Three, two, one, see ya! Next thing you know, you’re falling at an immense speed through the air toward a river below; hoping that you land on the beach and not in the river or trees. This is Bridge Day.
Bridge Day takes place every year on the third Saturday in October in celebration of the opening of the New River Gorge Bridge. This is the only day out of the year where people can walk on the bridge. It is also the only day out of the year that people are allowed to BASE jump from the bridge. The entire bridge is closed to through traffic on this day as the event takes place on the bridge. The street leading up the bridge is filled with various vendors; some selling carnival food, others advertising outdoor activities in the area, some having drawings you can enter in, and some selling clothes and jewelry. The main event of Bridge Day is the BASE jumping. People come from all over the world and the country to BASE jump off this bridge. There are other activities people can participate in as well such as the zip-line from the bridge’s catwalk to the bottom, repelling, and taking the trip across the catwalk. White water rafting trips are also going on during the event and the rafters pass under the bridge. There are several hiking trails that have good lookouts of the bridge where people will sit to watch the jumpers.
You’re probably wondering what is so great about this bridge or why it is so important. The New River Gorge Bridge made it easier to access the other side of the gorge. One of my co-workers told me that she grew up by the bridge and remembers it being built. She would go out with her brother and sit and watch the workers. She was telling me how they used to have to take this tiny, windy dirt road that took forever to get to the other side of the gorge. Now, it probably takes about a minute to drive across the bridge. The New River Gorge Bridge is 3,030 feet long and 876 feet high. It is the longest steel arch bridge in the Western hemisphere and the second tallest bridge in the United States. This bridge is also on the face of the West Virginia quarter. The New River Gorge bridge was opened and dedicated on October 22, 1977. The first Bridge Day was on November 8, 1980. There were two parachutists who jumped from a plane to the bridge; and there were five parachutists who jumped from the bridge to the gorge. This year, there were around 350 BASE jumpers and one skydiver who participated in Bridge Day.
When I first moved out to West Virginia, people were always giving me lists of things to do, or places to see, or where to eat. Something that almost everyone told me about was Bridge Day and how I had to make sure to go. I started becoming curious about this event and started looking into it. I found that you can do tandem BASE jumping. Each year there are sixteen spots for tandem BASE jumpers. When I first signed up, I was placed on the alternate list. Thankfully, a couple days later I received a phone call letting me know that I was one of the sixteen tandem BASE jumpers!
I signed up for this very excitedly and not really thinking too much about it. All I knew was that I had skydived before and the bridge wasn’t half as high as jumping out of an airplane so I should be okay. After doing some research I find out that BASE jumping is actually more dangerous than skydiving. Before you can even BASE jump on your own, you have to have 100-200 individual skydives. BASE stands for the following: building, antenna, span, and earth. Because these places of jumping are so low to the ground, jumpers don’t have as much time to pull out their parachute. In fact, most BASE jumpers don’t even carry a second chute with them, because if their first one doesn’t work it’s already too late to pull a second one.
Jumping on Bridge Day was an amazing experience in itself as well. I have hiked around this area, done the cat-walk, and driven across this bridge so it was neat to see the bridge and gorge from a different perspective. As a tandem jumper, we were given a specific jump time. They got us all geared up, and we are strapped to a professional BASE jumper who knows what they’re doing. Putting my feet at the edge of the platform was a little scary; however, they didn’t stay there long because my instructor said “three, two, one, see ya!” and next thing you know you were free-falling! You only free-fall for about three seconds and then the parachute is deployed and you sail down to the landing. There is a little beach on the side of the gorge that is the landing zone. We landed safely on the landing zone. There were other jumpers who landed in the trees or the river. However, there are a lot of safety precautions that are in place. There are five rescue boats in the water and if for some reason they are all being used, the jumped will be on hold until there is one available. There are also train tracks on either side of the gorge and if a train passes by they also hold the jumping. Sidenote: there were also twenty ambulances that drove past our hotel that morning, all heading to Bridge Day for any accidents that will happen.
From the top of the bridge it was fun to see the crowd and all the jumpers fearlessly jump off. There was a platform you could jump off of. And for the ones who were feeling a little more fearless and had greater experience, there was a scissors lift, a catapult, and a diving board that they could jump off as well. Some people jumped off in costumes, or onsies. Some people did fancy tricks when jumping off such as back-flips, handstands, or cartwheels. When I landed, it was fun to look back and see the jumpers sailing down; as well as, watching all the repellers under the bridge.
All the jumpers stay at the same lodge both Friday and Saturday night. Some also just pitch a tent outside the lodge and spend the night there. There are meetings for jumpers Friday and on Saturday there’s an after-party and award ceremony. I was able to meet some pretty amazing people at this event. It is definitely a different kind of crowd and they are so cool. All of them are these big risk-takers and just don’t care what they do or what people think about them. They all live life in the moment and make sure to live it to the fullest. They’re a little crazy, but a lot of fun. It was neat to be able to talk to them and hear their stories, where they were from, and where else they have BASE jumped.
All-in-all, Bridge Day was a great experience. If you ever happen to be in West Virginia the third Saturday of October, make sure to check out Bridge Day – the world’s largest BASE jump event.
For more information about this event, visit https://officialbridgeday.com/.