A Bridge Too High
In the western mountains of North Carolina, there is an awe-inspiring place called Grandfather Mountain. Here, a pedestrian suspension bridge hangs in the sky a mile above sea level, simultaneously defying gravity and jutting into the clouds above. I had traversed the bridge successfully, but not without trepidation, and waited on the causeway for my family to return from exploring the cliff. As I stood surveying the rocky outcrop, I glanced back across the seemingly bottomless crevice at the metal monster that was separating me from safety. I knew my only avenue of escape was to return from where I had come. This may seem unimpressive, but for me it was a personal challenge. I am uncomfortable in high places and sometimes my fears paralyze my actions, causing me to miss out on enjoyable experiences with my family. If we can learn to control our fears and not let them immobilize us, we may find there are many adventures to be had.
The mountain came into my life quite unexpectedly. I was searching the Internet for places to visit during our upcoming trip to North Carolina and had just completed a search on Google when two little words, “Grandfather Mountain,” caught my eye. I clicked the hyperlink, my screen refreshed, and I was rewarded with the image of a beautiful rustic mountain scene. In the foreground of the photo, I saw lush green plants bearing bold red flowers. Behind them towered several grey craggy peaks in a cerulean sky. I glanced downward and noticed a list of places to explore while visiting the mountain, including something called the “Mile High Swinging Bridge.”
What the heck is that? I thought. Reading further, I discovered it was a pedestrian suspension bridge that traverses two mountain peaks a mile above sea level. Due to its construction, the bridge sways freely in the air when buffeted by winds. I suffer from vertigo and a fear of wide-open, unprotected spaces, so one part of me was really curious about this place, but I also felt sick to my stomach. I knew if I mentioned its existence to my adventurous family they would want to go, but did I have the courage to go? Was mentioning it a good idea? Throwing caution to the wind, I polled my fellow vacationers and they all voted “yes!” Gulp.
Tuesday morning arrived before I knew it. It was the day of our planned trip to Grandfather Mountain. But Mother Nature was a fickle foe and teased us, vacillating between sun and rain. I tried to convince my husband, Michael, that perhaps the weather was too bad to take our trip.
“Let’s play it by ear,” he said, “If it’s rainy, we can always turn back.”
With reservation, I packed the day’s lunch.
We hopped in the car and headed out. I chatted nervously and fidgeted with the radio, doing anything to help me not think about that bridge! About 20 miles from our destination, the skies began pouring down rain.
Michael said, “We have to turn back.”
Phew! I was safe, at least for today.
The next morning only a few questionable rain clouds hung in the sky, so we once again headed out to the mountain. We drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway admiring the pristine woods. There were no electrical wires spoiling the views and no obvious signs of development, other than the roadway. We opened the car windows and felt the cool mountain breezes rush into the car. Much to our surprise, a few wild turkeys ran across the road.
“Is this how colonists would have seen the land?” I wondered aloud. Beautiful as it was, my tension was mounting. I began to get a headache.
My youngest son, Thomas, noticed my distress and said, “Mom, it will be fine. You can do this.” His brothers voiced similar reassurances, but my confidence vanished as the mountains became steeper.
At the park entrance, the attendant smiled sweetly while asking me to pay a hefty price for our group’s admission. I could not believe I was paying to be terrified! We received a map of the park and began our ascent to the bridge. The road upward consisted of many switchbacks with no guardrails.
“Mike, slow down!” I said.
Michael rolled his eyes in dismay because we were already traveling at a snail’s pace. Up and up, our car traveled. When I dared glimpse out the window, I saw hawks and other birds of prey flying in the clouds that seemed close enough to touch. Finally, we arrived at the parking area. Exiting the car, we did not see the bridge immediately.
“Where is it?” I asked.
Michael said, “Hold on, I will check.” A few moments later he returned to the car, pointed across the parking lot and said, “Up there,” indicating a flight of fifty rough-hewn stairs we had to climb.
“Great, ” I muttered.
Michael and the children reassured me I would be okay. I did not believe them, but followed them across the lot and up the stairs. I saw the bridge ahead.
I hung back on the path, admiring the windblown trees and flowers hoping none one would notice my absence. No such luck.
Thomas took my hand and said, “Let’s go, Mom,” while pulling me forward.
I knew it was show time, so I held Tom’s hand tightly and walked quickly onto the bridge. My heart began beating rapidly and my breathing became erratic. Like a horse with blinders on, I moved straight toward my destination. I could feel the bridge swaying and the metal under my feet reverberating with each step, so I walked faster.
Halfway across, Thomas asked, “Hey Mom, do you want to stop here?”
“No way,” I replied, dragging him quickly across.
At last, I reached the other side.
Thomas cheered, “ Great job, Mom!” and gave me a kiss as tears of relief streamed down my face.
Finally, I allowed myself to relax in the moment and absorb my surroundings. Around me I observed many flowers, insects, and plants; I also saw families sharing this unique place with each other. In that moment, I knew pushing myself past my comfort zone was the right choice because if I had not, we would not have had one of the best memories of our entire trip. Crossing the bridge that day taught me I can overcome my fears and reminded me to take pride in my accomplishments. The obstacles we face in life may seem insurmountable, but if we persist, the journey may take us somewhere new.