Gephyrophobia

I am a brave, burly man, and do not like to admit that on my recent trip to San Francisco, I faced three attacks of gephyrophobia. I know the fear is irrational. I know I am in God’s hands. I know I will not be hurt. Yet I had to fight with all my might to subdue the panic attacks that come with gephyrophobia. By God’s grace, I was okay, but my whole body hurt after the ordeal. I am not proud of this phobia, but hey, why not just be honest about it?

What is gephyrophobia, and why does it afflict such a manly man as Bill? you ask…

Gephyrophobia is the irrational fear of bridges. And San Francisco has waaay too many of them. It started on an innocent trip with the kids to Dave and Busters. The hotel concierge sent us via Rt 92. Rt 92 includes a 7 mile long bridge–that’s right, 7 whole miles of bridge–in an earthquake zone, in a van with bald tires, with my wife and kids, at dusk, at high speed, in GALE-FORCE WINDS… This sorry excuse for a bridge, called the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge, boasts a 1.9 mile section that rises 135 feet above the black, choppy waters. 135 feet UP. And there are no SIDE RAILS to speak of.

There is a force in the universe that sucks you over the edge of a bridge if you get too close and if the side rails are to low/spindly.

My fear intensified when I saw the high portion ahead. I broke into a cold sweat. I asked my amused wife–who DEFINITELY does NOT have the gift of mercy–to turn down the radio, to remove the sunglasses from the top of my head (my hands were vice-gripped at 10 & 2), and to mop the sweat off my brow. I asked her to keep up the small talk. I got into the center lane and implored God Almighty that a gust of wind wouldn’t sweep us over the edge. I went about 5-7 miles UNDER the speed limit, while foolhardy Franciscans passed my on either side. They must have understood my plight, waving messages of consolation as they whizzed by.

“Stay between the lines,” I reminded myself. “Just stay between the lines.” I found it worked best to concentrate on the 15 feet in front of my car, and not to look off into the distance. Ahead of me, as far as the eye could see, stretched nothing but an ancient bridge (the thing was built in 1929, for cry-aye) and menacing waters. I prayed. I sang hymns… but all I could get out were portions.

As I said, Margi was amused.

Worst of all, I knew that I would face the same bridge in the dead of night coming back. The thought haunted me the rest of the evening.

You who scoff… you who are tempted to ridicule me, please remember this: I speak to a large audience 4 times per week. Hah!

Needless to say, my terror began the moment we started our return trip. My imagination pictured a gust of wind lifting the front of the van. I pictured a blow-out with us spinning into the spindly side rails, and plunging overboard. I pictured myself crying out to Margi to get the boy, and I’d get the girl, and we’d meet at the pylon. I imagined kicking off my shoes… Yes… all of it.

Scripture helped, but it was a total wrestling match.

For this pleasure, I had to pay a $4 [insert sanctified expletive here] toll.

The next day, we headed home, this time over the infamous Bay Bridge. I thought this would be a little, easy bridge, but it was not to be. The Bay Bridge turns out to be a double decker. I saw it coming about 10 minutes before I actually was on it. This didn’t help.

This antique, circa 1936, handles 280,000 cars a day. But good luck telling that to the gephyrophobiac in me. I prayed, Dear God, don’t make me go on the upper deck. Don’t make me go on the upper deck.

I am here to tell you God answers prayer. Hallelujah.

Whatever signs I followed took us to the LOWER deck. This bridge was better, in that it had a thick side rail, a low deck above us, and angular girders on each side. I felt encased. I also remember reading how the upper deck collapsed during a 1984ish earthquake, resulting in one fatality on the lower deck. I kept my eyes peeled both above and below for any popping rivets or sudden gaps.

I used the same wise strategy as on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge: stay in the center lane, hands clenched at 10 & 2, small talk from non-compassionate wife, prayers, Scriptures, and hymn fragments interspersed… oh, and 5-7 miles beneath the speed limit. San Franciscans are VERY understanding of gephyrophobia. They again gestured encouragingly as they blew past me on either side.

