Oh My God: Bridge 225W

The old lady on the hill was right.

We thanked her and went on our way with some semblance of directions between the two of us. Heading back out River Haven Drive, things seemed quieter. The woman lived alone, her only neighbor her son and his wife who cared for her and mowed that steep hill of hers when needed. The abandoned house, with all its guts of old clothing, Christmas ornaments, a tricycle, and even a mounted buck head, used to belong to her youngest son. That boy, she said, married young and his wife died suddenly of a swift cancer leaving him two young girls and a shell of a heart. She didn’t say where he was now.

Driving away from the river for a while, we cut left onto Roses Branch until it took us to pavement. The paved road there is unmarked, but make no mistake, it’s Double Island Road—arguably more hairpins and switchbacks than any other road in the county. We turned left on Double Island and swung the car downhill for several miles. The patience it takes to search for something in this way is uncanny. You must be willing to drive until you’re certain you’ve gone too far. You must be willing to live with that feeling of impatience, how it laces each breath and nips at the tip of your tongue, urging you to say, “Wait. Stop. Go back. Surely we’ve missed it.” Still—you must go farther and slower and haul your stubborn lack of patience in the backseat of the car with you until you can prove it wrong.

Finally, we started looping down the widest hairpin turn yet, a marker the lady on the hill warned us of. Some distance down the road, we spotted the Double Island Baptist Church, our second marker. “There’s a rock wall there at the church,” she told us. “Turn by that. Not on the paved road by the wall, but on the gravel. It’s down there. You’ll find it.”

We find that the rock wall is fake and the gravel road, albeit gravel, is more rutted and narrow than anything else. It splits and turns, divides and turns again, and all the while we had to our noses, hell bent on riverfront. For a moment, we came out of the woods as the road leveled and there was the mighty North Toe, wide and flat as poured concrete. Fifty yards downstream–Bridge 225W near Kona and Lunday.

Shane stopped the car and we sat, awestruck for several long moments. This side of the river, ten slightly crooked steps climbed steeply above the road to the bridge, higher than any bridge so far. On the far side, steal cables twist like reaching arms bolted into a pegmatite boulder the size of a double wide. The rock glistened gray with smears of chartreuse and white across its face. On the far side, a short walkway at the end of the bridge leads to the rock. A few more steps and you’re standing on the porch of an old train depot, it’s foundation flush with the giant igneous rock.

Kona and Lunday are hardly dots on the map. Like many places deep in Appalachia, they’re known only to locals. They do not have their own post offices. There is no central location. Many times, there isn’t even a gas station. But to those that live there, a name like Kona or Lunday describes a certain area within a mountain county, narrowing someone’s location down to a few hollers and backroads and in some cases, even a person’s bloodline. The name Lunday comes from [RESEARCH]. Kona must be a geologist’s pun, as a local told us, because pegmatite contains potassium (K), oxygen (O), and sodium (Na)—and there you have it—unless the joke’s on us.

I cross 225W first, but there’s no leaping and bounding this time. The chicken wire guard along each side of the three-foot wide plank is shorter along this bridge, which spans [FEET]. It’s also a lot farther to fall, as the last half of the plank arcs upward toward the pegmatite. Before I get to the other side, a train rattles in the distance and that’s when I realize the tracks aren’t even fifty feet from the end of the bridge. I look behind me to see Shane’s reaction, but he’s still on the other side trying to get a shot of the entry steps overgrown in wild aster and goldenrod.

One step on the old depot porch sends a chill down my spine, as a hollow thud echoes across the floorboards and through the empty building. This is the sound of old stories, but there’s no one around these days to tell them. I step again and caution a call to Shane across the river. “You gotta check this out,” I say. My voice comes back to me in anemic echo and not far down the tracks, a train gets nearer and nearer. Three black Adirondack-style chairs and two 1950’s chrome and plastic seafoam green chairs comprise the depot furniture and one has to wonder how long it has been since any passengers waited for a train ride here. Several private property signs, curtained windows, and a locked door prevent us from seeing much more.

Shane’s started across the bridge by the time the train arrives, though neither one of us could have been prepared for what we heard next. From the steps of the depot I watched as the engine rolled past and slowly but surely the engineer set the brakes. Ten cars passed, then another ten, then another with no caboose in sight. All the while the most treacherous, powerful, rumbling sound echoed through the holler, rattling the metal handle on the depot door. The sound was so encompassing it gave the impression of an earthquake. I swore my body shook, the chair trembled, and the earth moved—though indeed everything was very still; everything but those gigantic, life-crushing wheels that hummed along steel rails.

The slower each car passed, the louder the sound grew, until I realized it was no longer the wheels screaming but the reverb of friction through the wheels and into the hollow steel cars whose walls shook and vibrated, gigantic cages of sound forming a chorus of metal voices in this middle-of-nowhere place. The sound filled my skull, my chest, my belly, the arches of my feet. I was at once flesh and metal, grounded and ethereal. As though I had literally become steel and wheels, my body subsumed by the sound and movement before my eyes, I felt magnetically pulled toward the still moving cars. I had to resist the urge to place my hands under the wheels, to be tossed about with that sound inside one of the cars, to get just a little closer to that reverb of metal on metal—something, anything, to feel that power in its most visceral capacity.

And then it stopped. The ensuing silence contrasted so sharply with such clamor that even the absence of sound seemed to echo and fold back into itself, like a wrinkle in time.

Later, another train rolled by going the opposite direction on neighboring tracks, freeing the one at the depot to move ahead. Two beacons in broad daylight passed without calamity or fanfare, yet they carried the most spectacular display of harnessed power and efficiency I have ever witnessed.

Going back across the footbridge, things couldn’t possibly be the same. Everything I touched had some trace element of power in it, be it the cable of the bridge or the old boards beneath my feet. On the other side, the sound of gravel beneath my feet was extraordinary in the most minute ways, each crunch and shift of rock a tiny ode to the greater sounds and stories that continually unfold before us, one swinging step at a time.

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