I carefully raised the paper towel up off of my foot and peeked underneath. Damn! The wounds on the top of my right foot were still bleeding. I had similar marks on my left, but they did not seem as deep and, thankfully, were not bleeding. I pushed the towel back down again over my foot with the hope that direct pressure would stop the blood flow. It didn’t help. Blood continued to flow from the cuts. While tending to my feet, I cursed myself for doing something so stupid. In the weeks leading up to this adventure, I had envisioned myself walking on sunny beaches and kicking off my shoes to dig my toes into warm sand. With this image in mind, I had bought a new pair of flip-flops to specifically wear on my vacation in Australia.
However, there was one problem. I didn’t even try on the shoes before leaving America. And, now, the pink plastic straps on the top of the flip-flops had pulled so tightly that before I had realized it my feet were cut deep enough to bleed. I knew that this certainly was not a medical emergency and I would heal in time without any scars. However, I was concerned because of an event that was scheduled for the next day. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect since tomorrow’s activity had been suggested by my travel agent, Ken.
When I originally discussed my Australian trip with the agent, Ken asked me what events I was interested in and what I wanted to see. Of course, I mentioned the most obvious tourist sites. I wanted to see the Australian Zoo. I wanted to tour the Sydney Opera House. I wanted to visit Ayer’s Rock.
Ken had a lot of other great ideas: camel rides into the outback to see the sunset, hiking the gorge into Kata Jyata…and, hey, what about the Sydney Bridge Climb?
I had never heard of the bridge climb before and Ken was more than happy to enlighten me. He had participated in this activity several times and was very enthusiastic about the climb up the Harbor Bridge. “Sure,” I told him, “sign me up.”
Hhhmmm….I should have done a little research.
The Sydney Bridge Climb consists of 1332 steps up 445 feet above the Sydney Harbor. From the top of the bridge, there is a full 360 degree view of Sydney, Australia.
But right then, speaking with Ken, I thought it sounded like a great adventure.
But now, here I was sitting in my hotel room the night before the bridge climb carefully wiping away blood from the cuts on the top of my feet. When the bleeding began to ease, I covered the wounds with the only medicinal product I had with me. I smeared Vaseline over the top of my feet and prayed that I would be healed and ready for the bridge climb the next day.
The morning of the climb, I woke up and looked immediately at my feet. The Vaseline had served as a temporary seal over the cuts and the bleeding had stopped. Now, completely excited, I quickly showered, dressed, and walked out of my hotel. Once outside, I looked over the map I had picked up the day before at the tourist information center. The attendants at the center had been nice enough to sketch out the route I needed to walk to get to the office of the Sydney Bridge Climb. I sighed and then balanced myself carefully as I alternately rotated my ankles around in circles. Though my feet felt slightly achy, I was ready for the long walk, which would give me the chance to take a good long look at the city of Sydney.
I walked around Darling Harbor to Bathurst Street and then strolled confidently down George Street. I tried not to look like a tourist but I couldn’t help staring wide -eyed and snapping pictures as I walked passed amazing cathedrals and government buildings. I walked passed malls, a large 3-story book store, and high priced specialty shops. I walked passed crowds of people hurriedly walking down the street or sitting comfortably in small cafes. I marveled at the old artistic architecture that prominently stood out against the strong backdrop of modern skyscrapers.
Then, I quickly climbed the two concrete staircases that lead up to the overpass of Cumberland Street where the Bridge Climb Office was located. I easily find the office but there was one problem. I was several hours early. I honestly didn’t know where I was going and I didn’t want to be late, so I had left the hotel at 10 am in order to get to the right location in time for my 2:15 pm appointment.
I sighed and told myself there was no problem. I at least knew where the office was now and could relax with a quick lunch and a cup of tea before the climb started. I turned around, walked back down the two staircases and strolled back down the busy streets as I searched for a comfortable place to rest. I kept telling myself that I needed to sit down and relax somewhere. I had been walking for over an hour on wounded feet that would soon be climbing 1332 steps into the air.
But I just kept walking. There was too much to see to settle down in any one place. Most people who know me would tell you that’s how I live my life, too! But finally, when my feet began to protest by throbbing heatedly, I entered a small coffee shop and relaxed with a sandwich and hot tea before starting on my way back to Cumberland Street.
When I left the café, however, I still had an hour before my climb, so I decided to go down to the harbor for a while and take a few pictures of the ferries, the ships, the bridges, the people, the water, and the seagulls. I quickly fell into step with a small group of people who were moving towards the harbor. I felt happy and relaxed as I stepped down off a curb and, then suddenly, to my totally surprise, my right foot slipped out from under me and…
Wait! What?! I’m falling!? I’M FALLING!
And before another thought could go through my head, I found myself sprawled on the ground after landing heavily on my right hip. A sharp pain speared down my right leg and my right wrist throbbed from trying to stupidly use my right hand to break my fall. I sat on the ground for a moment until a group of four elderly citizens kindly stopped to help me up off the ground.
