Archive for September, 2014

All Things Go, All Things Know

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Gary, Memphis, Religious, Residential

After the hospital, with my camera completely useless, we didn’t even try to explore anything else in Memphis, and just wandered back toward Beale street for some blues halls. Which was much easier said than done, in a typical city in the American South: not particularly designed for pedestrians, or even supportive of those who chose not to drive around for whatever reason. At first we thought it would be a pleasant walk along the river, but all we found there was steep slopes, thick brush, and the scattered flour of hashers, which of course Ben wouldn’t follow even when I suggested there was likely beer, and a way out, at the end of it. With that option eliminated, the next logical way was across the railroad tracks. Even though there were no trains in sight, no-trespassing signs and the vague suggestion there might be cameras turned us back. So we took the only option left, walking right along I-40, as if walking an Interstate was somehow better, even though it took us farther away from our destination, and through more of the unsavory 95 degree Tennessee heat.

This sign let us know we’d arrived at Beale(e) Street. There’s a specific note on it not to take pictures of it. Probably so the artist isn’t remembered as the one who can’t spell?

We spent as much of the night as we could plunked down in the corners of various blues halls, taking in the unique music scene of the bluest city, until the bars closed and we had no choice but to go wait at the airport. Sleeping, or trying to sleep, in an airport, even to make a 6am flight, is not something I can recommend as a good option. It seemed like a good idea at the time to fly between our cities, especially with how cheap Southwest tickets were, but the train was really the better option for a whirlwind tour like this. Chicago Midway only confirmed this, losing Ben’s luggage for a frustrating hour until we figured out by dumb luck and running out of people to ask that his carry-on camera bag of modest size somehow became “oversize” for just long enough to find its way to the special baggage claim.

Badly missing our train to Gary with the newfound frustration, we stopped in downtown Chicago for breakfast, consulting Yelp to lead us to a hipster Jewish deli/brunch spot that took the edge off our failure and made us at least somewhat forget we didn’t sleep the last two nights.

This might be blasphemy, but I think I like Chicago even more than New York City…

Gary shocked us immediately; the old standard Methodist Church now has one less roof than it used to, leaving it wide open to the sky like an old English cloister.

This is new. Of course we just went right over the little 2×4 tourist barriers. Which doesn’t count as climbing a fence.

After the church, we gave the Washington St buildings another try, which turned out a lot more interesting than I had expected them to be in the winter.

Apparently it used to be, at least partially, a car dealership

This is a typical Gary street scene – no traffic whatsoever except on broadway and 53, and a juxtaposition between new “renewal” construction and burned-out abandoned desolation. Detroit is still filled with what explorers euphemistically call “wildlife,” the homeless, homefree or just bored locals who inhabit these sorts of places. Gary truly is life after people, it would be less surprising to see deer roaming the streets in some parts of town.

The half theater is really only worth this one shot, but it was directly on our way to the Post Office…

[continued in part 2]

Navy Blues

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Albany, Industrial, Institutional, Memphis

Once we got out of the power plant, the rest of Amsterdam was more or less a bust. Without cars, or a solid idea of where we were going, the best we could do was guess and look around, wandering from one seemingly derelict building to another without finding any of them quite dead enough. We eventually settled for a stop at a bar downtown, and waiting for our bus to Albany and onward.

The bus finally arrived about half an hour late, and thoroughly packed, besides being the last one of the day. The driver wanted to leave us, and a few other travelers, stranded in Amsterdam but with some palavering he agreed to let us on even though there were no seats. As soon as the bus started moving, we were serenaded to “Fat Bottomed Girls”, belted out by, well, a fat-bottomed girl. The next 45 minutes consisted of “only in America” weirdness that would make even less sense in the written word as it did at the time. Once that was over, we did get to Albany though, and went to a Thai restaurant I’d eaten at a few times before, then on a bus to Watervliet for a night explore at AlTech Steel.

As soon as we got to AlTech, something felt wrong. It was one of those explores for me where I just started going through the motions, didn’t even bother to take a single picture the whole time (all of a few minutes) that we were there, and as ennui as I felt, Ben was downright creeped out by the place, all he wanted was a few shots from the roof, and I couldn’t find the way up, all the paths between the buildings consumed by night and summertime growth. That and maybe I was a bit too sober for AlTech, I’d never been there even remotely close to sober.

