This week I worked on the sequel to my memoir, He Heard My Voice that I published in 2019. The sequel will cover the next seven years and seven solo journeys after the first seven that occurred during the decade of the memoir. The section I worked on this week includes the trip I took to Chincoteague Island on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, which is part of the DelMarVa Peninsula. What I first encountered on that trip was a childhood fear that had continued into my adulthood. It had mostly remained submerged until I was crossing north into Virginia and then headed east toward the Chesapeake Bay.
I have great childhood memories of our family taking road trips to see Daddy’s brother, Cortez and his family in Norfolk. Driving through the countryside of southeastern Virginia I was reminded of those trips when I looked out over acres of peanut fields. Our family would stop at a restaurant that was half-way to eat breakfast–something we rarely did in those days of the sixties. Being in the large city of Norfolk and that Tidewater area seemed so distant from the small-town life of my hometown, Sanford in central North Carolina. All the waterways and bridges and fast-moving traffic were a lot for a girl to take in. While I remembered many details of those trips, I hadn’t been a driver. I didn’t realize that if I wanted to go by the closest route to Chincoteague Island, I’d have to travel over the Chesapeake Bay by way of the Chesapeake Bay-Bridge Tunnel.
This is what I wrote in my draft of the sequel:
As I drove further into that southeastern corner of Virginia, blue signs by the highway brought a memory to the surface that I’d forgotten: the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (CBB-T). That dual-span bridge connects the Eastern And Western Shore of Virginia, crossing 17.6 miles from shore to shore. There are low-level trestles interrupted by two, one-mile tunnels that are beneath Thimble Shoals and the Chesapeake Navigational Channels. Once on the other side, I’d travel north on the Delmarva Peninsula to access Chincoteague. The only other way to get to Chincoteague would take an extra ninety-five miles to go around on alternate routes. Since childhood, I had a fear of driving through water, anxiety dreams about being submerged that may have come from cartoons of cars going over cliffs, landing in water.
Now, I’m remembering all those dreams I had as a kid of having to drive a car through water, those anxiety-laden semi-nightmares that I later learned were a type of phobia having to do with being trapped. Guess I should have seen a therapist back then; too late now!
When I was in graduate school, I had a friend, Mike who was getting a Masters in Structural Engineering. He was from Norfolk and he was the perfect person to confess my fear to and ask for objective, scientific facts to counter my worry. I asked him did he know if a boat could puncture that tunnel– causing water to come in and entrap my car. He gave me a long, engineer-type response, that I didn’t understand, but finished with “It’s not likely” –which is what I remembered.
Even with his scientific explanation, I felt my anxiety increase as I approached the entrance to the Bridge-Tunnel. As I waited in line to pay my toll, I saw another sign that hadn’t been there years ago.
From the sequel draft:
What I don’t think was present along with those blue signs of the CBB-T was a sign that was posted near the toll station: NO EXPLOSIVES ALLOWED! How long had that been there? Was it after 9-11? Was it more recent? While I’d worried about a ship puncturing the tunnel, I hadn’t considered explosives detonating the tunnel; more reason to worry. As I pulled up to pay the toll, considering all the dangers, I wasn’t sure I could make make myself drive to the other side. Would I be able to turn around and go back?
Not wanting to hold up the line of vehicles behind me, I handed the attendant my fee. I drove a short distance to the Visitors’ Center where I studied the diagram of the Bridge-Tunnel. Seeing the two sections of tunnel linked together by bridges, I thought, I can do it if I have a plan.
I looked out over the white-capped Chesapeake and saw where the bridges were interrupted by the sections of tunnel. I couldn’t be lodged between 18-wheelers or other large vehicles. I need to see the light at the end of the tunnel as soon as possible. I would have to remind myself to take slow, deep breaths so I wouldn’t get dizzy. Throughout the drive across, I’d turn the air conditioner on high while keeping my window down and listening for approaching trucks. I checked that my water bottle was close by for frequent sips of water to counter the cottonmouth of anxiety.
What occurs to me now, is my plan for getting through the Bridge-Tunnel was partially learned from an experience twelve years prior when I was going through treatment for Triple-Negative Breast Cancer. That was when I worked for a pharmaceutical clinical trials company. I had pressure on me to make a trip to Lumberton–almost three-hours away on a Friday afternoon. I’d had chemo on Tuesday and still didn’t feel great on Friday. But my supervisors felt I must deliver study supplies to that site and they were already on me– as I described in my memoir, to push my studies harder.
I dreaded the drive to Lumberton on busy I-95 on a Friday afternoon in early August. I wasn’t sure I could make it because of my chemo nausea and hot-flashes from chemically induced menopause (sorry if that’s TMI–but it’s the truth!!) My wig made my head hot which added to the problem–but I never showed up in a doctors’ office site without it. All I could do was pray for God to help me to do the thing I had to do, one mile at the time. I packed my car with supplies, had my “nausea cocktail” of iced cranberry juice and Sprite sitting in the console, blasted the air conditioning, and told myself, “just focus on the next section of highway.” I had to avoid looking at the milage signs for Lumberton for fear I’d be overwhelmed. When the air conditioning wasn’t adequate, I took off my wig for a “wig break”–adjusting the cooling vents toward my head. I didn’t care who saw me; I’d never see those fellow travelers again.