“Are you alright?!” I nodded my head yes as I forced a smile though tears that stung my eyes.
“Are you hurt?” I coughed out a no as I assured them I didn’t break my leg or wrist.
“Do you have everything? Did you drop your wallet?” I assured them that it didn’t matter because I didn’t have any money anyway. This made them laugh which helped ease the tension.
I sincerely thanked this group of kind seniors as they gave me one more quick brush off and then slowly walked away.
I took a deep breath and steadied myself against the pain in my right hip before walking down to the harbor. I felt better when I was by the water, even though my right hip and leg continued to throb. I stood very still for a moment as I realized that in half an hour, oh my gosh, I would be climbing 1332 steps!
I took several deep breaths and walked away from the harbor. I walked stiffly down the street and stood at the bottom of the concrete staircases leading up to Cumberland Street. I took a deep breath and forced my aching body up the steps. As I half walked and half limped into the Bridge Climb office, I hoped that a bright smile on my face would disguise the dull pain I was experiencing in my hip, my wrist, and my feet.
I walked up to the reception desk and spoke to a young woman who sat at the computer. The woman was friendly with a bright, happy smile and a warm, welcoming demeanor.
“Hi,” I said, “I’m Jamie Zunick. I’m scheduled for the bridge climb at 2:15.”
The woman looked at her computer screen for a moment and then stated, “Oh, yes, Jamie. I see your reservation right here. First, I need you to read and respond to this statement.”
The woman handed me a small laminated paper and I quickly read that I was to report any health problems I was currently experiencing. Hhhmmm…
The card read, “Do you currently have…” which was followed by a double list of health problems. I read through the conditions quickly and then handed the paper back to the woman.
“I don’t see clumsiness listed here, so I guess I’m okay,” I told her.
The woman looked at me for a moment and then gleefully laughed out loud.
She thought I was joking.
Then the clerk handed me a ticket and told me to enjoy my climb. As instructed, I turned to the right and pulled myself up the stairs to wait with several other people for the 2:15 pm climb.
Then, right at the appointed moment, there was a sudden flurry of activity. The climbers were asked to fill out health forms, permission slips, and emergency contact information sheets. We watched a video on bridge safety and were given breathalyzers. We were issued jumpsuits to pull on over our clothing and ushered into changing rooms. We placed our personal items in lockers and walked through a metal detector. Our tour guide, Leah, got us all situated in our security belts and cables. She then placed radios, earphones, cables, hats, and jackets on our bodies. Leah gave us final instructions and guided us up and down the stimulation ladders to practice safety climbing.
And somewhere, within all of this activity, my right hip and leg stopped throbbing. My right wrist could easily rotate. My feet no longer hurt. Somewhere in the excitement of the moment, the adventure had grown bigger than the pain.
Then, with Leah enthusiastically guiding us, my team of eight tourists were walking through the tunnel that lead from the building to the bridge itself. With that first step out onto the steel beams of the bridge, my heart began to exhilarate. But it was a fast beating that pumped not just blood but life and energy to all areas of my body and spirit.
I followed immediately behind Leah when the other members in our group suggested I go first. How did that happen!? It wasn’t like I asked to be in that position! But now, I was thrilled to be the first in my group to find myself on the bridge as I listened to Leah describe the history and construction of the structure. Leah was incredibly knowledgeable about the bridge and I was thrilled to hear her stories. Listen to the guide’s information, I eagerly followed along behind her wanting more of everything. More information, more knowledge, more steps, more adventure, more thrill, more life. We climbed a series of metal staircases and ladders. And then we were stepping onto the arch of the bridge. Even with the wind whipping viciously around us as we climbed, I didn’t feel any fear. I usually experience anxiety in different situations. Panic attacks run in my family, especially among the females.
But here, right now, as I climbed, I not only let go of pain, but of fear, too. Though I was tethered to the bridge by a hook connected to a steel cable, I had never felt so free.
And then, there I was at the summit. I stood beside the Australian flag and knew I had found my “happy place.” I was in heaven 445 feet up above Sydney, Australia. I stood there at the summit as the wind pushed against my body, rocking me furiously back and forth. I stood there looking down 360 degrees around beautiful Sydney. I stared down at the harbor, down at the city, down at the Sydney Opera House, down at the highway, down at the cars and trains that rumbled below us on the very bridge where we stood up in the sky. This had to be heaven because there was no pain, no fear, no anxiety, no depression, no worries…all of those things that hold me back while I am on earth.
And I realized then that that is the heart of Australia, the heart of Sydney, the heart of all people, the heart of the earth…and maybe, just maybe, the very heart of me.
We bleed, we hurt, we cry…
And then we brush off the dust and the dirt and the tears…
And we climb 445 feet up a damn bridge! I climbed it!