Urban Exploration 101

Darren D'Altorio

Shedding tears in subzero temperatures is not a good idea.

When the salty drops escape the duct and begin their descent down the cheek in the midst of a 10-degree wind, the pores in your face burn.

To fully grasp this concept, just take what happens to a road in the winter – a continual cycle of thaw and freeze that spawns gouges in the pavement – and apply it to your face.

Redness, numbness, blisters and eventual peeling skin are byproducts of the experience.

But it’s worth it for the view.

When you are standing about 200 feet above frigid cement on a grated landing platform anchored to the side of a massive industrial smokestack, staring out over downtown Akron to the south, the twinkling light pollution of Chapel Hill to the east and the fading horizon line of state Route 8 to the north, no pain can ruin the spectacle.

No bleeding knuckles or shallow breath can rob you of the serenity and excitement of the moment.

After hopping a barbed-wire fence, commando-climbing a downed power line seemingly attached to the night sky, scaling an I-beam like a fire pole, crawling like Spiderman across a 60-degree slope cement wall, tiptoeing across a pipe spanning a 50-foot abyss and ascending a 100-foot vertical climb up a frozen steel ladder, nothing in the world can take the glory of being somewhere you’re not supposed to be away from you.

Enter the forbidden, no-trespassing world of urban exploration.

Much as our predecessors were explorers, mapping and charting the lands of nations, people nowadays crave adventure in the rawest forms.

Because of urbanization and a sinking economy, uncharted forests are now industrial wastelands.

Vacant manufacturing plants, train stations, office buildings, hotels and other structures poke into the Northeast Ohio sky, begging for someone to come play.

And that’s what we do. We urban explorers, we play.

In the solace of night, we transform the cityscape into a jungle gym fantasy.

Dressed in all black, packing ambition and a good buzz, we brave the rundown buildings of yesteryear, looking for a view, an experience or a cop driving by on the street below whom we can flick off and smile at while chanting, “You don’t see us.”

We mean no harm in our adventures. We don’t seek to vandalize or loot the structure in any way. We simply seek the thrill of that destination known as the edge.

We are adrenaline junkies.

We admire construction and architecture.

We believe art imitates life.

And we choose to live above the dreams of a sleeping society, observing the rooftops that shield the citizens’ resting thoughts.

And we do what we do because we care.

We care about the history of a building and what it once was to a town. The dark, dusty corridors and stairways we rummage once housed a workforce and customers. We trace their footsteps, feeling the resonating presence of the place.

Sometimes we encounter bats and the homeless in our adventures, and when we do, we shriek like little girls and quickly evade the area. But we don’t give up on the mission. We go for the top.

When we get there, and the view is achieved, emotions boil over. Seeing the surrounding world from the elevated scope is bliss.

I smoke a cigarette at the summit. I light up with my fellow explorers, enjoying the vantage point and a good conversation in between ashy breaths.

I don’t know if this is a subculture. There are Web sites about it. Other explorers leave their territorial marks – spray-painted tags.

I choose to be anonymous, leaving no trace of my visit. I pocket the cigarette butt. I will, however, snap a few pictures before I depart.

I’ve overlooked Kent, Akron, Cleveland, Nashville, Nassau and Athens from their respective skylines. I think I appreciate each place a little more, too, having seen them from a forbidden view.

I’ve built amazing friendships under the catalyst of urban exploration.

I’ve witnessed smiles of excitement and felt tears of joy while exploring.

I’ve seen peeling, frostbitten cheeks and palms in the aftermath.

And I will never stop looking at vacant structures, analyzing and wondering, “How will I get in there?”

Darren D’Altorio is a senior magazine journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Send him your urban exploration photos at [email protected]