All my life I have been climbing. With an addition added to my childhood home, I climbed stairs.
The Hourihan family apple tree across the alley was one of my favorite stomping grounds. Mrs. Hourihan would watch me from the kitchen window as I stretched to reach the perfect red apple. I vividly remember being outstretched, inching my way to the edge as the branch bent under my weight. Glancing down to see cement below which covered the alleyway beneath me, I hoped the branch would hold. I finally grabbed the shiny red orb, disappointed to find the birds had beaten me to it.
Going up has always drawn me in. Nature has elevated me many times to take in a bird’s eye view. If you know me at all, you know falling has been a part of my life as well. If you want to learn more about that, visit http://www.naturalmassagetherapy.com.
I can’t say I am a thrill seeker because many surpass me in that category. What I will say is, I am curious.
For the past several weeks, I have been living in the land down under. Australia has always interested me. Curious about the land, the people, the culture, I finally made it here, to check it out for myself. Many touristy things have intrigued me, the Bridge Climb being one of them.
My brother T was the first to tell me about the climb. Describing the climb from the perspective of a girl he knew, T was stoked. As they say, it is on his “bucket-list.” My sister Kathy’s family did the climb when her son Keith was on a year and a half journey in this part of the world. “Wow” was there response, minus those with height-freight. Of course, my curiosity peaked.
A local told me to do the pedestrian walk across the bridge because the Bridge Climb was a rip-off. I admit, the cost was way outside my comfort zone. But, T and Kathy came to mind… And, a once in a lifetime experience. So, I bit the bullet and registered for the Bridge Climb.
While Beth and I waited below deck, at 6:35pm the wind gusted and rain fell on the building. The sideward water hit the large glass window. Minutes prior, I had invited Beth outside to eat our pre-bridge snacks; a nut bar and a Snickers bar. As I stood in the doorway, Beth said, “Why are you out here?” Rain was slanting toward me as trees blew more droplets my way. All I could say was, “I’m glad we are not on the bridge NOW!” Rolling her eyes, I knew she agreed. Inside, I overheard an employee say, “It’s a short storm burst.” It was then I noticed two people on computers, tracking the weather. Humidity 85.4%, Air Temp 20.1C, Wind Chill 20.1C, Average Wind Speed 27.9 km/h.
On the 3rd of January, 2017 at 7:20pm I entered the pre-check area. The company is very clear that alcohol and bridge climbing is not a great combo. In fact, every person takes a breathalyzer before suiting up. Gear and safety instructions are in place. Introductions are made. The climb is ON.
Once we walked the catwalk in our new fashionable jumpsuits, over the crowd waiting their turn, I knew we were clear for take off. Lexi, our tour guide, came over the headset wrapped around my ears and said, “Give me a thumbs up if you can hear me.” The group did as instructed. Walking past other climbers who were slightly wet on their return, another “Thank You” passed through my mind.
Standing at the granite pillars that support the bridge, Lexi asked, “How long do you suppose it took one worker to carve a section of granite?” Dan, an elderly man, yelled out, “One week.” Correct. Lexi asked, “What do the granite pillars above the bridge do for the structure?” Dan again, “Nothing, they are simply decorative.” Right again.
Continuing on, we encountered puddles in certain locations. I glancing over my shoulder at Beth, and I smiled. She knew what I was smiling about, that our twilight walk was not impinged by weather.
Suddenly, we were outside, walking between lanes of traffic. Commuters were zipping past us in vehicles on both sides. An express lane to our right, several lanes to our left. Very surreal.
Eventually, we began our ascent. Lexi was filling us in on details of the bridge and the workers who spent eight years of their lives creating the structure that joined north and south. In her talk, Lexi invited me into the role of rivet catcher. They were the ones who gathered the hot rivets and drove them into the steel. Looking out to the middle of the bridge, to an area hanging high above the sea, Lexi added… “and they had no safety harness, no handrails, no special equipment, they just stood on the steel beams in all sorts of weather and they caught white-hot rivets coming out of the oven.” I turned to Beth and said,”That’s my job. Can you see me out there?” She laughed. In my youth, I could have been a rivet catcher, now I trip over my own feet.
To our right was the Opera House; so subdued and magnificent. The city lights started to twinkle behind us. On our left, glimmers of sunlight peaked through the thick clouds. We stopped to take in the view. Lexi said, “Take it all in because on our way back it is all going to look different. That’s the beauty of a twilight walk, you get to see the change.”
