When you reach the banks of the Douro River (Rio Douro) in Porto, you instinctively look for the Luis I Bridge (or Ponte de D. Luis I). Designed by Gustav Eiffel’s top protege back in 1880, it’s 172 meter span at the time was the longest of its type.
Now it merely looks large and imposing and beautiful. And like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, it will likely never be torn down.
And like the Eiffel Tower, I was pretty sure I’d fight off peeing my pants to scale its height.
On my 11th of 21 days in Porto/Gaia, I finally made the effort to trek up to the bridge and make the crossing. That entailed, one, a loooong f’ing hike, most of it uphill, and two, pushing aside my fear of heights. I did both, and I’m sort of proud of myself.
And tired and sore. And a bit buzzed, because this is Portugal, so any sort of walk through the city involves wine, not to mention that, when I finally made it back to Luis’s hospitality at La Tasca al Forno up in the hills where I’m staying, he just had to introduce me to Mahou, a sorta wine, sorta beer beverage that… well, never mind. It’s a great hot weather drink.
As Steve Marriott once famously said, “Are you ready? ‘Cause this one what’s coming up is a long one.”
Walking down from my perch up past the Cockburn Port “caves,” I made my way along the Gaia river front – or “atwrforny” as Apple spell check puts it – to a small tree shaded park looking down at the river and looking up at the bridge. Way. Up. There.
Which really … did not… help worth a shit with my fear of heights. Face my fears my ass, I growled to myself. Wait! I have a bad ankle. And it really hurts right now. That’s a great excuse! No… no! Gotta do this… SFP!
To paraphrase the Munchkins, “Follow the f’in’ brick road!” So upwards I did. On, and on, and on. Clutching the tube of Salonpas in my jacket pocket.
Someday I’ll publish my musings on what made people settle along a river that required them to walk up in every direction. There is about 10 percent downward here and 90 percent up.
All I can say is it was a very good thing I’d been walking around three or four miles a day the past ten days, and nearly all of it at a steep upward angle the last four, or they would have found my skeleton with it’s mouth gaping open, tucked in a rocky crevice three quarters of the way up the path.
Temptation reached out to me about that time, but I knew it was a bad idea with climbing ahead of me.
And then, when the legs felt like the ache was going to move from annoying to disabling, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Or at the top of the hill, or- whatever, pick your own analogy.
So after a glass of Moet et Chandon, I turned to the task ahead.
Walking the 60 or 80 miles across the bridge span shouldn’t be so difficult. After all, teenagers jump from the bridge al the time. Really. There are stories about it. But then, teenagers, as we all know, are immortal and can’t be injured, so they have an advantage over tired old guys with acrophobia.
Then I thought, what the hell, I may be old and scared, but I saw Led Zeppelin live four times, while their music mostly sucks, so there, all you fearless little bastards!
C’mon… Gimme a break. I was really grabbing at straws here.
So I just started walking. Took no more than an hour or two. Or maybe just a few minutes. Who can tell with these things, after all.
In any case, I was able to pry my clenched fingers off my genitals long enough to take out my iPhone and manage to type in the password and take a photo of the Douro at the midway point across the bridge.
And I was thinking how really pretty the view was and how peaceful and all everything was when
… holy f… what’s this train doing on this bridge?!
One… foot… after… the other.
And then… the end was near.
So I’d done it. Looked fear in the eye, spit in it and told it to piss off. Moved forward in the face of doubt, ignoring the demons within me and…
Ummm, hey, would love to stay a while and tell you all about my triumph, but I really need to find a bathroom. Maybe later?