I live less than half a mile from the George Washington Bridge, a magnificent and iconic span over the Hudson River, providing gorgeous views of Manhattan. The bridge carries over 106 million vehicles per year, making it the world’s busiest motor vehicle bridge. It is also a popular bridge for pedestrians and bikers, with a total of 382,433 bike trips and 226,047 pedestrian trips across the bridge last year. While I have crossed the bridge over 500 times by car (probably more), I have never walked across the bridge.
I tried once. A few months ago, on one of the first warm summer night of the year, I embarked on a casual walk and to check out the bridge I had lived next to for four years. As soon as I got to the ascension ramp, I looked down through the cracks, focused on the river and death thousands of feet below and quickly turned around. #Fail
I’ve always loved roller coasters, no matter how high, because they don’t force me to linger in the height and rather drive faster through the scariest parts. When I lean over a balcony, even from my sixth-floor apartment, I get “twitchy butt” (as my husband aptly calls it) and a bad case of the extremely sweaty palms. The first time I described my mild acrophobia to my husband, he confessed to understanding the fear.
“I get it,” he sided with me. “Sometimes if I’m standing somewhere very high, I feel like something inside me might accidentally make me jump – or fall.”
The bridge wasn’t the first time my fear of heights precluded me from accomplishing something. There is a rope adventure course at the Palisades Center which I thought I’d be able to conquer easily. #Fail on that one too. As I attempted the course, I left sweaty palms handprints Wilson-style (Castaway reference) on everything I touched. The guy working the attraction tried to convince me it was all in my head. “You’d be able to walk across this bar on the ground; you’re totally safe and harnessed,” he tried to reassure me yet no matter how many words he said, my legs refused to cross a skinny bar 20 feet above a mall. I physically could, but my mind was flooded along with any sense of reason. Instead, I stood there crying, thinking, “This is supposed to be fun and my son thinks I’m so not cool right now.”
My son kept trying to encourage me by saying, “How are you going to do the Amazing Race if you can’t do this?”
All I could retort was, “But there’s no million dollar prize at the end of this challenge.”
Another time, on a trip to Las Vegas with my sister over a decade ago, we decided to do a thrill ride, called the “Big Shot” on top of the hotel, The Stratosphere. The ride, which advertises itself as “The Vegas amusement park ride that touches the sky” shoots 16 eager riders 160 feet in the air above the 921-foot high platform up the Tower’s mast and then drops you down again with “G force.”
“Amazing! Let’s do this!” we both thought.
We took the long elevator ride up to the top, the doors opened, I caught a glimpse of the view and I froze. I couldn’t get to the ride or the outdoor observation area before the ride; I was terrified to take one step outside the elevator. I stood at what felt like a toothpick on top of the world and I felt as though I was going to plummet to my death. Twitchy butt and sweating palms are a vast underestimate for what I was experiencing. I was scared shitless; my legs felt like boneless cotton and gave out on me. I wanted to close my eyes and go right back down to the lobby but I collapsed just outside the elevator, my back to the wall, shut my eyes tightly, and refused to budge. I counted in my head to pass the time. My sister, who refused to waste her hard-earned money went on the ride on her own. #Triumph for her, #Fail for me.
I am never going to attempt the ride again, but today I did want to capitalize on a quintessential summer day I had with my teenage son. After our last poison ivy filled Geocache hunt we decided to take a walk across the GW Bridge to look for Geocaches in Washington Heights. I felt brave enough to tackle “The Walk Across the Bridge: Take 2.” My son promised to walk closer to the railing and I committed to walking briskly without focusing on the large gaps in between the railing. I made it across proudly, even managing a stop in the middle for a photo (while the bridge shook underneath me).
Surviving the walk didn’t make me feel like I overcame my fear of height, but I did file it away as future evidence to support how I allowed logic to trump my fears and it led me across a wide bridge, and back again.
We didn’t find any Geocaches but cool mom status is restored.