Gephyrophobia is a fear of bridges. People who experience this anxiety are gephyrophobiacs. I’ve known people with this fear to varying degrees although I didn’t realize it had an actual name until recently. I noticed a search engine query on the Twelve Mile Circle from someone who appeared to be a gephyrophobiac. The person was searching for an automobile route from Mississippi to Michigan that avoided bridges.
Unfortunately that’s an impossible task in a motor vehicle. Potentially, if one had access to a ship, one could cruise down the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico, swing around Florida, head up the Atlantic coastline, enter the St. Lawrence Seaway and proceed through the Great Lakes. That would avoid bridges although I wonder if transiting through canal locks might produce similar anxieties. Perhaps airline travel might be a possibility. However they didn’t ask about that. Maybe it’s too expensive. Let’s assume that neither of those are an option for whatever reason and the person truly wishes to travel by automobile.
The best I can do, once again assuming a motorized vehicle is the only possibility, is to search for a path that at least minimizes bridge crossings. Arbitrarily, I decided on bridge lengths of 1,000 feet (305 metres) or less primarily because it was a nice, round number. I also figured it was short enough for an anxious person to grab the steering wheel with both hands, grin-and-bear-it, and power through for ten or fifteen seconds until reaching the other side.
I also had to determine starting and ending points for the route. The query mentioned Mississippi and Michigan so I selected their respective state capitals, Jackson and Lansing.
View Larger Map
The trick was to find a route that swung around the Mississippi River drainage basin. Specifically it needed to hug the southern edge of the Tennessee River basin and the eastern edge of the Ohio River basin. It’s impossible to plot a driving route exactly along the watershed divide because it follows mountain ridges for much of its length. I kept as close as practical without worrying about it too much. I figured the route would cross rivers near their sources where they would still be small and manageable.
My gephyrophobia-reducing (not eliminating) solution would cover 1,721 miles (2,770 kilometers) over 31 hours, versus a more direct route of 932 miles (1,500 km) over 15 hours (map). The penalty one pays for major bridge avoidance is basically a doubling of time and distance.
I’m certain I could produce a better route with even fewer and smaller river crossings. It would be gloriously inefficient.
View Larger Map
I do sympathize with people who experience Gephyrophobia. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to cross the Mackinac Bridge on Interstate 75 between Michigan’s lower and upper peninsulas, as an example. I’ve driven that bridge and others like it before and I can see why it would create anxiety for lots of drivers.
View Larger Map
The New York times featured this situation a few years ago in, "To Gephyrophobiacs, Bridges Are a Terror.". One anecdote in particular stuck out in my mind.
Mrs. Steers’s phobia was so severe that she was virtually trapped on Staten Island for 13 years. She missed her brother’s wedding in Brooklyn. She sent her husband and two children off on family vacations without her. She had never seen her sister’s house at the Jersey Shore.
Staten Island covers only 58 square miles (152 km2). Certainly, it’s both larger and better appointed than a prison island like Alcatraz. Nonetheless Gephyrophobia turned it into a prison of another sort. This seemed to be a rather extreme instance since the Staten Island Ferry apparently wasn’t a possibility either. It demonstrates how disabling Gephyrophobia can become in its extreme forms.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if Google Maps included a Gephyrophobia button to generated driving directions that avoided bridges?