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I grew up in the shadow of Grandfather Mountain. As a child my parents took me to visit it a handful of times but always stopped short of the top. Mildred the Bear was as far as we went. As a teenager I wanted to see this Mile High Swinging Bridge I’d heard about, and drove myself to the tip. My memory of what I saw is an old, rickety, wooden bridge twisting in the mountain top winds. I’m pretty sure I remember screaming tourists tumbling to their deaths 5,280 feet below. This may be the birth place of my acrophobia. My Technicolor imagination predates this by quite a few years.

In the next decade or so I hiked many trails up and around Grandfather Mountain but never re-visited that horrible scene. With yet another decade buffering the trauma, this weekend ShirtlessRoland took my lovely children and me back to Grandfather Mountain for Kid Fest. Upon entry we were handed an audio CD that is perfectly timed (if you drive the speed limit – and you really should) to tell you about the attractions you’re passing on your left and your right. The history of the park and the history of the terrain itself are explained in awesome detail that had my son (who is studying NC in his 4th grade class) oohing and ahhing. After a peaceful walk through the animal habitats, watching the otters eat, the cougars pace, and the bears pee (that’s more impressive than you might have thought), we summited, just as our CD told us we would.

I told ShirtlessRoland and the kids they could cross without me. I would wait for them, worriedly, on this – the safe side of the bridge. Still, without explanation, I found myself foot to foot with the bridge and immediately declared, “This is not the same bridge!” This thing was steel! I looked out at the middle, which was clearly over capacity, and despite the strong breeze, there was very little movement. As I stood, watching the middle and trying to reconcile my memory with what was in front of me, I saw my son, then my daughter, then my ShirtlessRoland pass through my field of vision. They were already on their way! I had to follow so that I could tell them there had been a bait and switch! I looked straight ahead (not down, not out) and fought the growing panic attack to tell them the news. By the time I exited the bridge, I could feel the vomit creeping to thyroid-height, and my loves were nowhere to be found. They had bounded off to some crags ahead.
When we met up again, I was still quite the Nervous Nelly, constantly instructing them to “stop running,” “quit jumping,” “watch your step,” “come away from that ledge,” “now move away from the other ledge,” and finally, “let’s just go.”

I handed the camera to ShirtlessRoland and asked him to please take a picture pointing straight down so that I could look at it some other time, when I’m far away and safely back to near-sea-level. On the trek back across the bridge, I was thinking how proud I should be to have conquered a fear by crossing the bridge, but how instead I felt just as phobic as I did before I crossed it. Then I decided that there’s no use doing something if you’re not going to enjoy it, and I thought this was a good time to practice that “just letting go” I’ve been working so hard on the last few years.

I kind-of-sort of looked down. Actually, I peeked over my right shoulder and down, like somehow seeing what I’d already crossed would not be as frightening as seeing what still lied ahead. It was a very quick peek and all I saw was the tops of some trees and a few rocks. Not too scary. We spent the next 15 minutes or so milling around the guest shop with the kids, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that I just did something I thought – actually, that I swore – I never would do. I crossed the mile-high swinging bridge. Big pat on my own back.

Safely back in the car to leave, our faithful CD guide immediately greeted us with this news:

“Though it’s called the Mile High Swinging Bridge, that is measured from sea-level and the bridge itself rises only 80 feet above the ground below. During its reconstruction in 1999, the bridge was rebuilt with (however many tons of) steel, which doesn’t allow it to swing as much as the old wooden one did. Many people now refer to it as the ‘singing bridge’ due to the sound it makes as the wind blows through its steel bars, much like a harmonica.”

So let me get this straight. What I’ve been afraid of all these years not only was never as scary as I thought, but has been replaced with a newer, sturdier option?

Well don’t I feel silly?

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