For most of my life, I have been afraid of heights. It goes way back to when I was little. My dad was a forester with the Mississippi Forestry Commission and he took us up firetowers a lot. My brother and I spent most of that time up there pretending like we were going to push the other over the edge. Neither of us ever succeeded, but the thought of falling from a high structure always gave me the heebie-jeebies.
A couple of years ago, I went to Herman Smith, superintendent of the Hwy. 80 bridge over the Mississippi River and told him that I wanted to go below the bridge and shoot some photos. He told me, "You don't want to go down to take pictures, you want to go up." He then offered me the chance to climb to the flag platform of the old bridge to take some photos. I laughed in his face.
But later that night, I thought some more about it and realized that I would probably never have the opportunity to climb up there again, so I called him the next day and took him up on his offer.
So, up I went. You have to climb a ladder on the outside of the bridge. Look for it the next time you drive across the I-20 bridge. The bridge is 90 feet above the water and the flag platform is 110 feet above the roadbed. It's a long way up, believe me. Herman shimmied up the thing like he was just taking a walk in his backyard. I, on the other, came as close to sweating blood as I have ever come in my life. But I finally made it and the photos show some of the views.
But the hard part was yet to come. I was content to take pictures from the flag platform, but Herman said the best photos could be had by walking across the little catwalk you see him traversing in the second photo. It's tiny. And the only way across is to hook up lifeline onto that small cable and scoot across. I did it, but I thought I was going to die in the process. My heart has never — and probably never will — beat as hard as it did on that walk across that little piece of metal. Herman just skip-to-my-Lou'd right across the thing.
But he was right. The view was spectacular. And Herman let me take photos until my heart was content. That's when I realized that the only way I was going to get off the top of that bridge was to make that same heart-thumping walk one more time. Brother, I was just about sick to my stomach with the thought of doing that again.
But you know the rest of the story because I survived the trek back across and then down that ladder hanging over the water. When my feet hit the pavement, I was invincible! I could do anything! And that feeling has stayed with me today. I no longer hesitate to go somewhere high.
My respect and admiration for Herman and his crew also knows no bounds. They climb all over that bridge. It's a job only a few people can do. I am glad it is them, however, and not me.
Tomorrow: Trains going across the bridge — shot from above