So we disposed of the rest of the night waiting too long at the bus station, then going to New York, and from there to Newark, and a plane to Atlanta, and another plane to Memphis. This was supposed to be the highlight of our trip: a rare tour of Memphis Marine Hospital, a more or less untouched and unexplored complex just south of downtown on the Mississippi River. We arrived at the hospital to the typical Southern hospitality, a table set out in front to welcome us, and an open door to explore as we pleased!

And it was everything I could have hoped for, even if I found myself there with an inert brick of a camera, and a point and shoot I’d just bought in Albany…

It only took me a few minutes to discover that my camera woes weren’t over. As if I didn’t have enough trouble already, the battery on this thing lasted maybe 1/10 as long as my actual camera, and it started spontaneously shutting off after every shot.

And then, having seen just half of one building, that camera failed completely, and of course, being an abandoned building, there wasn’t a working outlet to be found.

I was reduced to a smartphone for my photo-taking abilities. Not exactly my brightest moment. I should be better at this living in the Instagram generation but I’ve never really tried to take serious phone photos. Some people can do amazing things with an Android — for that matter some people can do amazing things with a camera and I manage mediocre things. Oh well.

Given the situation, I felt like it was my obligation to take a selfie.

This must have gone over so well in a Navy hospital?

Power Struggle

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Albany, Industrial

I’ve heard it’s possible that sometimes everything goes according to plan. I say bullshit. We made plenty of plans, big ones, too big even — exploring Albany, Memphis and Chicago in one crazy jet-setting weekend, taking advantage of some deeply discounted Southwest tickets. I was ready to give just about anything a try, I had a chance to meet up with a real explorer, and one coming all the way from England no less, so I aimed to impress, as much as I could at my level anyway, and went along as the plans got bigger and bolder.

The trip could hardly have gotten off to a more inauspicious start. Still half (or more) drunk from overdoing it hashing the night before, dumbass me set my alarm for when the train was supposed to leave, without setting aside any time to get to the station. I hauled ass as fast as I could there, got to the station 25 minutes late, and somehow managed to catch the train that was 26 minutes late. About halfway between Utica and Amsterdam the sun came up and I wanted to get some pictures of the foggy morning, and my camera would not turn on! I thought it might be the battery and plugged it in…still nothing happened! So I googled away frantically for any possible resets, and nothing seemed to work. Defeated, an explorer with no camera, I wandered over to a park and contemplated taking the thing apart, and eventually settled for whacking it against a park bench a few times in case the old sledgehammer fix might do the trick. It didn’t.

Eventually Ben’s train came in, and we decided to walk to the nearest place that we might be able to get a camera, which took much longer than we expected, and all straight uphill to get there, on a surprisingly hot September afternoon, but I spent more than I would have liked and bought a point-and-shoot to at least get something out of the weekend, it seemed stupid not to with how much traveling I’d be doing!

We found our way from there to the Mohasco Power Plant, near but not quite on a massive mill complex currently being demolished. I was afraid to try, admittedly, with the workers being what seemed like so close, but there was a river in between, so I was convinced into going for it.

And it was everything I could have hoped for: rusty, crusty, greasy 19th century industrial steel!

Even the point and shoot was much less of a disappointment than I would have expected.

And it seemed at last we were on our way, we could pull it off and this would be the epic adventure we’d been dreaming of all summer…

The Mountain Wins Again

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Adirondacks, Concrete, North Country, Outdoors

I woke up the next morning to Jake shaking my tent, reminding me that we had a lot of climbing to do. Everything about the day was odd, from the unsettling rain coming back over the pond, to the sudden gravity of what was about to happen (after I’d already given up on it once just two weeks ago, I was actually on my way to #46?!), to an uneasy feeling of confused, incompetent leadership. I’m not one to value experience much when it comes to exploring, but the facts were there, I’d climbed more peaks than the entire rest of the group combined, and done it all in such unorthodox and epic ways, not to mention having spent so many summers in the Adirondacks, that they started looking to me, like it or not, as a knower-of-things.

