Wild Walk West Virginia –
I find myself looking out over 3000 feet of rusted steel catwalk and 875’ down upon the New River gorge. A harness cliches up between my legs and around my waist. A specially made trolley, carabiner and dog leash between me and the river below should I step off the catwalk.
A long steel cable runs the length of the bridge and I am to clip onto the cable. This cable will stay attached the entire walk across. I start walking across and the earth falls quickly below me. It’s surprising how much the whole structure shakes with each passing car, and especially truck above. Trying to take photos is difficult due to the vibrations.
There is a rhythmic sound and pace to the walk. There is a constant hum of traffic from above and an echoing clanking of the harness trolley as it clicks through the transitional cable supports. However, the view below is ever changing. The shadow of the bridge becomes more pronounced as the sunsets and near closer to the center of the span. Yellow rafts on the river below are mere specs; I am excited I’ll be rafting those same rapids tomorrow; meanwhile an empty coal train winds its way along the river.
This is Bridge Day eve. Tomorrow the bridge will be closed as 80,000 people will be walking above to celebrate the 40th annual Bridge Day Celebration. Bridge Day occurs every 3rd Saturday in October and is one of the largest extreme sports events in the world. For 6 hours, hundreds of BASE (Bridge, Ariel, Structure & Earth) jumpers will throw themselves off the bridge for a few second free fall. They jump alone, in groups, and for causes. Others will choose to rappel or zip-line from the structure. It’s a thrill just walking across the thing and dangling my feet over the edge.
I rush from my morning rafting trip to take in the actual Bridge Day festivities. The main Route 19 closes before dawn and parking in Fayetteville is a challenge to say the least. The event shuts down at 3:00 and I rush past the mile long procession of food, craft and civic organization vendors to get to the middle of the bridge. The crowd is huge and it is a challenge to navigate through all the revelers. I make it to the center of the bridge and the sheer number of jumpers is impressive. Most congregate around the scaffolding that is setup for the event. Other more extreme adrenaline junkies opt for the human catapult to get their fix.
Finding a good viewing perch is tough given the only place to go is up against the bridge railing. However, it amazes me the friendliness of the attendees and am offered a spot on the rail on multiple occasions. In fact, I find West Virginians in general to be very friendly.
After the grand finale I proceed back across the bridge but unfortunately the vendors for the most part have broken down their tents and folded up their tables. Except for the kettle corn folks, there had to be at least 3 of them and they weren’t through selling.
This is a very quick weekend trip for me but it is action packed. It proves to be one of my favorite events and well worth the hurried drive; I’ll certainly go again!