The Opera House still amazes and dazzles me. In a sense, it is like standing at the Grand Canyon thinking, ‘it just doesn’t seem real.’ The latter is nature’s grandeur, the former is manmade. Both are impressive, but God still wins in the comparison. The lights on the patio of the Opera House were multicolored as if a party might be taking place. With the lighting, my eyes couldn’t detect any figures far below. I continued to turn my head, right and left to take in the Opera House and the setting sun in a dark cloud. Step by step, we climbed and absorbed the view.
On our first day downtown Sydney, from the harbor, Beth and I witnessed figures on top of the bridge. Beth looked at me with her mouth in a circle, “OOOoooHHHhhh… that’s going to be US!” Indeed. To see the Australian flag blowing and bodies moving along the edge of the bridge is one thing. To be the person moving about the “Iron Lung” is quite another. Lexi informed us of the name “Iron Lung,” because the bridge moves, it breathes, it brings life to Sydney, and it has always done so.
Our group seemed to have done a good job on the climb. No one was panicked or expressing any trouble. Pausing for pictures was a good thing because that was our time to breathe in the sights without watching our step or gripping the handrails. As day faded and night expressed itself, the clouds separated a bit. At the top of the bridge, standing with the flag blown straight in our direction, a planet appeared. Just like the white stars that grace the Australian flag, our white star touched us in the night sky. With cameras snapping away as well as hand gestures flying through the air, (peace signs, thumbs up, hang loose and my favorite, I love you) a sliver of silver lit up in the sky. The small crest of the moon sat to our right with the planet to our left. A minute later, the clouds ate up the planet and the moon increased in size and illumination. And then, they were gone. The on and off light show in the sky accompanied us on our descent.
Lexi eventually took us to the middle of the deck, high above the city, a place called “The Sun Deck.” “This is one of my favorite spots on the bridge,” Lexi explained. “You are in the VIP section. Every star or famous person that has been up here has been on The Sun Deck. Not everyone gets to come out here so it is special. I want you to make some noise. I want the other groups up here to wonder what we are doing. Throw up some hand gestures and make yourselves known. On the count of three… one… two.. three.” Hooting and hollering, our group yelled, high above Sydney, closer to the clouds, we waved our hands and fists, giving a BIG shout out to spirit and those who built this structure.
On our descent, the city lights were bright and twinkling like stars upon the Earth. Perhaps a very small glimpse of what the astronauts might encounter from space. Wind blown and exhilarated, we climbed down the “Coat Hanger,” another name for the bridge. Prior to entering a gate Lexi turned back to say, “I was hoping this would happen.” With that, a train passed on our left. A second later, another passed one our right. Standing in the middle of the Sydney Harbor Bridge we waved to passengers as they zoomed past us on the commute home from work. Lexi added, “I always wave, but no one waves back. They are usually asleep or on their phones. But, how cool was that?” Very cool. Thankful a derailment did not occur at that moment.
When they moved people from “The Rock,” the original settlement and land beneath the bridge, the people who lived in this area had to leave. They were not compensated in any way. However, they did demand one of the buildings be rebuilt.
Lexi’s voice came over the headset, “Can anyone tell me what they wanted replaced?” You guessed it, the pub. The new Harbor View Hotel sat off to our right, with no view of the harbor. The name lives on, but the view no longer suits the title.
Mind your head… that was the saying returning to the Bridge Climb building. Many yellow foam cushions were placed over the steel beams. Lexi attested that she knew from personal experience that the yellow foam did little to protect the head if you come in contact with the steel frame.
Looking down at people on the pedestrian bridge snapping photos of the Opera House, I’d say that the Bridge Climb was not a rip off. To sense the experience of the workers, the elements, the sights, was not to be denied. I love to climb and now I can say that I climbed the Sydney Harbor Bridge. I merged with the Iron Lung. I hung like a Coat Hanger between north and south, connecting land high above the sea.
I’ll end with a joke from Lexi. “The Sydney Harbor Bridge has six million rivets in it. That’s twice as many as the Golden Gate Bridge. We like to say, The Sydney Harbor Bridge is twice as riveting.” Riveting is a good word for it. Be well and be `safe… Nancy T