On Top of the World, Down Under
I didn’t even know I wanted to do this until I got there. But when I finally emerged after vertically climbing an enclosed ladder for the equivalent of five stories in a high-rise building, I burst into surprised tears. The physical journey was taxing, the emotional strain made my claustrophobic-self burn with tension and fear. I have no idea how long it took me to make that journey and I had no idea what to expect as I grabbed the first bar and took that first step. By the time I reached my goal, the wide-open sky at the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, I was speechless and breathless.
This adventure was on my friend Amy’s bucket list. She is a marathon runner, her husband Mark plays basketball incessantly and works out daily, I was weeks away from major surgery… I had no business taking this on. And yet, when invited to join their insanity, I looked up and thought, if I ever get back here again, I’ll be older and who knows what kind of shape? This might be my only chance, so I said OK.
Preparation for the climb was intense. We had an hour of education and safety procedures, then we dressed in blue jumpsuits, hair tied up, safety harnesses secured around our middles. It seems that the birds do not object to strange blue objects moving along the top periphery of the tallest steel arch bridge in the world (440 ft). The blue jumpsuits blend into the gray steel construction and the sky, so as not to disrupt plane traffic above and paparazzi below. Who thinks of these things? No hats, sunglasses, cameras – all could be whipped away, becoming deadly projectiles. After all of this, I couldn’t believe that no one in our group declined to continue. I wondered about my own choice to follow them up.
Clipped to each other and to a steel railing, our group got to the top and whooped in jubilation. Keepsake photos were taken ($25 each and worth every penny) and we just couldn’t believe the view – the iconic Sydney Opera House, designed to look like a ship, all kinds of boat traffic, antlike people moving in all directions, helicopters and birds below us.
It was weirdly silent at the top, only the wind in our ears and a distant hum of traffic below. We could feel the slightest sway of the giant steel contraption as cars, trucks, buses and trains sped across the span. When the sun slid behind the clouds, gusty winds brought a bit of reality to where we stood. It was hard not to feel vulnerable, powerless to do anything but follow the person in front of you, encouraged by an enthusiastic guide. It was nerve-wracking going back down but adrenaline made the return that much easier and faster. Grateful to be back on terra firma, I couldn’t believe when I looked way up, that I had actually stood at the top of the world on the other side of the planet.