Saturday, April 17, 2004

Queen of the Castle

Last Tuesday I drove through north Sydney on my way from Newcastle. We had to queue for quite a while to pay the toll before entering the tunnel. As we were waiting, I looked up ahead and could see the Bridge, amongst the skyscrapers. I couldn’t believe how high it looked against those buildings, and that a few weeks ago I stood right at the top.

I’m standing 134 metres above the waters of Sydney Harbour, more than a tenth of a kilometre above all the dirty rascals. It doesn't quite feel real. I don’t quite realise how high I am until a cargo ship passes under the bridge. Hmmm, yeah, that’s quite a big ship, we say to each other. Then I experience a huge perspective shift as the guide points out that there are two people standing right at the front of the ship. They look like matchsticks.

We walked into the Bridgeclimb offices just before 4pm and found LOTS of people, all either lining up to make bookings or waiting for their turn to climb the bridge. Every ten minutes a group of twelve heads up onto the Bridge. All day and into the night.

After a bit of nervous waiting we were called in to sign indemity forms, then colour in a page of those circles that I haven’t seen since competing in Maths and Science competitions at high school, and count into a breathalyser. The circle-colouring-in was to get our names printed on the official certificates. I was the slowest to finish this because I actually tried to read the indemnity form, and at the same time a Bridgeclimb employee was talking about things that might have important. However I am happy to report that both Dad and I passed the counting and colouring-in tests comfortably.

Next we were hustled into an adjoining room, and greeted by another employee, who inspected our shoes, told us what jewellery we were allowed to leave on (rings and small earrings were about all), and performed the impressive feat of handing each of us exactly the right size jumpsuit without asking anyone for their size, but not before he apologised for looking each of us up and down. We went into little cubicles to change into the jumpsuits, after yet another employee came in with a weather report (temp low 20s, humidity high) and recommended "just underwear or very light layers" under the jumpsuit. This was very helpful as I hadn't wanted to ask, but had been wondering if you're supposed to wear your clothes underneath. The jumpsuits were not highly fashionable, though at least the colours were muted and inoffensive in two or three shades of grey. I heard later that the grey was chosen to avoid distracting motorists driving across the Bridge, but I don’t know if that’s true. It was somehow comforting that everyone wore the same, even the staff, and even including those who just work in the preparation areas and don't actually lead the climbs. I did feel for them, knowing how I would feel about wearing a jumpsuit on a daily basis, let alone one with firm elastic wrists, ankles and waist.

Once jumpsuited, they checked us over with a metal-detecting wand. I’m not sure if they were looking for guns, knives or excessive bling bling, but in any case we all passed.

Finally we met our guide and collected an array of gear. First, the padded belt and harness to be attached to the continuous static line (cable) that follows the entire route taken on the bridge. Next, a raincoat (zipped into a smallish package) that clipped onto the back of the belt. If it had been colder we would have had a similarly packaged fleecy jacket clipped on the other side. I was most amused by the blue man-size hanky with an elastic loop on one corner. This was worn on the wrist and wrapped around, bandanna style. I don’t remember anyone using it, but I guess a sudden runny-ness of the nose could be a bit of a disaster. Even if you did have pants with pockets on underneath the jumpsuit, it would be very tricky to get to your snot-rag. We were allowed to take sunglasses, and if we did there was an official BridgeclimbTM cord to hold them, which not only went around the neck but also clipped on to the jumpsuit. Dad was very relieved to discover this option because he had been debating whether to take sunnies, being worried about the wind drying out his contact lenses. There were also BridgeclimbTM hats, which, inevitably, clip onto the jumpsuit. I decided not to mess up my totally stylin’ pigtails. They even had official BridgeclimbTM scrunchies for those who hadn’t thought ahead like me.

We did a short practice climb on a series of ladders set up in the preparation area, mainly just getting used to being ‘clipped on’ to the static line, and learning how to free the clip when it snags. Oh yes, and learning the ‘one-at-a-time’ method of ladder climbing. And finally, just near the exit, we got the last piece of equipment: a radio which went in a holder on the belt, and a headset with ear pieces that went on your face in front of the ears (face-pieces?) and worked by bone conduction. I guess this might be so that you can still hear other things properly while listening to the running commentary from the guide.

We stepped outside onto the street, feeling about as odd as we looked. Not to mention a little apprehensive.

Stay tuned for part 2.

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