If I known the extent of what I had signed up for today – I would have chickened out long before I got there . . . ignorance is bliss! As it was, by the time I figured out what we were to do, I was tightly sandwiched in between Dan and Tom, on a 24” wide cat walk, with a 3’ high rail, 25’ beneath the New River Gorge Bridge, 851’ above the New River (the second oldest river in the world!), with a harness and a “leash” attached to a cable as my safety net! Oh yeah – I was scared! For over 1 ½ hours!
Our brave group consisted of Dan and Dawn, Sue and Terry, and Tom and me. Tom had been charged with the check and list of names of all the Airstreamers that had paid to make the trip, and we left a bit early so that we could stop for lunch, and get the list in the right hands at the Bridgewalk. Being first was good deal for us, as they only take people in small groups, and we joined with another couple to form a group of 8 – and started the walk within 20 minutes of showing up. First, we had to gear up, and receive a safety demonstration from our guide!
Next we boarded the bus for a short run over to the bridge. Before heading underneath the bridge, our guide walked us down to an overlook so we could see what we were walking. He got our group picture in front of the look-out! At this point -- it really didn't look like a problem!
Here we are geared up to walk the catwalk used by the bridge inspectors – walking 1 ¼ miles – out into the open spaces of the New River Gorge! With traffic buzzing by just 25’ above our heads creating a constant and loud vibration. And we're to let go of the hand rail long enough to take pictures? At this point -- totally ignorant of what that meant!
As we wound our way down a path beside the bridge we finally saw our first glimpse of the catwalk we would be walking. Still, from this viewpoint it didn't look very bad. But, it did get worse, minute by minute!
Into the first part of the walk, we were greeted by a pair of Peregrine Falcons -- our guide had never seen a pair together. He often saw aggressive females guarding the nest and usually just had to wait until she would fly away. Not only did we see this mated pair, but they followed us along the bridge! And we also saw the discards from some of their more recent meals!
Later, Dawn, Sue, and I all agreed that we were in various stages of terror before we reached the half-way point, but we all decided to woman-up and not let it show. Here we are at the half-way point (with the river directly below) where the guide stopped to tell us more detail about the bridge and the gorge. Sue and Dawn got brave enough to sit down on the cat-walk and let their legs dangle into the nothingness! Terry actually laid flat-out on the walk-way.
Our guide was accommodating enough to let us linger to watch a group of rafts and kayaks shoot through the rapids directly below us. They were very slow approaching the rapids -- almost as if they were having second thoughts. Focusing on someone else terror down below helped us to forget our own high above. While we watched, Terry told us many stories about his kayak excursions on that section of the river in the early 70's!
While we were still getting into our stride early in the walk, two bridge employees passed us -- no leash, no harness, no problem! As we passed the halfway point we caught up to the platform where they were working -- outside of the cat-walk safety rails, they were geared and tethered!
Reaching the last quarter mile, I think we were all walking more self-confidently -- even a little jauntily. It was finally feeling like one of those things I was glad I had done but would never do again. I'm not even going to blog about the two-hour trip back to the Fairgrounds and what we did the rest of the afternoon, except to say it was the usual round of eating, drinking, socializing . . . and saying goodbye to Terry and Sue who were off to a family wedding in Pennsylvania.
We don’t go camping any more . . . we go ‘streamin’ ! The “SIlvermine and His” is our 2016 23' Airstream, and ‘streamin’ is the name we use to describe our adventures. Stream along as we document everything from weekend trips to longer summer excursions and full-blown vacations. You know what they say: if you’re not in an Airstream – you’re just camping!
Tom & Ella Brown