My First New River Bridge Walk, Part II

Part one of my blog post on Bridge Walk last week left me stranded hundreds of feet in the air under the New River Gorge Bridge, on a tiny catwalk, rethinking my decision on making this journey. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep going or not.The initial shock of the shaking and rattling catwalk caused by tractor trailers passing overhead slowly subsided. I learned to listen for the approaching semi trucks and anticipate their effect. It wasn’t so bad when you get use to it. I actually relaxed and started to enjoy the panoramic views again.

The group ahead of me kept starting and stopping, taking pictures and looking all around, slowly getting further and further ahead. With plenty of room in front and behind me, I started to follow them. I got into the habit of walking from one cross beam to the next – it is 10 steps exactly. I don’t know why, it just made me feel better – it was the perfect pace – allowing me to focus on getting to the next beam, stopping and relaxing, and looking all around.

From behind, Benjy Simpson (he will run the Bridge Walk enterprise) and Don Striker (the National Park Service Superintendent) came up and started talking about this spring when they are going to open up the catwalk for tours to the general public to experience. It was good to talk – it helped me relax even more. You can see Benjy in the YouTube video in this post.

On this tour we had structural engineers, photographers, video cameras, and all kinds of people checking it out. Before they can open it up next spring to guests, they are going to install safety systems and cameras. Guests will be able to wear a safety harness and clip into it (wish I had one).

Benjy moved ahead to explain everything to them, leaving Don and me behind. I was surprised to learn that Don had the same uneasy feeling I did concerning the catwalk, even though he had been out on it many times before. He had even climbed up to it from below, over 800 feet from the ground! Now, that is plain crazy to me.

So with Don talking (holding my hand, so to speak), we slowly caught up to the group in the middle of the bridge. Fully suspended in the air, 876 feet above the river, it was spectacular! Talk about a birds eye view, you could look straight down into the river. It is something I will never forget. It was worth conquering my fears and pushing forward. I did it! They should give out awards.

So there we were, out in the middle of this mega bridge, this man-made wonder, the longest steel arch bridge in the western hemisphere, taking pictures and gawking, when Bobby, Don’s 15-year-old son, climbs over the catwalk and walks out on a truss to set safety for the photographers. Are you kidding me! These people are nuts. The catwalk is 24 inches wide with perfectly good hand rails and this kid gets off it and walks along on a tiny truss, maybe a foot wide, with nothing but air surrounding him and only a tiny rope for safety! I wouldn’t do it for all the Summer Gauley trips in the world!

Then to my total amazement, Trish, my co-worker, our in-house graphic artist and photographer, steps out and does the same dang thing! Talk about “manning up” (her words, not mine). My nerves couldn’t take it anymore. Watching her made me very nervous and a little queasy; I decided it was time to go back. I made myself stay a little longer, maybe 5 minutes, and then I told everyone I was OK but I was going to head back.

Walking back by myself was great; I took my time and soaked it all in. Eventually I made it to the end and climbed down. About 15 minutes later two other guys came off and left – they loved it, but they had to go. After about 20 minutes I decided to go back up. I wanted to do it again. When I got on the catwalk again, I found that I wasn’t really nervous at all. Benjy calls it “catwalk feet.”

I could see that the group was still way out there in the middle of the bridge and I started walking. I didn’t stop once. I focused only on the “tunnel effect” of the superstructure. What a great experience. When I got out to the middle, I waited until everyone was done and we headed back. We had been on the catwalk for hours.

This experience is a “bucket-list” must for everyone. There is nothing like it on the planet. Everyone that does it is going to talk about it, and once the word gets out, people will come in droves. I can’t wait to do it again. I want to do it during a snowstorm, a thunderstorm; I want to do it in every season (fall colors will be unbelievable) and even at night. Maybe they will even let me become a guide …

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