Horrific Temptations and the Golden Gate Bridge

Posted on
Sep 9, 2010

I know, I know- you’ve heard enough about my crazy adventures getting to the Golden Gate Bridge, right? But while I thoroughly explained how I arrived at the bridge (you can read all about my attempts to get there here, here, and here), my dear husband was pretty peeved that I didn’t write more about the actual visit to the bridge.

And perhaps my hesitation to write about the Golden Gate Bridge was that my visit was entirely nerve-wracking.

While I had not initially planned to walk over the bridge, once I was actually there, I figured I sort of had to. For the record, it is a long way across. A round trip is nearly 3.5 miles, and took me about an hour (I walked quickly, but stopped constantly for photos).

I highly recommend it, unless you are easily rattled. Which apparently, I am.

Here’s the thing: I am a little neurotic. This should surprise exactly no one. I am also a bit compulsive (again, no shocking revelation there). The manner in which these little doses of crazy manifest themselves is a funny one. Basically, I want to hurl my possessions over a bridge.

Sigh. I should go back and explain.

There is a phenomenon known as “horrific temptations.” You know that desire (the one you’d never act upon, but still, it’s there) to scream “FIRE!” in a crowded theater? That awful worry that you might – even though you absolutely don’t want to – suddenly blurt out a curse word in the middle of a professional dinner? Those, dear friends, are horrific temptations.

Fortunately, most of us never act on those impulses. Those who do may suffer from OCD, or neurological disorders such as Tourette’s. The rest of us simply think, “GOD, wouldn’t it be terrible if …” and then shudder, violently.

Bridges freak me out. I am slightly afraid of heights, I think. I am more afraid of falling. And more than anything, I am afraid that I might somehow hurl my things over the edge of the bridge. My wallet. My camera. My car keys. As a result, I find myself clutching my purse and thinking, “Wouldn’t it be just awful if …”

These jumbled thoughts accompanied me as I started to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. At first, I was overwhelmed by the views …

And I should note - even if you are a mediocre photographer (hi!) the photo opportunities are still amazing.

And I should note - even if you are a mediocre photographer (hi!) the photo opportunities are still amazing.

View of SF from the bridge

View of SF from the bridge

Then I actually stepped onto the bridge … and, enter neurosis!

Theres no pedestrians allowed after 9pm, which makes sense.

There's no pedestrians allowed after 9pm, which makes sense.

This sign in no way eased my agitation

This sign in no way eased my agitation

A few steps in and I began to feel panicky. For one thing, the bridge is absolutely enormous, and for reasons unclear to me, I found this petrifying (seriously, would a small bridge be at all better?). And there’s something creepy about relying so heavily on a structure built in the 30s. I know, I know – lots of buildings were built decades ago. Hell, all of Rome is a few centuries old, and that’s the new stuff. But Rome isn’t suspended high above the water. And Rome doesn’t twist up like a corkscrew during an earthquake (as I assume the Golden Gate Bridge does).

And it was at this point that the horrific temptations began.

“Man,” I thought. “It would be absolutely heinous if I threw my camera over the edge.” Not that I would, for a variety of reasons. And so I zipped up my bag (because what if it fell off my shoulder somehow, and the contents spilled into the water? GAH), and clutched it tightly.

I walked slowly, somewhat terrified. It wasn’t really the bag that was bothering me, of course. The bag is just something that I own – something I have complete control over. It’s easier to fixate over something like that than, say, something over which you are powerless. Like the bridge collapsing in the middle of an earthquake. (Note: that video is hilarious and absurd. After watching it, I now realize how silly I was being.) Shockingly, as I walked further on to the bridge, I actually felt a lot better. The thing is solid.

See? These cables arent going anywhere. (Also, my arm looks to be made of muppet).

See? These cables aren't going anywhere. (Also, my arm looks to be made of muppet).

I didn’t feel like the whole thing was going to crumble underneath me. And as soon as that worry vanished, so did my concern that I was going to toss my purse over the bridge. I was still on edge, though. I realized that I was standing on a site where hundreds of people have plunged to their deaths – so many that the Golden Gate Bridge is the most popular place to commit suicide in the world. In 2004, the number of suicides on the bridge averaged out to one every 15 days.

It is a strange and horrible thing to think about while taking snapshots.

There are emergency crisis phones all along the bridge.

There are emergency crisis phones all along the bridge.

No kidding.

No kidding.


I wondered how many of them had left in the morning intending to do what they did. I wonder if some of them were overtaken by compulsion – by some weird, intense relative of the sensation I get to toss my purse over the edge. Freeing for a few minutes – the ability to let go of everything – followed instantly by regret at all that you’ve thrown away. Of course, purses and cameras are replaceable.

It was a loaded visit, to say the least.

