26 Jul
2014
Posted in: travel
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Gateway Arch: Overcoming Fears

Full view of Gateway Arch

I don’t like heights, large crowds or tight spaces. A visit to the Gateway Arch in Saint Louis, Missouri was sure to be pure torture.

Mississippi River with Gateway Arch

Our two oldest boys really wanted to see the Gateway Arch, part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, AND take the 630 feet trip to the top for a look over Saint Louis. I started researching the arch and quickly realized I was going to need a lot of prayers and possibly medication to keep me calm enough to make it to the top. The tram to the top of the arch is comprised of capsules which seat five people each. The capsules are linked together like a space-age train and travel the 630 feet in the hollow legs to a viewing area at the top. The tram empties visitors into a hallway that connects the two legs. There are eight small rectangle windows on each side of the hallway for visitors to view Saint Louis and the Mississippi River. It takes four minutes to get to the top and three minutes to come back down. Trust me, I asked.

Gateway Arch tram capsule for journey to the top

The more reviews I read about the tram and the ride to the top of the Gateway Arch, the more I was certain this was a horrible idea.

  1. The Gateway Arch draws large crowds in the summer. The space at the top is literally a hallway. I strongly dislike being in large crowds, shoulder to shoulder with people.
  2. It’s a HALLWAY. Tight spaces are not something I enjoy. I feel the need to bolt when I’m confined with the added bonus of not being able to breathe. In order to get to the hallway, you have to sit knee to knee with four other people in a capsule. A tight space up to visit a tight space is not my idea of a vacation. It’s much closer to a nightmare.
  3. It’s 630 feet above the ground. My #1 fear is heights, more specifically falling from the before-mentioned heights. Standing at the base of the Gateway Arch made me feel like an ant.

Gateway Arch windows at top of arch

We visited Chicago four years ago and went to the top of Willis Tower. We have photos of me looking terrified standing on the skydeck, a see-through floor on the outside of the 104th floor.  I was thankful I survived that visit. I was certain the Gateway Arch would be just as terrifying. I told my husband countless times that I wasn’t sure I could actually go through it.

View of Busch Stadium from Gateway Arch

Here’s the thing: it wasn’t horrible, not even close. Yes the pods to the top are tight, but I didn’t feel panicky once. We split into two pods which meant we had to sit with two strangers. Sitting with people I didn’t know helped keep me calm. The doors in the capsules have windows to see the inside of the arch legs which I thought was fascinating and helped to not feel completely enclosed.

Gateway Arch shadow

The hallway at the top is full of people, but we had room to freely move from one side to the other to look at the various perspectives. My first glance straight down did make my heart race, but the feeling faded almost as soon as it came on. I felt perfectly safe at the top which isn’t how I normally feel when I’m off the ground.

One side of Gateway Arch from the ground

Our journey to the top was over before 10 a.m., which I think is key to a successful visit. The crowds in the base of the memorial were almost double what they were when we started up to the top. Park service employees said the top of the arch becomes crowded to the point where each side of the hallway is a one-way road. An afternoon visit may not have gone as well for me.

View of Gateway Arch from Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park

Our oldest told me after our visit he was proud of me for not being scared. I told him I was scared, but I didn’t want to be stopped by my fears. I’m glad I gave myself the opportunity to overcome those fears and share that memory with my family.

 

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