We cleaned up as quickly as we could and went to Tupper Lake looking for breakfast, something of a lost cause on a Sunday morning in September with all the touristy places closed for the season and all the local places still closing Sundays in a town that size, so we ended up at the McDonalds in lower town, and then the Save-A-Lot next door for trail food. No one believed me at first just how much of said trail food (not to mention water, none of us had really brought containers appropriate for a 24-mile hike) we might need, but eventually we left with enough for a day on the trail, and the Adirondack skies cleared into that wonderful bluebird blue, and we were on our way to the Upper Works Trailhead!

Little did we know that that would be just the very beginning of our adventure. A few miles out of Long Lake on route 30, at least an hour and a half drive from Canada (and facing in the opposite direction, no less), we came across a border patrol checkpoint. They let half of us through right away, but our other car was behind us, and never followed us out of there. After about 15 minutes waiting on the side of the highway, we decided to go back and see what happened, and of course they were still stuck at the checkpoint. We told the Feds that these were our friends, and what was going on?, and they asked us to go back through the checkpoint then we could wait for them.

Of course it wasn’t so easy to get through this time. They had a drug dog looking for, and unsurprisingly possibly smelling, contraband, and just like that, we were stuck on the side of the 30 too, waiting for them to finish processing our friends! Luckily, they were rather helpful, having much bigger fish to fry than a bowl or two, which we had the opportunity to toss into the lake to just sting a little, and save everyone the paperwork. But the entire scene must have looked so suspicious – camping gear, cameras, gas masks, a bunch of mostly college kids wandering around (and Allen, of all peaks to claim to be going to – did we not even research our alibis?) While they searched us, of course, the other car left, not realizing we’d come back for them, and wanting to get as far from the checkpoint as possible, so by now we were in quite the hurry too, trying to get back with our friends AND escape without any tickets.

Did I mention these cops were the very model of Super Troopers? They apprehended us, and searched us, in the most farcical, condescending manner one could imagine, either making light work of us since we weren’t what they were looking for, just a few violations at most, or perhaps hoping to disarm us with humor and make us reveal something, even though we had no more to show. One of them insisted, all through this, that I was tripping, shroomy or both. I could hardly imagine going through that experience on mushrooms… although I really could have used some once we got out of there!

We went on all the way to Upper Works not entirely sure if the other car was following ahead of us at all, or if they’d gotten lost, or given up altogether (consisting of mostly non-climbers to begin with). The way to get there isn’t exactly intuitive either, involving a few county roads and a notable lack of signage at every important turn. Somehow, miraculously, they showed up at the exact trailhead, only about 30 seconds behind us! We were almost ready to go on without them too, it just seemed impossible that someone who had never been would find this place… so we had a huddle, after losing two hours to the Super Troopers, about what we should do, and decided that some of us would attempt Allen, and everyone else, a carload of people, could climb the much shorter Mt Adams, which, mind you, were the only two destinations possible from this trailhead, but a more or less perfect fit.

We started hiking in surprisingly cooperative weather, an easy, mostly flat logging road to the Allen/Adams split, where we took a group shot before we went our separate ways.

Getting to the base of Allen, climbing it aside, is quite an adventure in its own right. Just like finding the trailhead, there is an extraordinary absence of signs, not the least bit helpful to us when the climb was such a last minute decision we didn’t even think to bring a map! We guessed our way through bush roads and cairns and finally found the hand painted “ALLEN” sign that leads to another trail register and the start of the SECOND approach to Allen. Yes, really. After 6 miles, there is literally another trailhead to let you know you are STILL just beginning.

Seeing this, and realizing that #46 would be an epic on its own, even just being one peak, I started having some serious second thoughts of going any farther. I think I was sending all sorts of mixed messages to Hayden and Jake at this point. I didn’t know if I wanted to climb it, and I didn’t know if I could climb it — well, I knew I could (although I’d read more than enough about the “red slime” to be psyched out about the slides at the top) but it wouldn’t be nearly as quickly as two ex-cross-country-runners could manage it, and time was starting to become of the essence, as the distance to the peak went from long to simply incredible! And here I was, almost within reach of #46. Almost within reach of something that it had taken me only 11 days to go from promising I would never do until Christian came back east, to just as suddenly betraying my best friend of ten years, with whom (or at least, attempting to be with whom, as you might have noticed from my recent writings) I’d climbed nearly all of the first 45. Needless to say, around mile 11 or so, as the climbing got steep, I got to be a real mess, struggling disastrously to keep up with a much more athletic group, while intensely questioning whether I should be doing so at all, whether it was even right for me to go to #46.