The Bay Bridge is particularly deceptive. This 8 MILE torture chamber soars 200 [insert sanctified expletive here] feet ABOVE the frigid, shark infested SF Bay. It ends in a tunnel… after about 8 minutes of horrifying driving. Thank God! Trees. Terra firma. Solid ground under my tires. And above my head. I love tunnels. I’d made it across the Bay Bridge. I’m alive! My pulse slowed. My blood pressure returned to its normal/elevated state. My hands unclenched.

We emerged from the tunnel to see…

The second half of the [insert sanctified expletive here] bridge. Years of jogging and working out paid off, as I am alive to tell you that my vital signs rocketed upwards faster than a Hollywood divorce.

Margi laughed. She saw it coming and didn’t tell me. I still haven’t decided if that was good or bad… she’s still on probation.

Am I proud of my gephyrophobia? No. I faced it at the Royal Gorge. I faced it on an icy footbridge above Chicago’s Kennedy Expressway (by Jefferson Park). I faced it on the steel-mesh bridge over the Mississippi River. I faced it on the endless Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Florida, when I rode a Greyhound bus one month after a Greyhound bus plunged into the water when a span of the bridge was struck by an oil tanker. The way I see it, it’s a numbers thing, and I’m running out of safe bridge crossings. It’s only a matter of time. Pray for me.

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23 thoughts on “Gephyrophobia

  1. For the life of me I can’t figure out why you DIDN’T cross the Golden Gate Bridege!! It’s far shorter, has tall side railing, maybe even a NET to catch you if by chance you 1)blow off by the strong winds, 2)sway madly from side to side like a swing, or 3)roll with the shock waves from an earthquake. Really FUN! AND, the view of San Francisco is breath taking!! Oh, I forgot, a fall from that Bridge’s height is deadly – a favorite end of life choice. Probably wouldn’t do your gephyrophobia any good at all….

    You silly guy….

  2. Relief, Thy name is Xanax.
    I have seen reports about this on newsmagazines, which reported that there were driving services for hire for people who knew they couldn’t make it across. I understand. I felt relief just knowing that should I ever have to drive across that bridge, I wouldn’t have to. Unfortunately, I don’t remember which bridge it was. What I don’t get, and maybe I’m being an idealistic single person, is, “Why didn’t your wife drive?” It’s a lot easier to assume the fetal position if you don’t have to hang onto a steering wheel.
    My worst driving fear was on a mountain road between Phoenix and Old Tucson. I rounded a curve and all of a sudden right next to me was…nothing, and no guardrail between me and nothing. My legs were shaking so badly, I could barely keep the accelerator down. Fortunately, I studied a map so that I could avoid that road on the way back.

  3. I Googled the San Mateo Bridge, and Wikipedia says it opened in 1967. You aren’t the only person I know who finds the low edges disconcerting. The Bay Bridge was extensively reconstructed after the earthquake, which should be reassuring.

    Maybe you should check out the Ferries.

  4. Yes we stay in vallejo (everythings cheaper) at Marine World. Then we go by ferry to Pier 9. Very reasonable and no trying to find a parking spot at one of the busiest destinations in the World. Then at night catch the last ferry back with some hot chocolate and fresh donuts! It’s quite enjoyable and you will yawn as you go by the Bay Bridge over to the Pier. Really though we bloggers are far more happier you faced your fears and were treated to such a funny and entertaining story of your experience. Hee Hee!

  5. Dear Merciless Jean, Janet, and JP,

    a) Who knew there were ferries?
    b) I didn’t even know I was crossing a bridge on my first trip, the concierge just printed out directions and I followed them.
    c) The bridge was built in 1929 by our simian ancestors and rebuilt in 1967.
    d) I’m going to make you all preach a sermon and see how smug you are!!!

    So there.
    B

  6. Bill,

    Interesting blog post. I always wondered what the fear of bridges was. I had a friend’s mother in High School that had that. And being the wonderfully merciful high schoolers we were, every time we went over a bridge in her car we would sing the song “Burning Bridges” by Garth Brooks. Well, at least Margi wasn’t singing that.

    Just a few facts about some bridges:

    The Bay Bridge Upper Deck collapsed because of expansion joint failure – they just slipped out. The Bay Bridge is currently being replaced by a newer bridge. The current Bay Bridge and all the Bridges in the California Highway System have been seismically retrofitted after the Loma Prieta earthquak in 1989, and the Northridge Earthquake in 1994. And all the new bridges are being built to those new standards.

