Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Magic and Wonder of Bridges


    I love bridges. I really love them. Since I was a kid and first rode across the Ben Franklin bridge with my family to New Jersey I have been fascinated and amazed by the fact that humans can envision, design, and build structures that can carry them across rivers, creeks, and bays. I love crossing large bodies of water. Seeing the grand views of the water, noting the structures built on either side of the cliffs above the water, and marveling at the design of the pylons and cables and approach roads that safely carry me across the spans never ceases to amaze me. And given the news coverage of the rains and flooding in the Carolinas the last 2 weeks, bridges have definitely been in the news. So I have been reflecting on our camping trip to MD and VA a few weeks ago and our experience with bridges. I got to experience a couple of my favorite bridges on that trip, and I really enjoyed them. They are on roads I do not regularly travel, so the crossings were special indeed.

    The William Roth Turnpike Canal Bridge was the first special bridge we crossed. Located on Rt 1 in Delaware, it is a uniquely designed bridge with several massive cable-stays holding in place the long and elegant gold plated cables that give the bridge its distinctive appearance. Until my first time on this bridge several years ago I had never been on a bridge that did not have supports and cables stretching the entire length and height of the bridge, and I admit it was a little unnerving at first. But I loved the sleek and daring design, and the view of the Delaware-Chesapeake Canal it provided was almost magical. After that I looked forward to every time I had to cross it. Crossing the span almost feels as if you are floating, and crossing it on a sunny afternoon got the camping trip off to a great start. It is a wondrously designed structure that feels light and open. It is one of my favorite bridges. (

   My favorite bridge experience of the trip, though, was twice crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel that so gracefully spans the Chesapeake Bay, linking Norfolk,VA and the Eastern Shore of VA. Crossing that bridge is always an awe-inspiring experience. Sleek, curving, low to the water, and over 17 miles long, it was voted one of the Seven Engineering Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineering. And it definitely deserves that award. It combines a beautiful, expansive, curving bridge with a tunnel and, surprisingly, a mid-bridge restaurant. That combination was daring when the bridge was built in 1964, and it has been carried off in a spectacular fashion. The bridge crosses the Chesapeake Bay-one of the most spectacularly breathtaking and beautiful bodies of water I have ever seen. And the sense of wonder that I feel as I approach and start the long elegant crossing on this structure is hard to describe. That wonderful ribbon of concrete that takes you across the Chesapeake feels like a venture into the great unknown-a mythical journey. Suffice it say that crossing the Bay-Tunnel Bridge is one of the joys of any trip to or from eastern Virginia. There are always dozens of waterfowl, amazing waves, sailboats and other vessels, and absolutely stunning views in all directions. And at one point you go beneath the bay, and you know the ships are passing over you. It is a crossing that combines beauty, daring, engineering and subtlety in a way that few creations have ever done. I just love it and feel grateful to the designers and especially the builders every-time I cross it. It is simply wondrous. ( )

  So these bridge crossings were almost as much a part of our recent wonderful camping trip as was the birding. We will return to these places in a few months for some winter birding, and we will experience these great spans again. We've never done these crossings in winter, so that will be another first, and we are definitely looking forward to it. Beautiful bodies of water and great bridges can inspire wonder, amazement and joy, and I am fortunate to have the opportunity to experience these marvels of human design. Travel is a wondrous thing.

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