When I was facing the Bridge-Tunnel on that trip to Chincoteague, making a plan made me feel empowered. Remembering the trip to Lumberton, gave me confidence that I could do what seemed impossible, once again.
From the sequel draft:
I drove toward the tunnel, watching the traffic in front and looking in my review mirror to spot any trucks or tall SUVs that could block me in. I slowed down and let them move ahead before I started going down into the tunnel. I felt my fingers gripping more tightly around the steering wheel, tension starting to take hold of my neck and shoulders.
“Relax, Connie,” I told myself and accelerated cautiously into the dark tunnel. “You can do this; it’s only a mile.” I tried to focus on just the section in front of me, waiting to look into the distance for that light at the end of the first underwater section. I realized I was holding my breath and took a slow deep inhalation and accelerated harder, ready to be on the bridge where I could see, where I wouldn’t feel trapped.
Finally, I spotted the light and was happy to drive out of the first tunnel. How massive the Chesapeake Bay in all directions with sea gulls diving for their lunch in the mid-day sunlight. Their calls sounded like laughter through my open window– like they were cheering for me as I tried to drive beyond my fear. How many other fears do I need to get beyond, I thought as I gazed out over the great expanse of water.
Too soon, it was time to go through the second, and final, section of tunnel.
I stuck with my strategy of not getting wedged between the larger vehicles. I moved into the right lane to let a truck pass me. Just when I thought I was well-positioned, a box truck I hadn’t seen, came barreling up on the left. We would have to go down into the tunnel with me blocked in.
Again, I had to tell myself to relax and take slow deep breaths. “You’re almost there,” I kept saying, looking for the light. My fingers still resisted letting go of their tight grip on the steering wheel. Droplets of perspiration dampened my forehead. The summer heat was building and my air conditioning couldn’t counter the hot summer air coming through my window. Finally, I saw the vehicles ahead of me moving upward to exit the tunnel, the light now visible. My fingers loosened their tight grip and I felt relieved to hear the tires pass onto the bridge. “You did it!” I congratulated myself and felt triumphant that I’d managed my anxiety.
Funny, that months later, I would see a segment on the evening news about the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. I learned that many people, like me, had a fear of driving over-through that structure. Some people would pay a hundred dollars to be transported across. When I heard that, I chuckled and thought that at least I’d saved myself a hundred dollars. And, in the process, I’d learned that I had the power within me to overcome my fears– at least, one of them.
I crossed into Eastern Shore, Virginia and stopped in the quaint town of Port Charles and ate my packed lunch by the calm Chesapeake. I felt such relief to have that tunnel challenge behind me.
Looking back on that trip, I’m grateful that I had the experience of navigating the CBB-T by myself. I would have avoided it if there had been any other driver in the car. We know that the best way to deal with fear is to face it, but most of the time, I would opt out. I could have chosen a different destination or could have driven the extra miles to go up and around the CBB-T to get to Chincoteague Island. That island proved to be the right place for rest, renewal, and adventure on that Solo Journey.
I wonder how this post relates to your life. Do you have fears you need to face in order to get to that island that could provide you with rest, renewal, and adventure–whether a real island or metaphorical? Is there a highway you could travel if you focused on just a section at the time instead the entire distance? We all have fears and things we avoid.
My hope for you is that you will be able to take the steps you need to get to those places you long for.
Blessings to you,
4 thoughts on “Journey to Chincoteague: Crossing Through My Fear”
Hi Conni, We made a trip over the Chesapeake Bridge Tunnel to go to Chincoteague last June. I’m from Norfolk. It had never occurred to me to be afraid of the bridge tunnel. Maybe because my family crossed it soon after it was open when I was a child. I grew up with bridges and traffic and lots of water. Your story reminded me that those times were much more innocent. Perhaps I should have had a few reservations. I’m glad you made it across! We all have fears that are not entirely rational so I’m sure many related to your story. Thank you for your blog.
Thanks for reading and for telling about your family history; didn’t know you’re from that area. Yes–that being your home, familiar, the everyday of driving those bridges, going through the tunnels would make a difference.
It’s a beautiful place and I’m sure you have lots of fond childhood memories.
I think it would be like a kid from NYC coming to my farm as a child–and scared of the dark country and sounds of farm animals and crickets etc—thing that would be unfamiliar to a big city kid.
Yes, our fears aren’t entirely rational and that’s why it’s so good to get beyond them–if we can, and not let them limit us from a full life.
Best to you, Shirley.
Very interesting. I liked the insertions of your future book, as we see a change of approach in your writing. If we live by our life teachings there may be an avenue to find our faith. By praying for others, we gain the strength to face our own battles with confidence. It is interesting that in your reply to Shirley, you offered an answer to your question. How cool is that?. Love and Blessings to you. John,
Thanks so much for reading and responding.
I’m glad you liked the future book insertions. Yes, responses from my readers give me a greater understanding of what I’ve written and also provide me, and those who read the responses, information. We all share things that are helpful to others on this life path.
Best to you, John!
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