Urban Spelunking: The Beginning

The following is a series of journal entries written about my first few "urban spelunking" expeditions when I was in college.  These were my (and everyone else's involved) first foray into urban exploration.  Some editorial comments are inserted rather than resculpting the whole piece to provide context more easily supplied parenthetically.

Saturday, January 23, 1993
I convinced my roommate Rob (surprise [<--because Rob was a pussy]), his brother Todd, his friends Matt and Frank, my friend Ray (Amy's buddy) and his friend, and unexpectedly Elena to go "spelunking" with me.  [I didn't know the name of everyone involved.  There were nine of us total, even though I don't list them properly here.]  The first part of the expedition was in the culverts that ran along the train tracks and ended at the corner by the tennis courts on my side of campus where it was impossible to go any further because the culverts decreased in size from four feet down to two.  There was very little water in them; at most only three inches or so and I was wearing one of the two pairs of rubber boots which I had stashed in the trunk of my car the night before along with a rope for the later parts of the expedition.

Although the first part of the expedition was a disappointment since it didn't actually go under the university, the second part was an incredible surprise since it ran under the entire length of the campus.  I imagined that there would be three parts to our expedition that night: the one that started at the train tracks, one under the library, and the one under the field behind [some dorms where friends of mine lived], which, as it turned out, ran under the library where I had first noticed the drain behind [the dorms] one rainy day when I tried to cut across the field in order to avoid getting soaked in the path of the water which ran over the sidewalks.  To my surprise, I heard the sound of water running down a drain even though there was no concrete that I could see. Luckily it wasn't raining so hard that I couldn't find where the drain was and I immediately started dreaming of going back there someday.

When we ended the first expedition Ray and his friend had left thinking that there was nothing left to find, and Frank apparently felt the same.  The remainder of us (including Frank) went with us to the field and we parked my car in front of the campus infirmary and waited while Matt and Todd went to get another flashlight while Frank went home to his dorm with them.

When they returned, we were getting ready to go over to the drain, but we noticed a female sitting on the infirmary steps.  After a few moments I noticed it was Elena and I invited her over to go spelunking with us.  We proceeded to remove the drain cover (only two of us in the field at a time) then I tied the rope onto the drain cover and had Matt and Todd sit on it so it wouldn't slide in after me as I went down the rope.

When I got to the bottom, all nine feet of it, Todd dropped me my flashlight and I saw the most incredible view of the seemingly endless tunnel which was about ten feet wide and seven feet high where there weren't any drains.  I urged everyone down one by one except for Elena who had to get my keys from my open and abandoned car.  First came Matt, then Todd, then Joey, and after some encouragement, Rob.  Elena stayed above and we went on our way in the direction of the cafeteria where the nearest turn was, eventually making its way under the library.

There were no forks along the tunnel, but there were smaller culverts and pipes which drained into the larger one ranging from several feet to three inches in diameter.  The water at the bottom was only two inches deep, but by the end was up to a foot and a half, although it never went over the tops of my boots.  When we got near the end we could see light, where it came from since it was too bright to be from a drain.  We turned off the flashlights, and as our eyes adjusted we saw all kinds of trees around us on both sides of the water and we  of the water and we realized that we had come out in a drainage ditch somewhere off campus.

We climbed up the levee and found that we were on the other side of the road from the campus.  We sort of made a run for it right past a campus cop car and, although we didn't get stopped, he radioed to another car that we were wandering around campus.  [This was a relatively unusual sight since this was a weekend, and the campus was largely deserted when classes weren't actually in session.  Admittedly, the campus cops had very little to do, so they were notorious for looking for action where there was none.]  As we made our way past the library, Elena met up with us as we were in the process of avoiding another police car which had caught up with us and was intent on what our group was doing out at ten o'clock on a Saturday night.

I stashed my flashlight next to the library and continued with the rest of the group toward [Todd's dorm] except Joey and Rob who had separated in an attempt to avoid the police.  The police did go after both of them and when they each tried to avoid them they were stopped.

While this was happening, the remainder of the group went to [my dorm] in Matt's car where we all put on something less conspicuous (and dirty) and drove past the parking lot where Joey and Rob were being interrogated (and also where my car was still parked) back to [Todd's dorm] where we waited until Rob came back and got us to talk to the cop who was waiting in the front parking lot of the dorm.

