Crossing over Fear: Image of New River Gorge Bridge sign.

Crossing over Fear (Aka: What happens when you have no choice but to do the thing that terrifies you.)

On Dec. 2, 2017, I accomplished something awe-mazing.

I drove over the New River Gorge Bridge. That may seem like no big deal to you, but, to me, it’s huge.

If you know me well, or if you read my post last week, “A Scaredy-cat’s Guide to Travel,” you know I suffer from gephyrophobia, fear of bridges.

Honestly, my phobia is a bit picky.

My personal panic button only goes berserk on bridges where a fall over the side would mean certain tragedy.

Bridges a few feet over water — the one en route to the Outer Banks, for instance — don’t faze me. I figure once I hit the water, I could swim to safety or cling to a bridge piling and wait for a first responder.

Narrow bridges run a close second in my scaredy-cat mind. Like the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to Staten Island, New York. For crying out loud, it even has “narrow” in its name. We crossed that bridge whenever we visited Sandwich-Child at college.

Skinny bridges bug me because I’m slightly claustrophobic. With a sturdy barrier to the right, and no berm whatsoever, if there’s a tractor-trailer on our left, I feel like I can’t breathe.

If the truck driver scratched an itch or checked Facebook on his phone, it’d probably be “Ciao” for the Tarantinis.

And then there are bridges with a low safety rating. Years ago, when we visited friends in the other Charleston, the one in South Carolina, several times they drove us over one bridge they claimed scored a four out of 10, safety-wise.

Each time we crossed that bridge, I held my breath from start to finish so I could make a wish. The wish was always that we’d survive until the other side.

So what exactly went down on Dec. 2, 2017?

That Sunday I was driving home from our ACC Championship Game weekend in Charlotte, because Tony had fallen sick with hot and cold flashes, aches, and a monster headache.

The night before, the game had started around 8 p.m., but Tony Bear felt so miserable, he walked back to the hotel at 9:15. Not that he missed much. Clemson clobbered Miami, 38-3.

The trip home was uneventful. Until I missed the turn from I-77 to U.S. 19.

Somehow, I almost always miss it. Junior-Man, though, using his favorite app for directions — Waze — quickly got us back on track.

“Way to go, dude,” I told him in the rear-view mirror. “We missed the bridge I despise.”

But then I saw the sign saying we were on U.S. 19. Which meant we did not miss the dang bridge.

No worries, I thought. There’s a pull-off right before the bridge. We could switch drivers there.

Tony Bear woke up then, feverish, thrashing his arms like propellers. “Where are we?”

“I missed the turn-off.”

“Again?”

“Don’t be grumpy. We’re good now. And, thanks to Junior-Man, we missed the bridge I detest. Well, sort of. I just need to…”

Suddenly, traffic slowed way down. On all four sides, I was pinned in, a tractor-trailer practically kissing the rear bumper of our rental car.

And I saw the sign: “New River … Western Hemisphere’s Longest Arch Bridge.”

“Oh, no! Oh, no! I have to pull off!” My head whipped right, then left. Where could I go?

“Just drive,” Tony Bear growled.

“You can do it, Mom,” Junior-Man assured me.

Just like in driver’s-ed class, decades ago, I trained my sight just past the edge of our car’s hood. Just like in the Bible, I set my face like flint.

I also chanted my favorite motivational phrase:

“I think I can. I think I can. Mr. Truck-Driver, please get off my butt. I think I can.”

In my chest, my heart pounded. Clenched on the steering wheel, my hands were slick with sweat. My eyeballs ached from not blinking. But I was doing it! Driving over the New River Gorge Bridge, by golly.

“Quick! Someone take a picture of me to prove I did this. And text the girls to tell them I am not a sissy after all.”

Crossing over Fear: Image of me driving over the New River Gorge Bridge.

Less than a minute later, we reached the other side. In a whoosh, I released the breath I was holding. Relief washed over me as my guys told me how proud they were. I was proud of me, too.

“Way to go, Sunshine,” Tony said. “Now you don’t have to go the long way through Charleston when you drive south alone.”

I snorted.

“Let’s get one thing straight, Tony Bear. Just because I can do something, doesn’t mean I will.”

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