The views were beautiful, but I spent so much time caught up in my own thoughts and worries, that it was hard to appreciate where I was. I was too concerned with my nervous impulses, too preoccupied with being at a place where more than a thousand people hurled themselves off the edge. I thought of a friend of mine whose 30th birthday should have been today, but instead he never made it to see 16.

Crap. Sorry – for the record, I didn’t realize his birthday was today. I started this post weeks ago, and I haven’t thought of him in ages. What was I talking about?

The Golden Gate Bridge. Horrific temptations. Suicide. Dear lord.

Should you visit the bridge? Um, sure. Yes, actually. Go. But go with a friend. Take someone with you, and hold their hand. Don’t worry that you’ll accidentally toss your camera, full of your memories and smiles, over the edge. Don’t worry about the bridge collapsing. It won’t. Just go with someone that you care about, and remember how lucky you are to have them. Take a few photos. Smile like an idiot.

And then? Go someplace else.

Leave a Comment

  • I didn’t realize it had a name. “Horrific temptations” indeed. I will spare you mine, but there’s a small span over the highway near my house. It’s maybe 100 feet long but the guard rail is only about waist high. Every time I cross it I wonder if someone is going to rush up behind me and push me over the edge. Whee! I’m neurotic!

    Anyway, you could always try this: http://www.goldengatebridge.org/photos/bridgewalk.php#

  • I see the bridge multiple times a day (I live on the edge of the Presidio so I can see it from my apartment), and I still shudder at times when on it as I ran my first full marathon over it (and many pre- and subsequent halves). And if you think walking it is not fun, try running 3.5 of your 26 miles over it. People don’t realize how it peaks in the middle–it’s actually quite steep!

  • LOL, leave it to you to think about things like this. I don’t think of the temptation to do things like throw my stuff off a bridge, but I have these morbid fantasies of what would happen if someone pushed me off a bridge or something. I won’t stand anywhere near the edge of a subway platform, because I’ve apparently seen too many stories on TV of people being pushed onto the tracks (thanks, Law & Order).

  • Bhavya

    Ah, horrific temptations. I have finally found resolution.

  • I’m so happy to know it’s called horrific temptations. You know those little birds that always jump, chirp, and perch near you by an outdoor restaurant? Their little necks are so pretty and tiny and would fit RIGHT in the palm of your hand… Well, I sound a bit creepy now.

    I guess a smaller version of that is when I walk around holding a glass of water, I hold it VERY TIGHTLY because I really really really want to see what happens if my hand were to slowly… open.

  • I have *exactly* the same thing. Coupled, when my son is with me, with a horrific anxiety that he will throw himself off stuff.

    In recent months, we have had drinks on a 65th floor open air roof bar in Bangkok. Climbed the highest mountain in Borneo, ascending by ropes in the dark. Zipwired the forest canopy in Laos and walked it in Borneo. And, actually, too much high stuff to count.

    The worst? The roof bar. Totally convinced I was somehow going to throw myself off> Panicked about the air. Which had come 600 feet up from the floor… Walked like I was absolutely hammered, though totally sober, cos rigid with fear…

    I’m not entirely sure why I do it. But I can say it’s getting better.

  • HollyFromHomer

    Holy crap. I acquired a fear of heights during college… I’m not afraid of the height – I am just convinced that my legs are going to launch me over the edge. Thank you for naming this specific fear of ones body doing something you don’t want it to. With a BA in Psychology, you’d think I would know this already.

  • Andi

    I totally understand where you’re coming from. I’ve walked the bridge a couple of times and even though I live in the SF Bay area, those times are enough for me. I get nervous driving over it if I think about it too much.
    There’s a really good documentary (though very depressing) called The Bridge, about the people who commit suicide from the Golden Gate Bridge (and some who lived to tell their story). I highly recommend it! Though you do have to be in a certain mood to watch…

    • Everywhereist

      I’ve heard of the documentary before – it sounds equally fascinating and depressing, so I’ve held off on watching it thus far. I can imagine it has to be the sort of thing you are in the mood to watch …

  • Eric Reinhardt

    Another horrific temptation: getting up from the dinner table at a German function before the host has…expect to get your bell rung.

  • Christine

    I just found your blog and think its fantastic. My boyfriend at the time took me to the Golden Gate Bridge and proposed. But when he did it, he held the freakin box over the ledge, which forced me to start screaming NO NO NO! Of course I eventually said yes, but only after he pulled the ring to safety and I was able to breathe again.

  • Yes…horrific temptations. It’s like wanting to veer off the road when driving but OBVIOUSLY don’t. I get the feeling about dropping my stuff when I go on cruise ships. “Oh man, what if I tossed this or that over the ledge….” GAHHHH and shudder! I’m glad it’s not just me…

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