By Larry Kurtz
I still remember the day I was finished. It was a lot more exciting than all those days, no, wait, years being built. That six years was miserable, except, as you’ll see, when I met Washington. I was beat on, poked, prodded, driven on, and just totally abused. To top it off, I didn’t even know what was going on or what I was going to be until I overheard two men talking over me one day and Washington helped me get it. “What’s a bridge?” I thought to myself as they talked. I was, by this time, about 5 years old but still not done. I could look around, and I could follow progress, but I had no idea what I would be. The two men I mentioned above, one with a truck that said Interstate Construction Corporation, which I’d been watching for years, and one that said Wauna Toll Bridge Company, which I’d never seen, were talking about something called a bridge, whatever that was. Finally, they shook hands and went their separate ways. The Interstate truck drove off, and the Wauna truck hung around, with its owner smiling to himself.
During my first 2-3 years I kept thinking I wasn’t alone, but I could never figure out why. Then one day I looked across this big span of water under me and saw this big thing looming over there. I kind of looked myself over and realized it looked a lot like me. Wow, now I was really confused. I hollered across the water, “Hey, what are you? What’s going on here?” It hollered back, “I don’t know much, but here’s what I’ve been hearing. We’re going to be this thing called a bridge. They said something about people walking across us and doing something called driving across us. The only other thing I know is I’m coming from a place called Washington to link up with a place called Oregon. Guess that must be you.” We rarely talked much after that because we were so far apart, but I kept an eye on Washington. At least now I vaguely knew what a bridge was, but my beams were spinning in confusion.
The day after the Interstate truck drove off, I noticed a big change in what was going on with me every day. Things seemed to be moving really fast. I got a lot more beams every day and seemed to get closer to Washington now that I had finally spotted it. One morning, after I have no idea how long, I looked out across the water and Washington was getting really close. I didn’t have to holler this time. “Hey, Washington, you’re getting closer. How are you today?” “Yeah, I noticed that, too, a couple of days ago. I’m doing great. I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but maybe you and I will join beams soon. That would be exciting.” As the weeks passed, we got closer and closer and talked more and more but still had no idea what was going to happen until the day it happened. We joined beams. Now that was exciting. We watched all day as they joined us together, then we just looked at each other and no longer really had to talk. All of this happened after only about a year of this new company taking over and having a platform thing built down the middle of us. Then one day no workers showed up. No one was pile driving on us. No one was fastening beams to us. No one was climbing all over us. The only thing going on was a bunch of people dressed like we’d never seen before walking over us. They did a bunch of talking and handshaking, then somebody cut a ribbon, and everyone cheered.
Washington and I decided the time was right for us, too. We looked at each other that day 93 years ago and said, “I DO!” and became one. Whoa, then something weird happened. Here came this thing across Washington. I’d never seen anything like it. It even made a weird noise. People started cheering again. This thing moved all the way across Washington and then across me. Oh, and it felt weird. Yeah, things had driven on usbefore but never spanned us. It was eerie. “Hey, Dude, what are you doing?” I yelled at what I now knew was a car. Washington said, “I heard some people over on my end talking this morning. They said the bridge is done. Guess that’s what we are. What just happened must be the driving over us we heard about. How’d it feel?” “Washington, it was weird, but it felt kind of good, too. I could feel it go clear down through the platform and even into some of my beams. I think I’m going to like this.” “My feelings, too. Let’s relax and see what happens next.”
Over the next several days, more and more cars drove over us, some even waking us from sleep late at night. Then more, and even more. We enjoyed it, though, just having this massage type feeling instead of the constant noise and feelings of pounding and shoving and drilling. We even had several people walk across us. Understand, there is no sidewalk, but with a speed limit of 15 mph walkers are pretty safe. Even though we could barely feel or hear the walkers, we did enjoy their gasps and comments. “Ooh, look at that,” as they pointed up river or down or at the mountains. That even got Washington and I looking. “Ooh, look at that,” came out of our mouths, too. We’d been so busy enjoying getting closer to each other, then being connected, then getting finished, and then enjoying the new traffic we hadn’t even looked around yet. We knew we were over the water, but that was all. One day a walker hollered to her friends, “Look at that sailboat! It must be 50 feet long!” We looked down at the same time and, not realizing how high above the river we were, both got really dizzy. Yeah, it took us a few days to get used to that view. Interestingly, it was from the walkers, too, we learned why they called us Bridge of the Gods. It seems that back in the day there was a landslide making a causeway and even possibly a natural stone bridge across the river. No one knows why it happened, but the local tribe attributed it to their gods, so it was named Bridge of the Gods by the Klickitat Indians who roamed that area and felt their gods had provided this natural bridge for their use. This then became our name, even though we were manmade. It’s hard for us to believe we are now 90 years old. But, oh, what we’ve seen and had done in that time. It’s been tough, and it’s been exciting. There was the time back in 1940 when we suddenly had no traffic. We were devastated. We missed those daily massages, even from the trucks. “Hmm, I wonder what’s going on,” we thought together. Then we found out. “Uh, no, Oregon, here come those construction workers again. I’m scared. Are they going to tear us down? “Uh, I don’t know, but I’m scared, too.”
