In its strictest definition, a bridge is “a structure carrying a road, path, railroad, or canal across a river, ravine, road, railroad, or other obstacle.”, but this to me seems a little broad. The kind of bridges i’m interested in lie in the “HUGE AND METAL” sub-catagory, and it’s climbing these monstrous structures that i’m going to spend a bit of time bibbling on about.
There is something really special about the bridges of the late industrial era. Before we started to construct our trans-obstacle conduits of reenforced concrete we made our bridges of wrought iron, steel and stone, and when one makes an accent of these grand designs of our industrial grandfathers and gets up close and personal with the super structure, you really do get a little trip back in time. The 100 years of layered paint, the rivets and the rust, the solid beams of heavy metal and the sculpted stone standing as shrines to gods of trade and industry. So many towns that are defined by their bridges, and there is a kind of mutual love for these structures by the residents and visitors of the towns they connect which is kind of unique.
The east river bridges in NYC are some of the best examples are these steel monsters, and through the course of my travels I’ve been lucky enough to meet them in person.
The Manhattan is probably my favourite. It was the last of the big three East River bridges to be knocked up, being completed in 1909, the Brooklyn and Williamsburg being opened 26 and 6 years previous. The old girl has had a few problems in years gone by because of the NY subway tracks that flow over the outer carriage ways, the weight of the trains causing the bridge to flex and bend to near breaking point causing millions of dollars of repair work over the last few decades.
Climbing her is an absolute pleasure. One can choose to simply climb up the access ladders that sit inside her or hit the superstructure and get up close and personal from the get go. The saddle room (the bit that holds the cables at the top of the pillars) is a bit cramped, but with a bit of monkeying around, you can get yourself inside the steel globes at the top. Fun eh? I had flakes of rust coming out of my hair for days after this peach.
The Williamsburg bridge has probably been climbed most often by the residents of NYC as it used to be the easiest (some would say it still is). You’re relatively well covered once you hit the access stairs with the saddle room at the top being big enough to have a modest game of tennis in if you need to whittle away any time hiding from the NYPD hi-tech heat seeking whirly bird.
You now have no choice but to get to grips with the steelwork if you want to reach the summit due to the massive amount of anti-climb stuff that has been installed at the base which I’m assuming now puts most people off. It’s a sketchy climb up with a 50ft drop to the freeway, but its all part of the fun right?
My fondest memory of this great bridge is on our decent, when the heavens opened – splooshing some truly epic new-york rain to accompany us down the walkway, off the bridge and back to our fine hosts house to try to get some sleep.
A bit closer to home, one i’d recommend to anyone in the Southwest is the Newport transporter. An absolute doddle to get up, with a mild amount of monkeywork required at the top for the summit views. Its such a crazy (and inefficient) machine, kept alive on pure love from the city of Newport who see is as a staple icon of their city. It was windy as hell when we hit this one, and if you’re ever up there in similar conditions, i’d recommend putting your ear against the massive suspension cables and listening to the huge sub-bass produced by the strings of this ridiculous instrument. Next time I go back it’ll be with contact microphones.
Last but not least, one of my favorite bridges of all time: The Forth Rail Bridge near Edinburgh, Scotland. This huge red dignitary is a true engineering marvel and a shining example of Victorian over-engineering.
Funnily enough, they recently finished painting it, meaning the scaff everyone used to hop up was now well and truly gone, although the prospect of meeting workers was now happily diminished. After spending a bit of time in the local boozer we hit the bridge and were standing above the frith of the forth on the huge steel monster, curling our toes over a few of the eight million steel rivets that hold it together. They really don’t build em like this anymore.