The officer was serious at first, at least until Elena asked him if he liked Waffle House.  After that he merely warned us that we could have hurt ourselves or someone else by leaving the drain cover off.  He told us that we would probably only have to go see the Dean but we haven't gotten any word on that yet [nor did we ever hear from anyone about the incident after the fact]. After he left, we went back inside and talked to a friend of the dispatcher who is also friends with Rob and Todd.  This friend said that she had been at the police station listening to the calls for most of the night and that she had heard about us.  We talked for a while and then went home and played Scrabble and ate pizza and tried to console Rob, who thought that he was going to jail.

All of us are still worried about what may happen, but mostly we're still thinking about the cop's last words to us, "Next time you go down in the sewers, don't leave the covers off!"
I found this recently.  I'm not sure who made it.  It's an index card "celebrating" the fact that our names were printed in the paper following this episode.

Wednesday, January 27, 1993
Only four day's after nearly having his brother and others arrested, Todd's twisted logic once again manifested itself.  Around midnight, while I was on the phone trying to set my friend Cathleen up with Todd's friend Matt, Todd himself burst through my door panting, "We're going down!"

Naturally I told Cathleen that I would have to call her back later and after debating the issue (getting caught and regretting it or not going and regretting it) I told Todd to hold off while I went and asked Elena if she wanted to come with us.  Of course she was in bed, which Karen [a girl who lived across the hall], who was sitting in the lobby told me before I knocked.  I laughed maniacally and went back inside to get my boots and left [my roommate] Rob a note: "Rob, Gone.  Guess where? -Alex."

Todd told me all he did was run inside and, seeing Rob in the front lobby playing Scrabble, asked him where his roommate was.  Todd then told me that we should go out the back door where Matt and the infamous Ray were waiting.  I started to go and get the flashlight out of my car, but Todd told me that they had enough already.

We got in Matt's car and went past the exit of the tunnel once to check the area out then went back and parked on the side of the theater next to the  fraternity house which was right on the edge of the canal.  We got out of the car and Todd and I changed into boots and all of us put plastic bags which they had supplied on our feet under our shoes and held them up with rubber bands.  Then we went into the canal, always keeping an eye out for any police, campus or otherwise.

Everything was pretty much the same as the first time we went through except that the water was about two inches lower, making very easy for us to see what was under it including quite a few small catfish (sewer-cats?) and even smaller perch.  We also saw the tracks of an animal, probably a raccoon, which we almost caught up with later.  When we got to the drain under the field where we dropped in from last time, I didn't really expect there to be too much more to discover, I figured that we were only doing it to see what was there, but it did get interesting.

After we went a little further and we climbed over (or under) some of the pipes that cut across the main tunnel, but then we found that some of the other culverts which emptied into the tunnel gradually got larger, up to a point where they were almost as big as some of those we traveled through on the first part of the previous expedition.

All along the way we had tried to see through each of the drain covers, none of which we could lift up to that point.  However, as we were running under the street along the side of the campus, we were able to lift and actually climb out of the drain due to the fact that it was thin, made of a light metal, not cemented in, and low enough for us to reach since the ceiling had "shrunk" by then (i.e., the overall height of the tunnel had diminished).

As we got close to the end, we found more of the same size catfish which swam near the entrance.  The ceiling also got still lower at this point and we had to duck in order to walk through them.  We finally came to the end of the tunnel, which was down to four feet in height by this time, right past one of the medium sized culverts which emptied into the cemented canals on the other side of the apartments on our right, across from the basketball arena.  At the actual end of the tunnel there appeared to be a dead end because the tunnel turned left, facing the oncoming traffic which ran along the canal which we avoided because of the constant assault of headlights.

I climbed down to the end of the culvert, but knew better than to get out and be seen by passing cars.  However, Todd and Ray didn't consider that to be a serious threat and crawled past me.  I went back to the main tunnel and talked to Matt for minute before I heard the two idiots screaming to run for our lives.  What had happened was a state police car had passed while they were out there and they ran back in hoping that he had not seen them.  I suggested that we make a run for it just in case he had, although I realize now that that would have only made things worse had he seen us.