Late in the day that we noticed no more traffic was crossing us, a couple of guys stopped their rig on top and threw something over the side into the water. “Nope, not high enough,” one said. Well, that was an insult. Then we heard them talk about raising us to allow ships to pass. What we didn’t know was that a dam had been built downstream and we weren’t as high above the water now to allow for more ship travel. Guess we hadn’t been paying attention to the water level. “Whew,” I told Washington, “at least we aren’t going to be torn down and separated. We definitely missed the everyday traffic during this time, but it was exciting to see what they were doing to us. I have no idea how long it took, but we were now proud to be even longer and higher than before, now 731 feet longer at 1,858 feet and now 140 feet above the water. One day as I was napping, I heard Washington shout, “Yay, here comes the traffic again!” I couldn’t even be annoyed for being awakened I was so happy to feel that soothing massage again. I should save our most exciting event for last, but I can’t wait to tell you about it. There’s this famous pilot we got to see fly his famous airplane both over us and under us. “Who, you ask?” “Look,” I shouted, “that plane is coming toward us, and he’s not very high!” Then he flew right over us. We gawked in amazement. Then, “Look, Oregon,” said Washington, “he’s coming back.” We couldn’t believe it. We spanned there speechless as Charles Lindbergh flew the Spirit of St. Louis under, yes, under, us and back to Portland. Yep, second most exciting day of our lives. One thing we haven’t been really happy about, but we cope with, is trucks just keep getting bigger and heavier as we get older. We’ve been lucky to get a facelift every few years to keep up, but they’re still not much fun. No, we don’t get a massage from them, we get acupressure. Then there are the days in winter when they’re wearing these things called chains. Oh, my, but does that hurt. Some of them weigh up to 80,000 pounds and are up to 10 feet wide. No, we don’t deserve that. We had 1.6 million vehicles cross us in 2018. Can you imagine how many of them were heavy trucks? The worst part is they like to abuse us during our down time, when we should be sleeping or watching river traffic or enjoying walkers. Come over us at our busiest times between 7 and 10 am or 2 and 4 pm? No, they wait until we’re exhausted from that traffic flow and then caravan across us. “Cars only, Port of Cascade Locks administrators!”
OK, enough whining. We do have great times and great days. In fact, it’s most of the time and it’s most days. For one, we’re part of the Pacific Crest Trail. In fact, we’re the lowest part, so we get lots of hikers. For those of you who don’t know about it, the Pacific Crest Trail is a hiking trail along the Cascade Range Mountains from Mexico to Canada. Since the vast majority of the trail is in the woods, many hikers really appreciate this lower elevation trek, plus there are some great places to eat in Cascade Locks. It’s so popular a spot on the hike that in the middle of August every year they hold Pacific Crest Trail Days. They celebrate hiking, camping, backpacking, and outdoor stewardship with games and presentations, raffles, and a Gear Expo. Best of all, it costs only a donation of a non-perishable food item, care products, or money. We love this because we get all these eco-friendly hikers hanging out, walking across us, and swapping stories of their adventures and not leaving a mess. You wouldn’t believe some of the things other people have tossed on us. “Oops, sorry, I’m not supposed to be complaining anymore.” Then there are the days they shut us down for these people called runners. “Not this again,” I hear Washington bellow. “Why do they do this to me?” He hates the feel of runners tromping over him. Fortunately, for him anyway, they start the run on us so they aren’t spread out and get over us quickly. Me, I like the feel of being run over. It gives me a tingly sensation. These runs happen twice a year, so Washington and I get to disagree twice. The second race is different, though. It’s an all-female race. Yeah, they’re still super competitive, but there is a different atmosphere. And, the runners smell a lot better when they start.
“Oh, Oregon, here comes another cruise ship.” I look down and west. We get really excited seeing them. For 80 some years we enjoyed all the other water craft on the river. The day we saw the first huge cruise ship come upriver we couldn’t catch our breath. Now we know why we were raised back in the day. Yep, we still enjoy the sternwheelers and tugboats, but cruise ships are amazing. We even have some local walkers who come hang out on us just to watch them go by and wave at the passengers. They yell and laugh and jump up and down. That makes for a great day for us. Even better, we get to see them come back, too. Almost every day, too, we get to see the small watercraft, mostly fishermen, but also the water skiers and boat racers. Over the last few years we’ve really liked watching the jet skiers, too. Those riders can be, no, they are, crazy. Flips and jumps and flop overs, wow! We just watch in silence and amazement. I can’t leave out the windsurfers, kayakers, paddle boaters, or sail boaters, either. Sure, all of this happens during the nice weather months, but most years it’s worth the wait through the wet and windy and icy winter months to enjoy this. People fishing are also fun, whether they’re using poles or nets. They get so excited we can sometimes hear them yelling clear up here. Of course, sometimes it’s not very nice yelling when their line breaks or the fish flips off the hook. Yeah, we’ve heard some cheering and we’ve heard some not-so-nice comments from them. Now, the winter months, they aren’t as much fun. “Aaaah, Ouch!” I have screamed more than once when someone slid on our ice span and slammed into my railing. Washington says even more than that, but I won’t say what. I think he learned it from the fishermen. “Brrr,” we both moan on those icy and windy and sometimes snowy days. Oh, it’s really pretty on many of those days, but some days it just doesn’t make up for the cold. “Oops, I whined again!” Overall, though, even with the winters, we love our lives together crossing the Columbia River from Oregon to Washington – or is it Washington to Oregon? A bridge. Nope, back in 1920 when they started building Washington and me, we had no idea what we were going to be. Then six years later we knew, and it’s been a fascinating 93 years for us both as one – The Bridge of the Gods!