We who explore rad and awesome stuff are bound to this hobby by a shared life-long interest in the pursuit of adventure. In this regard we are compelled to get out and explore the perimeters in search of new frontiers, to push previous boundaries aside for new experiences and to see things most people will never see. Sometimes I can honestly say that we have achieved these goals and other times we have instead found ourselves navigating through tunnels of shit with leaking waders. Every day brings new opportunities and, well, some pay off more than others.. But wherever these roads take us, eventually we hope to return from them with good stories and a few photos to share with the folks back home.
Up to this point, our expeditions have always been a closely guarded circle attended only by myself and one or two others. As the days lead up to a given trip, we put all of our research into action and head out on our own, hoping the homework we did at home was enough to achieve success on the road. Such is the story of leaving your home for a week to go adventuring into the great unknown without a friend or familiar face for hundreds of miles. This trip was different though, because this time we had some local tour guides and with their help, we were going to have an awesome time.
By the end of the trip, we'd travel a couple thousand miles to reach our destinations. As a passenger I would pass the time with book I acquired for the trip and I'd look up occasionally as nameless towns rose and fell on the horizon. Hours passed. Green seas of farmland stretched out in all directions. Out here, nothing ever changes. At about the halfway point, the largest city on the trip disappeared behind us as fast as it showed up. It smelled of boredom and isolation. I imagined there are people here that have never left this town and who wouldn't dream of the far off places we'd be seeking out. Their life-long hometown was just a mile marker for us passing by. And in the end whatever scars we pick up along the way map out the routes we take on our various journeys through this existence-only to arrive at the same place as everyone else. Some of our maps will be worn with deep lines, shortcuts and dead-ends etched into them. Others will be sitting safely at home collecting dust. Ours would be thoroughly used up and totally worn out smelling like beer and sewage and God only knows what else.
Finally we made it. We started out by fueling up with food and beer. Next stop, the underground. After some tense standing around, we were inside. Check your senses at the door because down here, there is no time. The only light is provided by a cheap headlamp with quickly failing batteries. This is another world all it's own. After admiring the sculptures carved in the walls, we sat down for some more beer and talked. Eventually we turned off the lights to conserve batteries. I'm not sure how long we sat there in the dark talking and waiting for the onset of sensory deprivation. Seemed like only a few minutes but by the time we resurfaced, midnight had come down upon the land.
The next day we were down by the water enjoying some beer in the sun with fireworks and lovely summer time weather. The peaceful river gracefully flowed by. Its calm waters almost begged me to go for a swim and let its mild current wash my cares away.
A few hours would pass before we set off for the next location. The plan involved getting in the swollen river on cheap inflatable tubes and stealthily navigating them to just the right opening. The peaceful river and its siren calls of only hours earlier had turned into a menacing black torrent by night and death was the only song I heard it sing. There's no fucking way we can do this.. After weighing the options for a while, the plans changed. Luckily we didn't have to get wet.. Now all we had to do was walk down through the city, late at night, in all of our gear and get inside undetected. And this is a city with very strict laws regarding such things. We were so fucked. Every car that went by was a cop. Until I looked and it was just another sedan. Another car full of people just getting from point A to point B. They were probably just concluding a night of going out to eat and heading home to relax in front of the tv before bed. Their bellies were full of relative safety and responsibility. Mine was in knots and burned with anxiety. I imagined the feeling of cold metal clamped around my wrists and spending hundreds of dollars I didn't have on bail money.
There was a camera on the entry point. "Did you see the camera right there?" I asked. It doesn't matter anyway, the door was locked. We were about to leave when it unexpectedly opened up. One of our comrades had gone in by himself earlier through a different entry point and just happened to be there waiting for us, predicting the route we'd take with no prior communication of such. And in doing so, he totally saved the night. Now quickly we rushed inside. Miles of underground now lay ahead of us. Even if someone watched the camera, there's no finding us down here. Had our guides not intimately known the maze already, I could see easily becoming lost in minutes. Take the x-teenth tunnel on the right, turn left, make a U turn, up a tiny hole, squeeze through a tight passageway, click your heels together three times and there'll be more tunnels and more underground on the other side with all the same yet completely different means of access. Loud rumbles occasionally echoed from dark corners in unknown directions. We've stepped into the twilight zone. And like Wonka's tunnel.. "There's no earthly way of knowing which direction we were going". We've teleported into a land far away, an underground Narnia where magical turds float past in enchanted rivers of piss. Although my travel companions and I take zero credit for getting inside, we still felt the surge of excitement resulting from a successful ingress. We had never been here anyway, so it was all new to us. While our cities are separated by many miles of boring isolation we have the same hunger for adventure which drives us to see all there is to be seen, regardless whether or not it involves walking through sewage or across rickety rotten floors to get there.
Next I learned that we're not going out the way we came. To exit we'd find ourselves in the basement of an active building in the heart of the city. Just as your eyes adjust to the darkness, the mind adjusts to the underground. So popping up into this active surface structure meant shaking off the haze of the underground and getting back down to serious business. Once again without a guide familiar with the surroundings this would have been problematic. The basement was huge and alive with buzzing lights and running electric motors. We passed several doors and various hallways before finding the right one, while hoping no maintenance workers happened to be there. And just as quickly as we rushed inside elsewhere earlier, we stepped out the front doors to emerge from the underbelly of the city onto what seemed to be its main street. And there we were. Time hadn't stopped for us after all, although down there it felt like it had. On the surface, it was 3am. The streets were deserted and quiet. The cool of the early morning darkness enveloped the city. Rooftop lights dotted the silhouettes of tall buildings which surrounded us. I had never even seen this city in the daylight but here we were running through it like we owned the place. From now on, my earliest memory of this city will be filthily climbing out onto main street and having it all to ourselves. It felt like a scene out of a movie where the protagonists stepped into a mirror's alternate dimension of that which is visible in the reflection. We were ghosts on the sidewalk and only time itself separated us from the busy day time crowds. But there was no time to take it all in, we couldn't walk fast enough to get as far away from where we came as possible. We stopped at a 24 hour diner and finally had a chance to relax where I ate some of the best diner food I've ever had. We'd get some sleep and then head home in the morning all in one piece and fully satisfied after a weekend of excitement and adventure. My memory card was full, my body was sore all over and our job here was done. I'm incredibly thankful for those who help make trips like this possible.
Pictured below is a variety of sprawling utility tunnels and sewers somewhere in the United States. They have experienced varying degrees of use and subsequent disuse and attempted closure by city officials, but as long as they exist there will be groups of people dedicated to (re)discovering them and preserving their access for future visits.