I don’t consider myself to be a courageous person, especially when it comes to doing new things. That may sound odd coming from an expat, but it’s true. For me, any new endeavor is a challenge. I’m not a thrill seeker and I don’t enjoy rushes of adrenaline. Basically I’m a big chicken, but every once in a while something comes along that captures my imagination and I’m compelled to pursue it even though I know I will have endless arguments with myself as well as endure the exhausting process of overcoming my fear. This is the story of my Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb.
When I was planning our trip, the bridge climb came up on tripadvisor’s top ten things to do in Sydney. It looked amazing and I was feeling the need to challenge my middle-aged self. Predictably though, my mind started calculating a long list of reasons why I shouldn’t attempt such a feat. I researched the official site, looking for things to scare me off. It was too expensive ($318AUD), it would take too long (3.5 hrs.), there was no bathroom (always a top concern for us ladies), maybe I wasn’t fit enough, and…what if I all of a sudden developed a crippling fear of heights?
My endless obsessing finally gave way to resolve and commitment. Plus I’d already paid…no refunds. In the end analysis, I decided that I needed the challenge and I needed to succeed. I read an article recently that reported on a study that found that people are sometimes drawn to higher-risk activities because it helps them to regulate their emotions and control over their lives. I was definitely feeling the need for empowerment and I think it drove my compulsion to take on the climb.
I chose the late afternoon climb for my husband, my daughter and I. After a safety briefing, and a breathalyzer (it’s required of everyone, drinking and climbing is not a legal method of relaxing your potential height anxieties) our guide had some cursory questions. “Is anyone nervous?” I raised my hand. My husband and daughter looked at me pathetically. “Does anyone have a fear of heights?” ‘No, but what if a suddenly do?’ I thought, suppressing my panic. Finally, we signed a liability waiver and suited up. All bridge climbers have a set of coveralls equipped with a safety belt and a carabiner, a hat and a set of headphones. Everyone was given one last chance to back out before heading out onto the bridge. Once that heavy metal door shuts, there’s no getting back inside (or at least that’s what they tell you). I believed them…my anxiety level rose.
Ten of us, single file, clipped our carabiners to a thin safety cable that ran along a metal railing for the entire length of the climb. Despite the assurances of our guide, that cable didn’t look like it would hold the weight of a person that might happen to get blown over the side. Oh well, it was too late to worry about that now.
To get to the arch of the bridge requires navigating up a set of vertical metal ladders and across a catwalk that extends out beyond the bridge frame and over the highway below. In hindsight, this turned out to be the most unnerving part of the climb. It was windy, and walking over the freeway on a swaying catwalk was unsettling. Needless to say, I didn’t look down. Just hearing the cars whizzing by below was enough.
As we climbed the arch, our guide made periodic stops so we could enjoy the views and he could tell us the history of the bridge. It’s a fascinating story and speaks to the ingenuity and foresight of the designers, the bridge workers and the Australian people. The views from the bridge made me forget my fears (looking out not down was key) . It was a gorgeous afternoon and the sky was so clear, you could see all of Sydney Harbour and out to the coast.
At the apex of the arch, we chatted with our group as our guide took photos. I was happy to have real proof of my adventure…in case someone doubted by tale. We crossed over on a catwalk that spans the arches and began our descent on the other side. I marveled as our guide pointed out the massive steel rivets and recounted the fact that those who built the bridge worked without safety nets and with no loss of life.
Coming down was definitely the most strenuous part of the climb for me. By the time I reached that last set of vertical ladders, my calve muscles were letting me know it was time to stop. I wasn’t complaining though. I had successfully conquered the bridge. I came away from my climb feeling empowered, for at least as long as it takes before the next irresistible challenge comes my way.