Travel and Shopping—Bronze Winner: Bridge Climb

by Janna Leyde

In a department store on the biggest island in the hemisphere of the Southern Cross my two Aussie friends waiting patiently while I debated between $20 or $200 sneakerscheap generics or unnecessarily expensive Lacoste. It was simple. In three hours I needed a pair of sneakers to climb a bridge, and my suitcase, appropriately packed for a long weekend of days at Bondi Beach and nights on the waterfront, had nothing of the sort.After much contemplation, I caved in and bought the Lacoste. I figured I’d already spent a fortune for a ticket to climb a bridge 134 meters (three and a half football fields) above the Sydney Harbour, and I’d always wanted a pair. Might as well make the experience more memorable with shoes.I had no idea about the breathalyzers, onesies, intense cardio, and Jimmy Buffett songs that were going be making my bridge-climbing unforgettable.

With exactly two and a half hours before my climb time, there was enough time for my hungry friends and I to grab dinner at The Rocks”Sydney’s Outdoors Museum,” a pocket of cafes, restaurants and history tucked into the cobblestone streets off the Western Cove of Sydney Harbor. We chose a quaint bistro with rod-iron tables and savory wood-fired pizza. After sharing a crispy pie of mozzarella, tomato and basil, I slipped on my new shoes and left my friends to linger in the wine-soaked, evening ambiance.

I had no clue if the shoes or the ticket were worth the self-indulgence I’d allowed, but I meandered by way to 5 Cumberland Street, the checkpoint for the BridgeClimb.

“Ooooh….I just love your runners,” said a chirpy woman who asked me for my name and climb time.

I smiled, feeling a little better about the splurge (on the shoes), and followed her past a wall of TVs playing bridge-climbs at dawn through dusk, on birthdays, anniversaries and family reunions to a room with a long bench.

“Me mates tried to sneak me VB (Victoria Bittersbeer) at tea (dinner), but the bloody wife caught me,” said the sun-weathered, older Aussie, who sat next to me peering over my Bridge Climb paperwork.

“I told him he won’t pass the test, said his bleached blonde wife, who was filling out his paperwork. “Nice tennies.”

We were then told that excessive drinking before most activities requiring motor skills is a hazard, and BridgeClimb tolerates next to nothing. If your breathalyzer reads over 0.05% in your bloodyou’re out.

Thirteen Aussies and my American self passed with sober puffs. We lost one to too much beer (not Mr. VB), and I lost my aviators and my camera.

Next was a new room where we struggled into less than flattering BridgeClimb suitspajama-like, two-toned grey things that zipped up the front in a material that did not breathe. We met Pete, our BridgeClimb guide, a short, tanned, athletic, 40-something, who gave us headsets and harnesses, while we stood in a circle sharing names, birthdays and hometowns.

When we were all geared up we followed Pete into the gymnasium for “Simulation Practice,” to see who was really able to climb. Had it not been for his single-guy humor and a couple of slightly challenging ladders, I would have been beyond bored. But, “Simulation Practice” was necessary, because we almost lost another one of us to a bum leg from a war. With added assistance he was allowed to stay on.

At precisely 5:00 p.m., the specific “Twilight Light Climb” I had paid quite a bit extra for, Pete was leading us into the darkness of the underpinnings of Sydney Harbour Bridge.

“Nice tennies, you should go first, ” Captain Pete (as he preferred to be called due to his sea-level job as a pirate ship captain in Darling Harbour) said to me.

So I took the lead, hooked between Captain Pete and the newly weds from Brisbane behind me. The group obeyed his every command over our headsets and we edged across the catwalk as our grappling hooks clanked the safety bar that spanned the length of the bridge.

It was still daylight as we made our way to the East pylon. Being the first climber was like being the lucky one to get the first seat in a roller coaster. I had the best viewa jaw-dropping view. The Sydney Opera House glistened in the sun’s rays and miniature boats jetted about on either side of the bridge.

As we ascended, slowly, one foot in front of the other, Captain Pete rambled fun facts and bridge history over our headsets. Keith Urban and Mandy Moore were the latest BridgeClimb celebrities, and the Sydney Harbour Bridge opened in 1932 as the largest, and still is the largest, steel arch bridge in the world.

Captain Pete had warned us about the upcoming work out at the extremely narrow and steep ladders. By the time we reached them the group was slowing and the sun was setting. Our guided bounded up and down them effortlessly. I finally understood the sneaker requirement.

I managed to keep up with Captain Pete, and in between his instructions to the group behind he shared snippets of his bridge-climbing, buccaneering, bachelor life style in Australia. He manned a mock pirate ship as Captain Petecostume and allin Darling harbour, and when he wasn’t doing that he was on the bridge. Either way he got to flirt, laugh and meet people. He loved it.

At the summit (134 meters) my thighs were burning from the climb and my cheeks were burning from the wind. The massive structure swayed a bit and the altitude made my chest tight, but it was worth it, because the view was dizzying. It felt like standing on live postcard of Sydney at dusk. Tiny boats cut perfect white wakes in blue waters. The beaches of Manley and Bondi were pristine sand curves flush with the coast in the distance. The city glistened in flecks of crimson and ginger.

With the group still lagging a bit, Pete had time to proposejokinglyan after climb date. I declinedpolitely.

“Yeah right,” I said with sarcasm. “I’m sure I’m the first American you’ve asked.

As the rest reached the summit we learned through shouts carried on the wind that the group 50 feet ahead of us had a marriage proposal, and the group 50 feet behind had a 50th wedding anniversary. Neither was uncommon on the bridge.

Captain Pete took all of our individual pictures and one super enthusiastic group photo against a million-dollar backdropas promised by BridgeClimb. Then we had some time at the top to soak in the $260 we had paid for, and an incredible opportunity to watch the sky change from dusk to dark, and to watch Sydney’s city lights twinkle on one by one.

After another failed attempt at a joke date, Captain Pete and I found out that we did have something quite unbelievable (given the latitude) in common. We were ParrotheadsJimmy Buffett fans. We loved the ocean, the little latitudes, beaches, bars, boats and ballads. So while rest of the group shuffled nervously at the summit trying to catch the entire 360-degree view of Sydney, I sang the most out of tune rendition of “A Pirate Looks at Forty” with an Australian pirate.

I was still giddy with the view, the music, the weather and the company (some of which attempted to sing the chorus to Margaritaville) as we started the descent. My chins ached a little from the iron stairs. It was the only unpleasant aspect of the climb, and not something that any pair of sneakers could have prevented.

As we effortlessly clanked across the last catwalk, the sun had gone and the water below was a prism reflecting the rainbow of lights from Darling Harbour and Circular Quay.

Daylight, Dusk, Darkthe third priceless view of the “Twilight Climb.”

But, the climb was ending, and we had to leave all the uncaptured Kodak moments behind and follow Captain Pete into the grottos of the West Pylons. And in minutes, I was de-suited, picking up my squinting, windblown photos at the BridgeClimb gift shop and saying my good-byes to the group and Captain Pete.

“How were your sneakers?” one of my friends asked jokingly when I met up with them at a bar in The Rocks.

“Perfect,” I said.

Then over a round of VBs I showed them the photos, tried to describe the view and weather, told them about singing Buffett, and confirmed that it really was just like the brochure states”The Climb of Your Life.”

“You are from Australia,” I told them. “You really have no excuse not to have done this.”


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