Dragging a fear of heights high above Sydney

SYDNEY — If you dare look down 440 feet from the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, you'll see two sets of train tracks, eight traffic lanes, a pedestrian walkway, bicycle lane and the picture-perfect Sydney Harbour, known as Port Jackson. The only question was what my fear of heights and I were doing atop the bridge, when one of my rules is to avoid high balconies, let alone tops of bridges.

My tour group's leader scheduled this excursion, needling me about telling my grandkids about the adventure, assuming I'd survive it and another few decades to have grandkids.

Sydney Harbour Bridge, by the numbers, is 1,332 steps to climb, 3,770 feet long and partially secured by 6 million rivets. Yes, it's that riveting.

Nicknamed "The Coat Hanger" because of its arched design, at 161 feet it's touted as the world's widest single-span bridge. The 31/2-hour climb, which The Travel Channel calls one of the Top 10 things to do in the world, is not for the faint of heart.

I may fear heights, but my heart is not faint. So I tackled it with six friends. Heart pounding, I set out to conquer my fear.

After guide-led simulation drills, we donned gray and blue prisonlike jumpsuits, hard hats and radio headsets and locked in to a static line anchored to a handrail. Two hours later, after climbing skinny, steeply inclined staircases and squeezing through steel girders, we reached the summit.

I felt like I'd become almost invincible, at least for a minute. Hands triumphantly thrown above my head in a victorious "V," I walked from the ascending to descending side of the bridge. The dramatic, sweeping view of the harbor, the city and the iconic angled Opera House made it clear that life is a journey and a destination.

And every time I spy my commemorative Climber Certificate, I remind myself that scaling new heights also can happen closer to home, but I'm still not wild about balconies.

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