Just Get Past The Peak

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There’s a bridge between here and Toronto. It’s in St. Catherine’s. It’s not high, but it’s high enough.

As you cross the Lewiston Bridge, the 190 turns into Route 405 in Ontario. The 405 quickly merges into the QEW and from there its straight on through to Toronto.

By way of this “high enough” bridge.

It’s called the “Garden City Skyway” and it soars 130 feet above the Welland Canal at its greatest height. Not too high. But high enough.

Nearly a mile long, when approaching from the east (which is what you do when you’re travelling to Toronto) before it crosses the canal, it ascends to a gentle curve. But not gentle enough.

To compound matters, the Canadians built the Garden City Skyway as an open road. There is no high structural steel to cocoon you comfortably within its path.

This, combined with it being as tall as a 13-story building and a curve that hides your ultimate destination leaves you with a feeling of flying unbound, high above the endless horizon of Lake Ontario.

And that’s just enough to give one smitten with a not-so-mild case of acrophobia sweaty palms.

I happen to be that one.

We all have a fear of falling. It’s natural and it’s meant to protect us. Acrophobia – the fear of heights – is an irrational behavior that increases with age. There are good reasons for this, but those aren’t important here. What’s important is the very real feeling induced by this fear.

It’s a feeling that gives you a sense that some strange force compels you to the edge of the precipice. For example, the low walls of the Garden City Skyway beckon you to turn the wheel and direct your car over them. The not-so-gentle curve urges you to go straight – straight to your doom.

It’s an evil energy. An unnatural power. A dark force that wants to eat your very soul.

And you can do nothing about it.

Remember those pre-school nightmares when you’re being chased by a gorilla and your legs can’t run. You’re far away enough to escape, if only you can run. But you can’t. So you wake up in a fright.

And notice your palms are sweaty.

It’s the same way with acrophobia.

Here’s what it feels like in real time as I approach the Garden City Skyway.

I first notice the road ahead. I can see it rising into the airy nothingness. The curve ahead conceals what lies beyond.

I know what’s coming. I tense up. The inevitable nears.

The car begins to lift. The vehicle remains on the road, but the road itself is climbing.

I grip the wheel tighter, determined to fight against that surreal urge that draws me over the edge.

That’s when I notice my palms getting sweaty. Just at the worst time. I can’t afford to let the wheel slip from my grasp.

I sense my heart beginning to pound as I head towards the curve to nowhere. I’m too focused on what’s immediately straight ahead.

I refuse to tilt my head just to see what’s beyond the curve.

I’m heading into the unknown.

My heart races more. It seems the car is going too slow. Like those immobile legs in that childhood nightmare. Except I’m not running from the ape. I’m driving towards it.

But at least I can retain control. Still, I have no idea what will happen next.

Around me my peripheral vision sees nothing but air. I’m coasting at an exposed altitude with no guy wires, no safety net. One slip and I’m Karl Wallenda.

Now my mind decides to go into hyperdrive. I’m continually observing, analyzing, deciding – rinse, lather, repeat, over and over again. What do I do if the car starts veering? What if the bridge collapses? Should I slow down for better control? Should I speed up to get it over faster?

My brow feels sweaty now. Anxiety. High Anxiety. Literally.

In this deepest dread, I tell myself I can survive.

That’s the moment I remember. I remember being in this place before. There is hope.

All I need to do is get to the peak.

With laser-like concentration, my vision narrows further to the center of the road. Don’t go over the edge. Don’t look down. Eyes straight ahead. Get to the peak. Survive to the peak.

I sense my chassis rolling more deliberately towards the apex of the bridge.

Almost there…

Closer…

Closer…

I veer to the left on that not so gentle curve.

Then I see it.

Finally…

The crest…

Just ahead…

I purposely press the pedal to accelerate. Ever so little. Just to get there faster.

And then I’m there.

On top of the world. Literally. The highest point of the Garden City Skyway. Higher than the tallest freighter. The acme.

And then I’m over it and past it.

Elation.

It’s all downhill from here. I coast. I relax my formally focused eyes.

I see the world around me. The world below. It’s beautiful. It’s my world. And I’m returning to it in one piece.

I didn’t merely survive the ordeal. I conquered it.

And that feeling makes me more alive than I’ve ever felt before.

You know the expression “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger”? This is an experience made precisely for that sentiment.

I am stronger. And will remain stronger.

And the next time I must cross a bridge into the unknown, I’ll keep this one thing in mind:

“Just get past the peak.”

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