In January of 2021, my boyfriend Roy and I traveled to Boone, NC. We’ve been taking short road trips mostly in North Carolina to avoid flying and to steer clear of sudden changes in travel restrictions imposed by other states. We stay in hotels that have kitchenettes so that we don’t have to depend on local restaurants to have decent vegan food. After several trips to the coast this fall and winter, we decided to head to the mountains. I had ulterior motives in selecting Boone: I knew I had some unfinished business on top of Grandfather Mountain, crossing the Mile-High Swinging Bridge.
My first trip to Grandfather Mountain was in 2011. My parents, my son Benson, and my brother Dave decided to travel up the mountain while on vacation visiting my Uncle Jim and Aunt Diana in Beech Mountain. We drove up the winding road to one of the four peaks that make up Grandfather Mountain, Linville Peak (5,295 ft). We took the stairs and came upon the Mile-High Swinging Bridge, America’s highest suspension footbridge. It’s a 228-foot suspension bridge that spans an 80-foot chasm at more than one mile in elevation. It was windy that day. It was pretty warm to be on a mountain top but there were sixty or so folks milling around crossing the bridge to the higher pinnacle on the other side. Benson and Dave crossed immediately. I froze. I stood there and watched my 17-year-old son clambering on the rocks on the far-off pinnacle. I was overcome by fear. All I wanted was for my son to come back across that bridge and to be next to me. There was no way I was crossing that bridge and all I wanted to do was to go down that mountain before someone I loved was hurt. Unfinished business.
My experience crossing Mile-High Swinging Bridge:
I looked at my weather app that morning and it was showing negligible wind in Boone. The weather called for partly cloudy skies, calm and highs in the 50’s. No rain, no snow. This was the day to attempt my crossing over that bridge. Of course, regardless of what the weather is at the base of a mountain, it has little to do with what is on top of the mountain. I think I was deluding myself that it would be calm and not windy on top of the mountain. When Roy and I drove to the top, the wind was gusting upwards of 50 miles per hour. I was wavering. In my mind, my next trip to this infamous bridge was going to be on a calm day. As with most mountain tops, wind velocity increases with altitude. I had not put that into my equation. This was my chance, gusts or no gusts, Roy and I marched up the stone steps to the bridge.
I wasn’t setting foot on that bridge without Roy to hold onto. When we arrived at the bridgehead, there were five or so folks milling around on the other side and the bridge was empty. There is a large warning sign that says that no more than 40 folks can be on the bridge at one time. I knew there was no turning back now. The bridge was empty, my support was by my side and I was going to cross, gusty winds or no. I knew we could go at my pace. There would be no one holding us up or bearing down from behind. The bridge is about six feet wide and 228 feet long, so not having anyone else on the bridge was optimal. I could hold onto Roy with one arm and the other on the railing. I felt supported. I kept thinking of the thousands of folks that had crossed that bridge and it was still standing. Roy went at my pace as we crossed the span. The bridge itself would sway and the wind created a type of music through the metal planks. I was surprised by how loud it was but somehow it distracted me from my fear. I remember thinking that the midpoint was clearly marked on the bridge and what would be so bad about just turning around and heading back? At least I set foot on the bridge, right? I kept going, marching along to the intended destiny of the pinnacle at the other end of the bridge. We made it.
One Way Back
When we arrived at the end of the crossing, Roy was pointing out how structurally sound the bridge was. I have no idea if he was trying to allay my fears or if he really thought it looked exceptionally sound. He was pointing out the infrastructure as we stood on the paved landing. I knew I had no intentions of scrambling on rocks, I had enough of heights at that moment. Why test fate? There was a young woman with a small baby who was waiting for her husband to come back down from the rock scramble. I could tell she was as frightened as I was. I thought for a moment as I stared back across the span that perhaps there was a trail that I could take down from this precipice. No way. It was cold, windy and I didn’t have any gear even if there was a trail down from that spot. The only way out was back through. I wanted to immediately traverse back. But of course, there was a family making their way across the bridge with a toddler leading the charge. Yes, a toddler. Did I mention I am super impatient? Once the group with the walking toddler was across, I looked at Roy and said, “Let’s go first and get across.” We made our way back with a large family behind us. I’m pretty sure there were less than forty of us on that bridge, but I for one was not going to stop to count!
It’s exhilarating to step into fear. Crossing the Mile-High Swinging Bridge has been on my bucket list for ten years. Sometimes the wait seems to make it inevitable. I knew that if I ever had the opportunity to be standing at that bridgehead again, I could not let the chance to cross slip away. I remember Roy asking when we first got to the parking lot, “Are you sure you want to do this?” I wasn’t sure, I was resolute. When there was a second chance to conquer my fear, I had to take it. I’m proud of myself for taking on the fear and, even as I hyperventilated on the crossing while the deafening noise of the wind whistled through the planks, I stared fear in the face and walked through. It was life affirming.