the One Way Tunnel

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the Canal

This place was like nothing I'd ever seen before. Whereas the other places I'd been gave me a window decades into the past, this tunnel was built in a completely different century. The bricks weren't crumbling like you see in 1930s and 1940s buildings; they were still holding their shape. The mortar was in ill repair, but there wasn't much of the stuff, unlike what you see in buildings from the 20th century, where it's just glopped in there and left to ooze out the sides. I can't begin to describe to a normal person why this place was so captivating to me immediately. You'd have to look at the world like I do, a record of people and times long past lingering beneath the cheap plastic verneer of the modern. There was no fresh paint of the modern meaning and purpose we continually slap on the world around us in places we deem “useful”. This place was raw.

The tunnel immediately made me think of a stone cathedral. It wasn't rounded, in fact, it had a sharp arch-like shape, and the walls met in a hard corner at the center of the tunnel where they sloped inward to form the roof. There didn't appear to be a single attempt to modernize or repair this place in 50 years. I knew instantly that I was just a few minutes from seeing a place that nobody had laid eyes on since the last time the city had it swept of vagrants. I had read during my research on the place that they barred the tunnels over 30 years ago, also sealing the maintenance entries with heavy iron doors and padlocks.

I knew by this point, though, that I wouldn't find mementos and trinkets of others' lives, like I so loved about abandoned homes. This was purely about a place that nobody else would even be able to imagine unless they'd been there. Very likely, nobody else I'll ever meet would have been there. After what happened to me in these tunnels, you should be thankful of that. While I still regret having gone alone, I shudder to think what could have happened had Jon and Mike agreed to come. Surely we wouldn't have been as prepared. We would have died down there, and nobody would have found our bodies for years.

I clicked on my maglite, and dropped my first glowstick right at the doorway. I knew from the plans that the tunnel would be straight for almost a kilometer before branching off toward the various power stations. The blueprints detailed five branches in the tunnel, two of which were excavated for pumping stations never finished, and three of which continued to the three original power stations. I had read while researching at Mike's place that the two branches in the tunnel leading to the unfinished sites had been sealed off. I also wasn't sure whether the tunnels still remained beneath the two pump stations that had been torn down. I was hoping desperately that I'd be able to get into some of the sealed tunnels, and that tunnels #2 and #3 still existed.

Everything went well for the first six hours I was down there. I found the main tunnels, and explored all three. I even found what looked to be the remnants for some places a few homeless people had bunked down many years before. I found several alcoves where there were metal rungs leading upward to access hatches. I determined from my blueprints that the hatches led up to the various pumping station grounds. I tried each of them, but not a single one of them would budge. When the hatches failed me, I realized that I didn't have anything good left to explore. I stopped and turned my maglite on lantern mode, and broke out some of my dehydrated food for a quick snack. I left my garbage there on the ground for some future explorer to find. Maybe he'd work out from the old glowsticks and Mylar food wrappers just what I had been doing down here. Maybe he'd even work out that from my taste in MREs I was ex-military. I had been saving the blocked tunnels for last, so I set off back in the direction of the main junctions.

I ultimately didn't get very far down either of the unfinished tunnels, but I found a few more piles of various odds and ends, rotten magazines, a rusted out coffee can in which were the remnants of some playing cards covered in black mold, and literally hundreds of cigarette butts in varying states of decomposition strewn about with a number of empty alcohol bottles. I guessed from the shape of the cigarette butts that this place had been occupied maybe ten years ago. I knew that cigarette butts take twelve years or longer to start to break down. The paper goes first, but the filters take a long time. This part of the tunnel had always been dry, and as such, I guess the cigarette butts could have been there much longer. I doubted these cigarette butts were older than the reports that the tunnels were sealed, and that there must be a way into the tunnels I hadn't found yet.

I decided that the outflow had to be where the vagrants were getting in, and decided to check my theory. Looking at my blueprints, I figured that canal #1 would be my best bet for getting into the outflow tunnel, and headed back. On the way, I felt absolutely elated. I was giddy, even though all the squinting in the darkness was giving me a headache. I quickly found the path to the outflow, tunnel by passing through a series of brick archways, and kept walking. I didn't much fancy a 20 mile hike back to my car through rough country, so I figured I'd leave the way I came, passing back through the tunnel. I left behind three glowsticks and chalk markings on the walls at a confusing set of arches I had to meander through to get to the outflow tunnel in the process to aid my return trip. Sure enough, I arrived at the outflow drainage area to discover that there were no bars on it of any sort.

Emerging from the tunnel, I immediately noticed it was just after dawn. I wandered around for a few minutes outside of the outflow drain, and didn't find any kind of paths that showed recent travel to and from this place. I checked the time on my phone, and noticed that I had just a few bars of signal. I called Mike. I told him about how the entire thing was a bust.

I mentioned to Mike that I was going to go back through, and walk back to my car, and asked him if it'd be okay if I visited him for a few nights on my way back through Virginia. I'd put a lot of miles on my car at this point, and wanted to do an oil change and some fluids before driving back across the country. Since he was military, he'd be able to get me on base to use the automotive shop, which would be basically like a free oil change. I ended the call letting him know that I was going to walk back through the canal to get back to my car. I confirmed with him that if I didn't call him by the afternoon, to try to get in touch with me, and follow through on our original plan of calling the police by nightfall.

I was so confident when I walked back into that canal. The walk would only be about six miles from the outflow back to the mouth of the inflow, which I could do in two hours. It was a lot of tunnel, but aside from a few turns where the outflow tunnel connected back to the area beneath pump station #1, it would be easy to get back to the other side. Not only that, but I'd been in and out of every part of those tunnels, and found no evidence that there was anybody else in there recently. There was only a few more hours of walking between me and my motel room for a full night's sleep. It's always at our most confident that we're the most wrong.

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