Well, I finally did it. I actually got to walk on the catwalk under the New River Gorge Bridge, and believe me, it was one of the coolest experiences of my life!And soon, you can do it, too. I went to check out what will become our area’s next adventure, BridgeWalk — a tour under the bridge, but way above the river. Read the rest of my tale, and then go check out www.bridgewalk.com.
If you’re like me, heights can give you that funny little queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach. Sure, I’ve climbed multi-pitch climbs several hundred feet high, I’ve jumped off 100-plus foot cliffs into a lake, and I’ve even done a 180-foot bungee jump. But this … it took everything I had to keep one foot in front of the other to walk across, or should I say, under that bridge.
Getting on the catwalk was easy. You’re only about 12 feet above the ground at first. The catwalk is 24 inches wide with perfect hand rails on both sides; it is very comforting. I was in front and the first hundred feet or so wasn’t bad. All that steel surrounding you gives you this bizarre tunnel effect that you can only understand if you experience it — it is so unique. The repetitive cross beams stretching well over half a mile (3,030 feet to be exact) are really cool.
You can’t see the other side of the bridge — it actually disappears due to the arch of the bridge – something you never notice when you drive across it.
When I got to the point where you start to walk out over the road below and you see tiny little cars passing underneath, I started to get that funny little feeling and held on a little tighter. It was exciting. “Gawking” is the best term I could come up with.
Then we passed over the lower set of cliffs. In the summer time, when the leaves blanket the hillside, you don’t notice how the gorge is made up of a series of benches down to the river. In late fall, everything stands out in stark contrast, it’s quite surprising how much you notice. Large house-sized boulders strewn piecemeal along the slopes, towering chimneys of stone, and all those nooks and crannies. And the river: this rich green ribbon of water bordered by whitish-gray boulders glows in the afternoon sun. The view is breath taking — no overlook can ever compare to this experience. It truly is a one-of-a-kind experience!
It was at this point that I noticed Fayette Station Rapid. You’re almost over the top of it, so you have a perfect view. It was so small. The river was running about 4 feet — there are some big hits in there at this level — but from this height it looks smooth. You can see every little detail.
Then I noticed how small Fayette Station Bridge was and the cars parked at the bottom looked liked miniature toys my son would play with. I’ve seen this before on Bridge Day when they close the bridge and you can walk across it and look over the edge watching people parachute from it, but this was totally different. That funny feeling wasn’t so little now when I realized there was only a quarter-inch of steel between me and certain death.
Not only are the sights amazing, but it is so quiet under that bridge. It’s like you’re in your own private little world. I thought it would be noisy, but you can speak in a normal voice and hear the people around you. I could hear the birds singing below. There were a few perched on the steel beams with us and when they took flight their flapping wings were actually loud. I wonder what it would be like during a thunder storm — I wonder if they will let you go up there during one?
The steel superstructure is gargantuan. It’s very humbling. I remember thinking how the heck could someone build such a massive thing. All that steel. 20-million pounds of steel — the heaviest single piece weighed 184,000 pounds (if an average car weighs 4,000 pounds, that’s 46 cars). How many millions of bolts did it take to hold this thing together? I was in awe of man’s ingenuity and such boldness to make such a thing. You can’t really appreciate the marvel of it until you get under the bridge and crawl though it.
I kept moving, stopping and looking. The steel cage that surrounds you gives you endless windows to look through, all the angles and views. It’s a little overwhelming. I was totally caught up in the moment, fascinated with the massive bridge shadow stretching across the entire gorge downstream. I was well ahead of everyone else who was gawking and taking pictures behind me. I had gotten past the third span, these massive towers of steel that stretch forever to the ground, just before the arch began, I was maybe 250 feet above the ground, when a semi passed over on the bridge …
Wow! The whole dang thing shook! I know they warned me that this would happen, but OMG! I could hear bolts rattle. I know my bones rattled! The high-pitch hum of the truck tires overhead lingered forever. I put a white-knuckle death grip on the hand rails and held on. OK, yes, it scared the you-know-what out of me. That funny little feeling roared to life and jumped up in my throat.
I quickly retreated back to that massive tower. I don’t know why. If the bridge collapsed, I was still dead. But it did make me feel better to have all that weight under me. Everyone else had huge smiles and thought it was the coolest thing.
I waited where I was with my heart thumping in my chest. By the time everyone else caught up to me I was fine. The moment had passed; I had survived. I let everyone pass me by squeezing up against the rail. I felt better when I had an open passage way back to the beginning; I knew could always turn back if I needed to. But the question was, could I keep going?
I’ll continue my tale in Part 2, so stay tuned …