Confessions of an Unrepentant Trespasser

While running with a couple friends the other day, I stopped after six miles or so to stretch, and while I leaned against a light pole to loosen my hamstrings a car came up behind us and slowed to a stop.

The driver, an older woman, rolled down the window and asked, “Could you tell me what you’re doing?”

Stupidly, I assumed she had never seen someone flexing a tight muscle, or perhaps had been concerned that I was injured and might need a ride home, and so I replied good-naturedly, “Oh, just taking a short break, thanks. No problem.”

“Well,” she continued – and I detected a nasty edge to her voice – “you need to turn around and go back the way you came.”

My friends and I looked at each other, too stunned to reply.

If we heeded her order we would have had to cover more than 12 miles instead of the nine we planned to run, but that wasn’t the issue.

The point was, I felt we had every right to run on the road in question, and wasn’t about to give in to someone who thought it was private property. There weren’t any No Trespassing or Keep Out signs, and I’ve run and bicycled on the road in question many times without incident. I’m not going to identify the location because I don’t want to stir up trouble unnecessarily.

Anyway, after I finished stretching in a minute or two we resumed running in the same direction. The woman pulled away slowly, and I half-expected her to stop again, but then she goosed it and disappeared around a bend.

Suddenly, my hamstrings felt fresh and we picked up the pace.

“Nothing like a little anger to restore sore muscles,” I said. “I’ll have to remember that in my next race.”

For the most part I’m a law-abiding citizen. I pay my taxes, return library books on time, and I’m sure the statutes of limitations have run out on all the stupid things I did in college.

But I confess I have a more casual adherence to the letter of the law when it comes to certain types of private property.

Before you jump to hasty conclusions, let me elaborate. I won’t deliberately trod on someone’s well-manicured lawn, or open a gate, and certainly would never enter a building.

Also, many trails traverse rights-of-way through private property, generously granted through the efforts of land trusts and such organizations as the Connecticut Forest & Park Association. If hikers abuse this privilege by straying off a public right-of-way a landowner can withdraw the easement, and we all lose out.

So I try not to overstep my bounds.

But if I perceive a shortcut through the woods that won’t stir up a pack of dogs, provoke a shotgun blast or damage a bed of prized petunias, and if I can be reasonably expeditious and circumspect, chances are I’ll take it.

If there’s an owner nearby I’ll politely ask permission, and on those occasions I’ve never been refused. Once, on a private estate the owner graciously gave me a tour of his magnificent gardens.

This predilection to stray into restricted zones has not always served me well, and loyal readers may recall some of my more memorable encounters with authorities, such as the time a few years ago that my buddy Dan and I decided to cut through a line of buoys while kayaking down the Hudson River in the vicinity of the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant.

I don’t think we had gone more than 2.7 feet before sirens wailed and a patrol boat roared toward us at about 60 knots. One uniformed man remained at the helm while the other, armed with an automatic weapon, stood in the bow.

“Turn around now!” the man with the weapon demanded.

My policy in such situations is instant compliance, but Dan, for some insane reason, decided to engage in debate.

“I said NOW!” the man with the gun shouted, and Dan quickly perceived the futility of negotiation.

The patrol boat nudged up to within inches of our kayaks, kept that distance while we flailed wildly at the water with our paddles, and then hovered near the perimeter, as if we would do something truly idiotic such as try to shave a few yards off our route by cutting through the buoys again.

I like to think I’ve learned my lesson about buoys around nuclear power plants, so maybe I’m not so unrepentant as the headline on this dispatch suggests.

As for running again on the disputed road, I’ll invoke my Fifth Amendment rights.




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