It became a moot point after a while, as I let them get too far ahead to ever catch up with, and for some reason I kept going through the motions of the climb (probably the half of my brain that wanted #46 in the first place), making it to about 3900 feet before meeting up with them again in the opposite direction, coming back from a more successful, less dubious battle with the Bastard Peak. This settled it, even though I really already knew: I would be a 45er, and I would be a 45er for quite a while, probably.

Deflated and confused, that first mile off the mountain was far more of a struggle than it should have been, and this time I was legitimately slow, and not even sandbagging at all. I had already lost, or won, or whatever you wanted to call it. A physical defeat, a moral victory, a failure on the same levels as it was a success. But existential messes aside, the fact remained that it was getting dark, and we were still 9½ miles from the car. Or something like that, from what I remembered of reading the one ambiguous page in the Adirondack guidebook that described it, in insufficient detail so to preserve the mystery of the 46ers’ just dessert, the one everyone rightfully saves for last.

As soon as we lost the sun, we gained the rain — pouring, thundering sheets of it.

Finally, I was in my element. This was the kind of hike that I was meant for, the kind of struggle that got me and Christian to 45 in the first place!

I think this is something that one would have to experience at least once to understand, but once things get this hairy, when it’s just you, one or two friends, and the dark, wild mountains, there is something transcendent about it. The closest I’ve ever managed to come to describing it, and this doesn’t even do it justice, is that we become part of the forest, that we are transformed, for as long as we need to be, into wild humans. It’s not precisely the savagery that would come with a survival situation; not an adversarial feeling at all, but a feeling of belonging there, of it being a natural thing to do to hike for 20, 30, 40 miles at a time. Or maybe I’m just some kind of freak, and those of you who know what I’m talking about are too.

Anyway, the climb up felt so intensely wrong, but the endless, logically miserable slog through the mud was completely right, and whatever is wrong with me that it was exactly where I wanted to be? They wanted to get out, of course, and on a purely rational level so did I: I had work at 8:30, less than 12 hours away, and I’m still in the mountains! But I enjoyed every minute of that hike out, and even started going faster and faster (see, it wasn’t bullshit when I said I do my best 12+ hours into a hike… that’s just my normal, when I do it, I do it “right”)

And that was that, I’d managed to save two of my friends from ever having to climb Allen again, and here I am, still a 45er. I don’t know if or when I’ll ever go back for #46. The mountain made it vastly, abundantly clear that I shouldn’t — if the Ledge wasn’t a sign, if the Super Troopers weren’t a sign, if the struggle halfway up Allen wasn’t a sign, I don’t know what else I missed.

I’ll admit, I sandbagged this one. Whether out of self-doubt, or moral obligation, or both, I didn’t give it my 100% when I probably could have made it to the top. We all probably could have together, if we didn’t get stopped by the cops and had more time on the way up, and just a tiny bit less of a hurry. Someone, somewhere, will judge me for what happened on that mountain. I’m not even sure I did the right thing. I’m not sure if, or when, I’ll ever climb again — even less sure I ever want to go back to Allen. What matters the most though is we all went looking for adventure, and that’s exactly what we found.

Sunset Mills

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Concrete, Industrial, North Country

We continued on to the North Country, a merry band of adventurers, overwhelming the Five Guys in Watertown for dinner and soon wandering along route 3 to Deferiet. This place has been something of a curse for me: it’s my fifth time there, and I’ve never once gotten to it more than an hour before sunset, so I’ve always seen little bits and pieces of it at a time. This time was no different, getting there almost too late to matter. But I wasn’t about to let all those gas masks we bought go to waste, and there was already question of whether we’d explore the next day or climb something, so into the toxic mess we’d go even if we couldn’t see it all.

