see anyone doing any work.” He calmly replied, “Well, there’s an eight foot gap missing from the bridge now.” Which there was.
No worries, Mike chimed in, “Let’s just see how high the water is,” and he began to walk towards the edge of the road where it met the edge of the bridge. The man with the pick-up angrily barked, “Do not take another step. That’s my property, and you’re not allowed on it.” Mike was convinced the guy had to be kidding, and he started to chuckle. “Seriously?” he asked. “I’m sick and tired of the arrogance,” the man shouted to which I added, “Well, the first ten feet of your property is municipally owned.” At this point, his voice became even more enraged and he growled, “Are you going to quote the law with me, lady? This is my property and you better stay the fuck off it!” Mike mentioned he didn’t have a ‘No Trespassing’ sign to mark his private property.
“I don’t need a fucking sign. I’m telling you it’s mine and you have to turn around.”
Quite curiously, there was a sign directly across the street in a lovely mowed field on the shore of the river.
Lauren found the man’s unwarranted rage rather humorous, so she thanked him for giving us something to laugh about and told the man to have a lovely weekend. When he said, “I hope you have a great fucking weekend too,” I could no longer resist. Despite the fact that we later concurred he probably had a shotgun in his truck and seemed perturbed enough to shoot any one of us had we set just a toe on his land, his gratuitous swearing and the fact that he referred to me as ‘lady’ was over the top.
I gazed over at the corpulent man in his dirty jeans and t-shirt with his wild gray hair and angry eyes, and I commented, “Look, bridge trolls really do exist!”
Had we been permitted to walk ten paces onto the edge of the bridge troll’s land, we would have been able to scamper across the narrow stream on this conveniently felled tree and our shoes wouldn’t have even gotten wet.
Instead, we turned back from whence we came and had some good laughs at the troll’s sad existence. It was a beautiful holiday weekend, and he had nothing better to do than guard the end of his driveway against trespassing road cyclists. Our light spin increased from 20 to 34 miles, and we were all thirsty by the time we returned home, but we realized how ugly the human spirit could be. Just when I had exhausted all explanation for the bridge troll’s insistence that nobody walk one foot onto his property, Lauren provided the only conceivable rationale.
This guy lives at the edge of a bridge that has been closed for months. Every time he wants to go into town, he has to drive all the way around, adding roughly 7 miles to his trip. So if he can’t get over the stream, nobody is going to get over the stream. Life gives him lemons, and he pays them forward in poor form.
For further reference on how to defeat a troll, feel free to review this scholarly paper I unearthed one day too late.