paddy turns 22 on top of the city
27.02.2011 - 27.02.2011
Sunday was Paddy's 22nd birthday. Considering he spent his 21st waking up in a Big Sur lodge waitress' guest room and driving to SLO in a tow truck (courtesy of me and the damaging of my car in a rainy rockslide), I wanted to make this birthday more memorable in an all-around good way.
The night before, we had gone to his friend Jack's welcome home/belated birthday house party, but just before midnight, five of us dashed down the street to the Annandale Hotel for Jaegarbombs to ring in Paddy's birthday. Not a bad start to what promised to be an amazing day....
For breakfast, we stopped off at Shellie's cafe, Grind, for coffee and eggs. Shellie was our server that morning, and before we headed out, she provided Paddy with his first lighted candle and sweet treat of the day:
After breakfast, we headed down Norton Street to catch a bus downtown towards... the Sydney Harbour Bridge! For Christmas, Paddy had given me a gift certificate to climb the bridge. Figuring it would be more fun to do together, I bought him the same certificate and booked a climb for 12:25 in the afternoon. Bridge climbs may be done at dawn, daytime, twilight, or nighttime, but the day was forecast to be sunny and gorgeous.
Unfortunately, the forecast was wrong: we awoke to rain, but it had mostly subsided by the time we got to the Bridge Climb center in The Rocks. After checking in, we bopped around the gift shop, checked out the photos of famous folks who have climbed over the years (Keith Urban, Daniel Radcliffe from "Harry Potter," Sir Richard Branson, Chris Isaak, Oprah...) and then made our way to the waiting area with a group of other climbers.
A woman soon popped out of a door opposite the waiting room, calling out the 12:15 climbing group. Paddy and I exchanged confused glances as everyone but us rose and filed through the door, so we got up too - only to be turned away and told to wait for the next group. So, we were left sitting alone... until another woman popped her head out the door and called us in, adding "you're on your own tour today!" Normally, tour groups are made up of 12-14 people - how had we scored this?!
We did a quick breath test (you can't do the climb drunk - no shots to calm the nerves!) and signed waivers, then changed into our grey jumpsuits (we learned later that the jumpsuits were designed to blend in with the dark grey color of the steel bridge in order to avoid distracting drivers with our presence. Clever!) We met our guide, a cute girl in her late twenties named Amanda who had spent the past seven years working at a ski resort in Aspen, Colorado. While equipping out jumpsuits with the necessary safety attachments and radios, she informed us that Own Wilson was scheduled to climb the bridge around the same time as us, so we might catch a celebrity viewing. (If sighted, he was definitely posing in our photo at the top. Unfortunately, he ended up canceling his climb at the last minute. Shame.)
With the rain holding off and the overcast sky above us, the three of us began our ascent up the bridge. Walking along the platform to the first steps, I felt my heart flutter as we stopped to take in the harbour view and the bustle of people in The Rocks below. I've never been a big fan of heights, but between climbing Half Dome last summer and sky swinging in New Zealand, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I didn't feel nearly as nervous as I expected.
Of course, that changed when we came to a series of steep ladders. Not only could I see the cold water of the harbour crashing below me as I climbed, but I was prevented from scrambling up the ladder by my cable attachment, which would get stuck on the line if I didn't hold it in place as I ascended. At this point, I began questioning what I was doing up here (and I'm pretty sure Paddy was thinking the same thing.)
Fortunately, when we go to the arch, we were greeted with a feeling of peace: you couldn't hear the traffic from up here, it wasn't a steep climb, and best of all, you couldn't see through the span. Perfect! Since we were such a small group, the three of us took our time on the arch, chatting about our travels and taking photos of ourselves against the ridiculous view. Though the sky was overcast, you could see out to Bondi Beach on the right and just make out the Blue Mountains on the left. Amazing.
As we walked, Amanda kept us entertained with all sorts of factoids about the bridge:
1. The Sydney Harbour Bridge was originally going to be painted orange, but the paint was too expensive (it would require a lot more than the Golden Gate. I can only imagine how ugly that would have looked on the big "coat hanger" though.)
2. When Bridge Climb founder Paul Cave first submitted his business plan to the RTA in 1989, he was handed 62 different reasons why his idea would never fly (one of the reasons being the distraction to drivers below.) It took nine years to work through all 62 points, and Bridge Climb opened in 1998.
3. Amanda's favorite tourist question: "Was the bridge built specifically for Bridge Climb?" (Yeah, the question came from an American.)
4. When Oprah took her studio audience to Sydney and they climbed the bridge, the cameras showed Oprah climbing the stairs and cheering on her audience members as they freaked out over the height of their ascent. According to Amanda, Oprah actually took the elevator up to the top. She did, however, set the record for the most people to ever climb the Harbour Bridge at once: 250.
We probably spent a good 30 minutes on the arch before crossing the see-thru path leading to the other side of the span (and as you'll notice from the photo, I wasn't all that frightened at this point.) As we started our descent, the rain finally hit us, but by this point I wasn't fazed; I was ready to turn around and spent a couple more hours up on the arch!
We walked from the bridge with huge goofy smiles plastered over our faces and ducked into a nearby pub for some much-deserved pints of Little Creatures pale ale and an Aussie specialty: potato wedges with sweet chili sauce and sour cream. I know it sounds odd, but it's a genius combo.
By the time we got home, we had just enough time to relax in front of a couple episodes of "How I Met Your Mother" before a few friends came over to pick us up for dinner at Braza, an all-you-can-eat Brazilian restaurant on Norton Street. It was incredible: for $42 each, we were served bowls of side salads, beans and rice while servers came around with massive hunks of meat on metal skewers, which they'd rest on your table and cut slices off if your table nodded in their direction. It was a major protein hit as we all consumed our body weights in pork ribs, bacon wrapped chicken, steak, BBQ chicken, chicken heart (I skipped that one), and cinnamon-dipped pineapple.