capilano2bsuspension2bbridge2b-009Twenty-four years ago, I traversed the 460 feet long and 230 feet high Capilano Suspension Bridge just north of Vancouver, British Columbia.

It was, shall we say, not my finest hour.

Nevertheless, I wrote a column about my experience for the Chinook Observer, and I’m reprinting it here to set the stage for my next series of blog posts which will span several days—no pun intended.

Here is “Another Brush with Death,” reprinted exactly as it was first written, in 1990:

Face your fear, I told myself. You can do this

And myself answered, Are you out of your ever-loving mind?

So I stood like a statue, frozen in time and space, unmindful of the ominous gray drizzle, one hand firmly grasping the railing, my feet still on solid ground, my mind playing its version of solitary ping-pong.

Before me loomed the Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver, British Columbia—a rough-hewn supportless crossing 230 feet above gardens and waterfalls.

No problem, said little voice number one, it’s mid-week; it’s late morning; there’s nobody around but you and the security guard. I took a tentative step forward. So far so good. I slowly took a second step, white knuckles clenched the cables on both sides.

It’s not too late, said voice number two. Don’t look down, turn back now!

But I didn’t turn

Gaining a small dab of confidence with every step, I got to the center of the bridge without mishap. I cautiously released one hand, and then the other and groped for the camera hanging around my neck. I wanted proof of my monumental accomplishment.

After snapping several pictures of each end of the bridge as seen from the middle, and a few of the rushing waters below, I re-capped the lens and proceeded at tortoise-like speed. I all but collapsed on the bench among the shrubbery at the far end.

Two other middle-aged women emerged from the steep winding trail below. They nodded hello and I inquired about the condition of the pathway.

“The trail’s pretty muddy,” the taller woman said cheerfully. “You might want to skip it today.” She smiled. “Besides, the only way back is the way you’ve come.” She inclined her head toward the bridge.

I paled. I know I paled, because the shorter woman gave me a look of genuine concern and reached out to touch my arm. “Are you okay, Honey?”

“S-sure,” I stammered. “I just didn’t think about having to cross the bridge a second time.”

She smiled. “If you got over here by yourself, you can get back.”

“Either that, or you can use the emergency phone at the bottom of the trail to order pizza delivery,” laughed the taller woman, as the two women departed.

Leave it to me, I thought, to be the fall guy for a couple of Canadian comedians.

Fall guy? screamed voice number two. I told you not to do this! I’m too young to die! I want my mommy! Why did you get us into this mess?

Shut up, I told her. You’re not helping.

And amazingly, the little nay-sayer clammed up.

In the silence that wasn’t silence within the roar of rushing water, I eyed the bridge. I thought about all the bridges I knew: Our own Meglar-Astoria “Bridge to Nowhere,” Tacoma-Narrows “Galloping Gertie,” Ambrose Bierce’s “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.

distant bridgeHhhhmmmm. None of this was helping either.

Just do it. I got to my feet and began the long trek back. A few steps short of midway, my peripheral vision vaguely registered a tour bus pulling into the loading zone ahead.

Approximately four heartbeats later, two dozen Japanese teen-agers, whooping and hollering like Kamikaze banshees, bolted out onto the bridge.

Galloping Gertie had nothing on the moves of this bucking monster. The planks heaved up and slapped down, the deep rippling motion caused the boards to shriek under the stress. We’re gonna die! screamed you-know-who.

I dropped to my knees, looped my arms around the cabled sides of the walkway and did some bloody-murder screaming myself. My camera, now swinging freely from the strap around my neck, bounced up and smacked my nose a good one. The lens cap careened into the chasm. A shrill whistle blasted again and again. I closed my eyes and both little voices began reciting the twenty-third Psalm.

What happened next can only be verified by the fact that I lived to tell the story. I’m pretty sure the security guard played a key role in my rescue. But the next thing I actually remember, after my hands were pried loose from the cable railing, was being handed a cup of hot tea as I sat shivering at a table in the gift shop’s snack bar.

“There, there, dear,” the nice woman with the tea said, patting my hand. “If you are so afraid of heights, whatever were you doing out on the bridge in the first place?”

Don’t tell her, said voice number two. Don’t tell that the only reason you were here was the fact that due to the foggy weather, the SuperSkyRide to the top of Grouse Mountain had been closed for the day.

And this time, I listened!