We started running since the water was pretty shallow and went for a good distance without stopping until we came back across the pipes over which we had to climb where we decided to take a break.  After that we went back to trying to catch catfish on the way back home which was otherwise uneventful.

We carefully exited the tunnel without using the flashlights and were completely silent except for the little noise we made walking through the water.  We went through the canal a little ways before getting out so that we wouldn't be seen so easily and got back in Matt's car muddy boots and everything and they dropped me off at the dorm.

When I got back up to the room I turned on the light and found that Rob had left me a note: "Alex, You bad, bad boy. -Rob."  I laughed about that for a while as I washed off my boots and socks after I had pulled off the plastic bags.  I rinsed out the tub, showered, and went to bed.

January 30, 1993
Todd once again called me with news of another spelunking expedition upon which he and his friends were planning to embark.  He told me this while I was over at his dorm where I had arrived after checking out some of the passages which they were intent on exploring.

When we had decided (or were forced, rather) to call it quits on the last expedition, we were at the end of the main tunnel which ran out into a concrete canal which was nearly dry at the time.  At the other end of the canal there was another tunnel which I thought would only go under the railroad tracks and into a drainage ditch next to the campus.  I had been out to where I assumed it emptied earlier when I went with my ex-girlfriend Cathleen on the walk where I discovered the drainage pipes that we later explored in first half of the first expedition.  However, I did see a medium sized drainage pipe that went in a different direction here.

I told Todd all of these things, and he told me that he would call me some time that night and we would go.  Later he called me while his parents were over visiting [his brother, my roommate] Rob and said that he would call me around one or so and that he would throw a stick at the window to get my attention.  I decided not to go on the grounds that it was too cold and I had felt tired earlier, besides.  So when Todd came around I threw him down my boots and told him to tell me about the expedition on the morning and he left.

I went back to work on a lab report, but I was thinking the whole time about the expedition I was missing out on which I considered to be my find.  Before I had fully set my mind to it I looked in the student catalog at the campus map inside and found the best place for me to get it.   I settled on the low drain cover we found last time, and I got dressed and drove over there.

As I was nearing my destination I spotted the group (Todd, Matt, Ray, and another guy whose name I forgot before I wrote this down) walking above ground to save time.  I stopped them and asked them the plan and then parked at the apartments on campus and Todd, the new guy, and I ran up ahead to get in through the exit of the tunnel while Ray and Matt went in
through the entrance I had intended to use.

We had thought about going down one of the smaller tunnels.  After some thought about what might lie ahead in the other direction, however, we went back to the end and planned how to get across the concrete ditch without being spotted.  We decided to go in two groups: Matt and Ray and Todd, the new guy, and myself.  The first group went ahead and waited for us in some of the weeds which had grown in the sediment on the bottom of the canal.  My group caught up and we took a break in hiding.  After a moment I decided to go the short distance to the culvert ahead and Todd followed me.

When I got to the culvert I went in to find that it only ran up to the edge of the street and was really a dead end.  We then went into the culvert and flashed the light for them to come over.  The remaining three went as far as the Mr. Cook culvert but had to stop because a police car had pulled up on the road right above the entrance to the tunnel.  After he finally left, they came along into the tunnel, slipping and sliding all the way on the thin sheet of slick mud that covered the bottom of the paved canal.

We went in and found that the tunnel made a turn at the farthest point we could see in the distance, so we went down there checking all of drainage pipes along the way.  There was one pipe that looked interesting and went up at about a thirty-five degree angle which was dry so naturally everyone except the new guy and I went up it since there wasn't enough room.  We decided to go on, however, and check out the rest of the tunnel since it looked more promising.

There was one more turn in the tunnel only a few feet after the first one, after which it ran straight for some distance.  At the end of that length it opened out into a section about fifteen feet high, twenty feet wide, but only six feet in length.  The water was about two feet deep in this "room" and Todd, who was wearing boots, got his feet wet in the freezing water and nearly caught hypothermia.

From the room there were two tunnels that went out into the canal where I had expected to end up in after far less distance than it had turned out to be.  We then climbed up the side of the canal and went down the railroad track in the opposite direction as the dorm towards the train cars which cars which there.  We climbed up on them and looked in, then gave up and went down the tracks in the direction of the campus.

