That bridge too far, over the Chesapeake

tamrawilson Uncategorized

 I had the “pleasure” of driving over both spans of the Bay Bridge to Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Photo by Acroterion/Wikimedia.        

Last week I drove over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, again.

This bridge, just east of Annapolis, is nearly 380 feet high—enough to clear the mast of a tall ship with 200 feet to spare—and more than four miles long.

I’m not alone with my gephyrophobia (fear of bridges).This bridge is so scary that drivers actually hire a service to drive their cars across. Nervous locals regularly pay $25 each way to hire Bay Bridge Drive-Overs.  Yes, even some Eastern Shore folks who commute to Annapolis every day.

Tolls are $4 eastbound and, assuming you survive that trip, there is no fee westbound. Billed as the ninth scariest bridge in the world, I don’t want to even think about the first eight.

For doubters, there are videos of the drive such as this one filmed in 2011. Yep, imagine me in that middle lane, vehicles passing, hoping I get across before the rainstorm arrives.

If it weren’t for visiting my friend in Delaware, I wouldn’t ever drive that nightmarish span, but the other options aren’t good: the Chesapeake Bay-Bridge Tunnel at Hampton Roads-20 miles across open water from Hampton Roads to the lower tip of the Delmarva Peninsula. Or, driving north, around the shore of the Chesapeake Baywhich takes at least three hours through Baltimore and Wilmington traffic.  No thanks.

The height of the bridge bothers me, but the flimsy-looking guardrails don’t help.  They allow an unobstructed look across to the other span or a vertigo-inducing glance down to the choppy ocean surface. 

Nope, I’ll endure the six or seven minutes across the bridge. I’ve done it several times, but it’s never fun. A friend whose son attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis knew exactly what I was talking about several years ago when I mentioned that I had to drive the Bay Bridge alone. Her recommendation: look straight ahead, focus on the vehicle ahead of you (there usually is one) and start counting one thousand one, one thousand two. It helps to listen to music, I’ve found. In less than seven minutes—or two songs, the ordeal is over. There was a high-wind advisory on my east-bound trek, which didn’t help matters. Fortunately, it’s wasn’t foggy. I’ve heard there are times drivers can’t see land once they’re half across the bridge. If you don’t already have religion, that might give it to you.

Despite the white knuckles, my drives across the Chesapeake have never been as unnerving as what happened in 2015 in Zion National Park, Utah. Having cleared a lengthy Mount Carmel Tunnel, I was behind the wheel when we emerged from the other end like a pinball out of the chute, rounding a winding, narrow, mountain road with no place to pull off. I started yelling to my husband, “I can’t do this!”

He said to keep my eyes on the road. That was the easy part; no way I was going to even glance down that steep canyon. I heated up the brakes before we reached a pull-off, I engaged the emergency brake, scooted cross the seat while he got out and walked around the car to take the wheel.

I get my fear of heights honestly. I grew up 100 miles from St. Louis, home of the legendary Chain of Rocks Bridge that crossed the Mississippi on Route 66. This spindly monstrosity featured a particularly terrifying 24-degree bend halfway across the river. My mother, who was more gephyrophobic than I am, always dreaded that bridge, period, much less when she spotted an Illinois-bound tractor trailer coming toward us at the bend.

The Chain of Rocks was decommissioned years ago and is now closed to all but foot traffic, so if you want to terrify yourself above the Mississippi, go ahead.  I’m still coming to terms with the catwalk across the Chesapeake.