Climbing on top: Sydney’s Harbour Bridge offers the best—and scariest—vacation workout for viewing the Australian metropolis

Scott Goetz

As I toss in bed, cocooned in Four Seasons Hotel luxury, I see it. It’s huge. My palms sweat when I look at it. Its girth taunts and terrifies. I stare in awe. From my bed I see the stunning harbor view: the boats, the opera house, and it. The Sydney Harbour Bridge–the widest, heaviest bridge in the world, and today I am climbing to the top.

Since my arrival in Sydney this bridge has been a teasing presence. No matter where you are in the city, she dominates the skyline. During every excursion–touring the city by helicopter, sailing the harbor’s waters, feeding giraffes at the Toronga zoo–she’s there, daring me.

But every time I see the trail of insignificant ants climbing to her 439-foot summit, I turn into Kim Novak and crumble at the knees at the thought of Vertigo (the tower that Novak had to climb in the Hitchcock film was a mere anthill compared with this bridge).

But my adventure with a company called Bridge Climb isn’t about fear. My fellow gay friends Walker and Garrett, who flew in from Washington, D.C., are not going to let me back out. Instead, they become Jimmy Stewarts to my Novak, and we head to the bridge, hoping to quash my gephyrophobia–the fear of crossing bridges.

When I learn that all climbers are attached to a guide rail by a running latch (similar to the kind yachtsmen use to prevent falling overboard) and that approximately 700 people a day scale this huge tourist attraction, my fear subsides. That is, until some cruel Aussie presents us with the BridgeSuit. Part early Star Trek, part Devo video wardrobe, these multitoned gray outfits inspire embarrassment in any gay man. Despite the explanation for the jumpsuits (gray keeps the cars below from being distracted), my friends and I see them as creations never to make it to the fashion runway.

Our briefing is thorough. A strict “no boozers allowed” policy is backed up with a Breathalyzer test (law dictates climbers must be sober). Next comes the metal detector–no cameras or loose objects are permitted (they may fall, causing accidents on the road below). Climbing harnesses tightly strapped on, we are handed our latches and tethers and move on to the simulator. Here we learn to lock ourselves onto the bridge and are given instructions on how to properly use our bondage gear (apt to provide an extra rush for those of a certain proclivity).

An hour-plus later our group of 12, ages ranging from 21 to 68, is ready to take our first steps onto the bridge. As we lumber onto a series of catwalks and precarious ladders, the massiveness of this steel structure is daunting–giant girders and thick crossbeams soar to the heavens, while the cacophony of the bridge traffic becomes an intense thumping soundtrack. As we ascend the open-grid mesh stairs on our way to the first abutment tower, some in the group start to squeal.

Most people find these narrow catwalks to be the most frightening part of the tour. I would too if it weren’t for my friends encouraging me to work it like a runway. A few Zoolander struts later, the cement, cars, and water far below become mere details. But we’ve made it to the abutment tower and the base of the arch. The rest of the climb will be on solid steel, terra firma compared with the previous high-wire mesh walk.

Four-hundred-plus stairs later we make it to the summit. Now that we are on top of her, we figure we should probably get to know her better. “Her arch length spans 1,650 feet and reaches a height of 440 feet,” the guide tells us over radio headsets. And this girl has had a lot of work–6 million rivets and 68,000 gallons of paint. It took eight years and the lives of 16 men before she would stand proud, connecting Sydney south to north.

The BridgeClimb is a semichallenging, 3 1/2-hour workout, but unlike any Stairmaster in a gym, this climb offers unparalleled 360-degree views of the city. But it’s not all sweat, and the guide makes sure to stop for photo ops. We can’t resist and camp it up sky-high with the Sydney Opera House as our backdrop. To our surprise, no one squirms uncomfortably when all partners (gay or straight) are encouraged to kiss for the camera, in keeping with bridge tradition.

If he is not writing a screenplay, Scott Goetz is probably off traipsing around the world in search of the unusual, including climbing the Harbour Bridge in Sydney, Australia (page 41).

COPYRIGHT 2004 Liberation Publications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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