When we got to the railroad bridge under which the water from the culverts from the first part of the original expedition flowed, we stopped and the rest of the group thought about using the main tunnel which opened at the other end of the short stretch of ditch to get back to their dorm without being caught.  I invited them to stay in my room since Rob was sleeping in Joyce's, but they didn't have any dry clothes so they said no and went back to their own dorm and I went back and once again washed off my shoes and socks and started to write this while I still had some energy, but finally went to bed when I got too tired.

January 31, 1993
After I went through the new tunnel the previous night, I decided to go back and check out the parts we had skipped due to the greater curiosity of what lay ahead in the main tunnel.  So the next morning I called up a few people I thought might like to go, mostly the group who had gone the night before, but all seemed to either be busy or were afraid to go during the day like I had planned.  I just grabbed my shoes and socks which hadn't even dried from the previous night's expedition and drove my car over to [the dorm on the opposite end of campus], where I parked and walked over to the concrete drainage ditch, but was unable to get in because of all the police, both city and campus.  I walked over across the train tracks to where we had come out the night before and entered unnoticed and went through the concrete culverts into the tunnel.  I was amazed to find that I could see quite clearly because of all of the light which came in through through drain grates that were about twice the size of all of the other ones we had come across up to that point.

I checked out the culvert we had wanted to go through, but it really was not worth it because it was so small and didn't really lead anywhere as far as I could tell.  I went around the first turn we had passed the night before and looked out at the concrete ditch which was fully lit up in the midafternoon's sun.  I went back to where I came in and saw that there was a culvert about three feet in diameter that emptied into the main room that I decided to look for when I got out.

I got out of the culvert without being caught and climbed over the track where I had come from and found the culvert which I was looking for that went at angle into the ground making a convenient entrance since it was surrounded by tall grass.  I walked back to my car following the tunnel from above ground and drove away safely, at least until the next expedition.

February 15, 1993
We did it again: Spelunking!  Once again Todd called me up to go spelunking and I met him over at his dorm and he, Matt, and I went down to the end of the street, across from the basketball stadium in order to go in through the large entrance down there.  However, we had some trouble since cars seemed to be passing by constantly, but finally the traffic slowed to the point where we could enter without being seen.

When we all got in we made our way down to the two side culverts where we had intended to go as there were just about the only decent places left for us to explore.  We looked at the first one, the one closer to the stadium, but we went on to compare it with the other one.  Since the second one appeared to have less water in it we went back for a ways until we were under the subdivision across from the Lab School.  We came to a stopping point; a turn in the tunnel which had a concrete floor which we could sit on comfortably and plan our next move.

The culvert looked somewhat deeper than that which we had already covered, so we debated whether to go on or go back to the first one we inspected.  As we rested, Todd, the philosopher in the group, pointed out that we must be the only people on campus who ever actually did this, let alone think about doing it or even bother to search out something this strange just for fun.  We all agreed with him and after a moment's more rest, went back to the other culvert.

As we made our way through the other culvert we found that it was slightly larger than the previous one and it was easier to pass through with so little water in the center.  We went even farther than the last time until all of us felt weak with exhaustion.  We stopped periodically to discuss whether we should continue to explore this section some other time (on a weekend preferably) or continue until we dropped (unless we happened to hit a dead end first.  Since "Star Trek: The Next Generation" was coming on at midnight (and it was in its last season) and it was only eleven thirty, we moved on until a quarter till.  [I didn't watch the show until years later when it was in re-runs, but Todd and some of his friends were nuts about it.]

After traveling for the next fifteen minutes with no new discoveries save the territory covered we gave up and went back.  I took the lead and moved so quickly that I splashed up Todd who was behind me and I also scrapped my back quite badly since I was jumping up in the narrow culverts as I ran.

When we got to the end of the culvert, we went back through the main tunnel intending to go to the end where we had come in, but as we made our way and Star Trek got ever closer we took a shortcut through the ceiling via the sidewalk entrance just off campus and ran back to their dorm to avoid any cars which might happen to pass by.  I drove back to my dorm and showered and went to bed before midnight making this the earliest expedition ever.

Years after I originally explored these tunnels, I returned with Dani and finally photographed them.  Galleries of those expeditions can be found here and here.

Copyright 1993-2007 Alexplorer.
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