The Newstech company, the last users of the mill, left abruptly in 2004, taking the village of Deferiet down with them. Out of 600 or so residents, a vast majority of working-age villagers worked in the mill, along with hundreds of others from neighboring towns and the city of Watertown. Ten years after closing, only about half of the village’s houses are even occupied, with no retail to speak of, and an abandoned post office, firehouse and credit union bordering the mill. Deferiet did, however, have one last literal blaze of glory on November 29, 2009, when Fort Drum tested a few bunker-buster type bombs on parts of the complex, leaving massive craters of twisted steel and burned concrete next to more or less intact buildings, presumably a successful demonstration of the surgical precision the Army boasted on these bombs.

The offices didn’t do so well around water. The mold and mildew here are extreme, despite only having been closed for 10 years, and the offices even being somewhat operational through most of that time in search of new buyers or developers.

BOOM!

We only got very slightly into the rest of the building before it (of course) got dark on us…

So we continued on from there to our camp at Paul Bunyan pond in a slightly unsettling rain which stopped just in time to set up camp. By the fire, with some liquid wisdom coursing through us, we confirmed a very, very bad idea: we would climb Mt Allen tomorrow after all, the most difficult of the High Peaks, and the 46th and last of my Adirondack adventure…

Sweet Science

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Concrete, Industrial, North Country

This was one of those rare times that everything just happened to work out. It was unlikely enough that we managed to save the North Country trip at all, even if it’s a few weeks early and none of the people I invited actually showed up, Hayden pulled it off and got not only the biggest meet in a few years, but a way to get there too, and off we were! After a few stops on the way to pick up food, beer and gas masks (mostly intended for the paper mills later on in the trip), we found our way to route 3. It took some convincing to even try, but the 9th Sesqui-Annual Semi-Cold Urbex Camping Extravaganza started off with a wild guess of a location, something I’d heard was abandoned, and huge, but didn’t know if there would even be a way into. To our surprise, despite looking more or less solid from the highway, an entire wall was missing from a botched or forgotten demolition, and just like that, we walked right into the former Nestlé chocolate factory.

At the time of its first closure in 2003, the property was the world’s largest, and America’s oldest, working candy factory, and its closure came as a shock to not only Fulton but the entire industry, as production moved to Europe and a few smaller facilities in the Southeast, as a cost cutting measure. Demolition started this spring, but came to a screeching halt under legal and financial pressure from the city of Fulton, with the property suffering from tax foreclosure and an unforeseen asbestos problem. Unable to break ground on time, Aldi nullified their purchase of the factory, and now it sits in typical abandonment limbo, with no definite plans and nebulous, or no, ownership, and none of the potential owners wanting anything to do with it.

Immediately after entering, we realized we were onto something: not only had no one explored this place yet, but there wasn’t even much graffiti, and the smashy people barely even had a chance at it, except for the gaping demolition wounds.

Not to say it was pristine: much of the machinery was sold at auction, and what remains are the unsold lots, auction tags still hanging off, or the units simply too heavy to move or unsuited for any other location.

I think these were packing lines of some type, filling hundreds of bags (or bottles?) of product at a time through the grid of nozzles.

Nobody bothered to clean up on the last day of work. Some of the floors are covered in a thick, noisy layer of sugar syrup!

The scale of this place is truly incredible. There are nine interconnected, multi-level factory buildings, not even counting the substantial part that they did manage to demolish over the summer.

It was enough of a maze that sometimes we went in circles without even realizing it.

Unnecessary, ironic gas mask selfie? (I imagine this place didn’t even stink, let alone was toxic, but I’d just directed everyone else to buy them thinking we were going to the massively toxic paper mills!)

This was signed as the “bean hall”. I can imagine there being ceiling-high piles of hundreds of tons of cacao beans here, waiting for processing into chocolate… it did appear though that the bean-counters had been through, as unlike the sugary residue around most of the place, the floor was swept thoroughly clean of the deliciously bitter fruit.

…And then we got into pulling each other around on danger carts.

Yet Another Building — we didn’t even have time to try this one I don’t think

For some reason we crossed this little minefield instead

and tried to get lunch in the employee cafeteria but the kitchen was closed

We hurried out of this place having seen maybe a third of it. There wasn’t much choice, we’d found far more than we’d ever planned for, and we were barely even on our way to the North Country!