    All that just to ease your fears a little. Hope it helps.

  7. If you think SF is bad…be glad you don’t live in Portland.

    They went nuts with the bridges. oy!

  8. Hey you guys, get real! Bridges are FAR better than swimming!!

    Sorry, I’m really sympathetic, but deep down I’m thinking “Get over it!” and the bridge! Driving your car is way more dangerous!

    I loves ya anyway, Dr. G. Just shows me you aren’t the “perfect” pastor after all. And I’ll let you do ALL the preaching you want! I love your sermons! I’ll drive you over any bridge you must cross, and you keep my spiritual tank full!

  9. Hi Bill. I myself have the same fear. I find myself seeing into the future of our van hurtling over the side. Of Darin being knocked out and me trying to tie everyone together with belts and ropes to get to the surface. I don’t know why my husband is never with it in my scenarios to help. He resents my infering that I would be the savior of our van. Alas I do not have a window breaking device onboard as Margi showed me you do, so I also look for sharp hard objects to break the glass. This helps distract me as we are crossing as well as my reversion to the childhood prayer of salvation. Irrational I know but it is what I do. I don’t even have to be driving to freak out! love you lots, Jennifer

  10. Hi Uncle Bill. I’m suprised my dad hasn’t commented yet. He has this, too. I think. I vaguely remember him hating to cross bridges when we were little.

    Or… could that have been you? No. I think it was my dad.

    I literally can’t even imagine 7 miles with short guard rails though. I can’t believe more people aren’t backing you up on this. Yeah. I’d rather float across on an inner tube. Mental high-five!

  11. I have to add, Dr. G, that I think I’d rather face a bridge than a congregation….know what I mean? At least, the bridge doesn’t have an opinion….

  12. Bill,
    It must be genetic. Amy’s right.
    1: I could not do the Macinac Bridge. My beautiful and non-laughing wife drove.
    2: Or the Table Rock Dam (Branson, MO). She drove again. That may be what Amy remembers.
    3: Even the Chicago Skyway used to give me the willies, but I’ve gotten over it.
    Other places I hate: Steel Mills (lots of high catwalks), John Deere, Waterloo (They have a 25 foot high mezzanine, and the FLOOR is chain link fencing! Bouncy and terrifying!)
    BUT: You’re having a senior moment or a psychic event. The Sunshine Skyway was on our honeymoon. My loving and understanding wife backs me up on this. That’s my story, every last detail, not yours. Or…Denise thinks there may have been a cruel trick….

    Humbly submitted,
    Bob

  13. Bob,
    That reminds me that I have fogeyphobia. That’s the fear of going to Branson, MO. What a country!

  14. Bill,

    I think we all have some kind of phobia. But in the words of Bob Wiley (Bill Murray in What about Bob?) Baby steps.

    B.B.

  15. Matt,
    Dang! I knew I was going to get called out on the Branson reference! Would I regain my street cred if I said we just drove through, and I was on my way to a work thing? And we did not see any shows?
    Good.
    (Now Dollywood…that’s a different story….)
    Bob

  16. This phobia actually goes back to the mid-sixties. It was at Camp Awana, Fredonia, Wisconsin. Dr. Bill had to cross a FOOTBRIDGE (No railing) between Shewandasee and Mishimakwa lodges, spanning across a five foot wide ditch infested with tadpoles and an occasional salamander!

    Or was it Bob? I could never tell them apart.

  17. Bill,

    At least you can take comfort in the fact that you provided me and my beloved bride with several minutes of shrieking, thigh-slapping mirth!!!! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!! You funny little Italian!

    Dave M

  18. To Everyone,
    My girlfriend has gephyrophobia so I can relate. First, the Bay Bridge was damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 not 1984. They are currently building a brand new bridge to replace the old one. And rest assured…….
    The San Francisco Bay is NOT shark infested. The water temperature is way too cold to sustain any type of shark other than a few very small sand sharks that live very close to shore. Even outside the Golden Gate the only type of shark that exists there is the Great White. The water there is even colder. If you all can download and print out a list of all the phobias available online, you will find many that will make you feel sad for others with different phobias that are far more serious than yours. Imagine having a fear of flowers. (Anthrophobia). I would be very sad for that person. Good luck to all of you.

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