Today I got to do something very, very few people will ever get to do: climb up to the top of the Golden Gate Bridge!!
I'll mention right now that I am not allowed to post photos from the tour, but I'll be happy to email some to you on request. It'll be worth it. The views are absolutely unique!
How did I get to do this, you ask? Well, an acquaintance of mine who works for the bridge set it up as a huge favor. Unfortunately it's not available to the general public.
There was some chance the tour would be canceled due to fog. Here in Noe Valley (alright, fine, The Castro) it was sunny and warm, without a cloud in the sky. But the bridge apparently has weather of its own, due to it straddling the tumultuous meeting of ocean and bay. However the tower cameras confirmed that there was enough visibility to justify a tour, so up we went.
Here's how it all went down: I arrived at the administration building on the west side of the toll plaza, where I met the other visitor (only two can go up at one time) and our awesome guide. She gave each of us a hard hat and a waiver. After signing my life away, and confirming that I am neither claustrophobic nor agoraphobic, we got into the back of a little bridge cart, and our guide drove us onto the east side walkway. It was slow going, honking along the way at pedestrians, bikers and tourists. Eventually we arrived at the south tower, which was less fogged-in than the north tower.
If you run or bike the bridge you've probably been curious about the service hatches at the foot of each tower. It was a fun moment when the guide whipped out a key, unlocked the hatch, and we walked into the base of the tower, leaving the jealous tourists outside.
Inside the hatch is an elevator the size of a small phone booth. This is where not being claustrophobic came in handy. As the three of us rode up in proximity usually reserved for couples on their wedding night, our guide explained that this was the original elevator built when the bridge was constructed in the 1930s. It took a full 5 minutes to ride the 500 feet to the top.
Once out of the elevator, you climb up a couple of steel ladders, eventually emerging out of a very narrow hatch onto the platform at the very top of the tower. Words cannot describe how awesome this is. As you emerge your eyes are immediately drawn down the suspension cables to the road bed, where you can watch tiny little cars weave their way through traffic.
The views, as you'd expect, are beyond outstanding. We were above the fog, which rolled in and burned out as we watched. I'd had no idea fog was so dynamic. The city side was more heavily fogged in, but we got some great glimpses of downtown and of Sutro tower. The views of Marin were clearer, but it was looking down onto the bridge itself and the surrounding bay that provided the most unique and spectacular sights.
Besides the views, strolling around the top of the tower is an experience in its own right. There's something surreal about being up there, next to the huge communications dishes, walking around to the outside of the turrets to explore new camera angles. We're used to seeing the top of the tower as tiny and the bottom as huge. Having that sense of scale inverted was unique and wonderful. Most of all, it was a trip just to be somewhere you're not really meant to be, somewhere that only a relative handful of people will ever have the good fortune to visit.
After 15 minutes of ooh, aahs and shutter clicks, we headed back down the ladders, down the elevator, out onto the walkway and back to normality.
What a rush!