…that’s the name of the trip. Words coined by you and Neil, as you were hiking the Sugar Loaf mountain in Wicklow Co. Neil mentioned that he was “a combination of scared, worried, enthusiastic, and curious,” about your upcoming trip to the UK. “Scorried Enthusiosity?” you asked.
What was there to be scared about? Nothing, really, besides wondering how long you would be able to tolerate each other’s stench after days upon days of hiking, exploring, sleeping in the back of the car, and sweating. And you are a cheap sonofabitch, so you worried he might not like the “way you roll”–that is, spending virtually no money. But he held his own, eating out of grocery stores with you, in the back of the car, sleeping with his legs lofted on the spare tire.
Your first stop off the ferry was completely random. You saw a sign with a little picture of a castle, exclaimed, “Castle!” and veered off the motorway. It might have been a thirty minute detour, and you both had your doubts, but upon reaching the town of Beaumaris, you were not disappointed. As it turned out, of all the possible castles you could have chosen at random, Beaumaris is apparently the best—the biggest castle commissioned by Edward I. You don’t like paying for things, or seeing things that demand an admission fee in general, but—as the gift shop girl who claimed to be an historian claimed—it was well worth the money. The pictures say it all.
Second stop was Snowdonia National Park in Wales. The original plan was to hike Mt. Snowdon, which is the tallest peak in Wales, but a woman older than the mountain warned you against it (it was already too late in the day to start). You found the mountain, but right next door was another—EVEN BETTER—mountain, which you affectionately named Mt. Miner. It was an abandoned quarry, totally fenced off to the public. But you and Neil are the deviant adventurous types. You crossed under the barbed wire and into the quarry, then ran up the side of the mountain, up old tram tracks, dilapidated shanties, and sliding rock faces. Again, the pictures say it all.
The second day was gay—in a bad way. You basically sat in a car the entire day. Traffic, and a misguided adventure to a site in New York State and NOT the UK (you wound up touring a mildly satisfying science museum). But after crossing into Scotland from England, the roads opened up, and so did the terrain. Sort of an interesting drive through the hills, past fields of sheep and (not bison!), long-haired cows. Slept in Edinburgh on the pier, peed behind the apartment buildings.
Day three: Edinburgh castle. Nice looking from the outside, but your going to be honest, really isn’t worth the ten quid to see the inside. Very unsatisfying. You basically felt like you were in Disneyland—in an overly re-furbished castle playing the Braveheart theme really hard, with clay statues, walk-through attractions, and a guy who barked at you after you attempted to steal a picture of the Crown Jewels. The two of you left, disenchanted, and went back to the car. Now what?
Good question. You parked outside a residence, stole wireless internet, and researched the only other thing you wanted to do on the trip: derelict buildings. There was an abandoned bunker in Edinburgh, left from the 50s. It took forever to find, but turned into the highlight of the trip (sorry Mt. Miner!). The bunker was fenced off and left for dead. You found a hole in the fence, crawled through, and had a photographic orgasm. Graffiti, broken bottles, old tires, camp fires, shit-stained toilet paper, rusted wire, and tossed spray paint cans, the colors of which were unidentifiable, save what could be seen in the myriad of artworks covering every sun-splashed surface. You and Neil kicked through the garbage, ducked into the gutted rooms, took in a visual feast, and frowned when you saw that there was far more to the bunker than met the eye. What was available to “the public,” otherwise known as vandals and vagabonds, were a few trashed out rooms that still enjoyed sunshine through holes in the roofs and walls. An ominous locked door barred your entry to the mystery of the other innumerable chambers. It also appeared that a couple decades ago, every conceivable hole in a wall granting access had been sealed off with sheet metal or concrete. Stuck.
You, however, are not so easily dissuaded. You re-entered a previously explored room, searching for exposed air ducts or missed holes. And you found one, high in the wall and well over your head. You hoisted yourself up for a look and could see nothing. So, with your torso through the wall and your legs still dangling—knees and hips scraping along the brick—you held your camera out, hit the button, and watched the flash illuminate rooms and corridors beyond. Majorly creepy. The discomfort became too much. You slid out of the hole, down the wall, hit the floor and wiped your sooty hands. This hole was the only access into the building, and it was impossible to fit through; the smallest hole that doubtlessly would dump you head-first into a pitch-dark, garbage-laden nest probably chalk full of Nazi zombies (you played way too much Call of Duty 5).
Too small? Never! And you were about as graceful and nimble as a cat, twisting and contorting—scraping and scratching—your body in impossibly tight jeans. Lo and behold, you managed to turn the whole of your body while perched in the hole so you would not plummet head first. You slid into the darkness, then bellowed for your camera.
There is something rather terrifying about walking through pitch darkness and going by the dim light of your camera menu screen. Now and again, you hit the shutter button, sending out a flash. You would catch a brief glimpse of your surroundings, and then only blackness. Ever seen I Am Legend with Will Smith? He goes into the dark, abandoned building and finds a circle of panting zombies… yeah, well, all you could think about he entire time was the possibility of a flash of light catching a human figure—some psychopath, a homeless person, or a junkie ready to stab you to death for some spare change. And if not that, then some putrid, rotting corpse, or maybe the bones of some dead dog. (Knowing how difficult it had been to access the interior of the bunker, you wondered when the last time someone had even been in there.) Jesus, your imagination was going nuts, and you dared not go too far. With each camera flash, a few dozen steps. Pause. Flash. Step-step-step. You could hear Neil calling after you, stuck on the other side of the wall, as he didn’t have the same height as you, which had enabled you to make it through the hole in the first place.
The more you explored, the scarier it got. The deeper, the darker (not really. It was pitch black to begin with), and the more dangerous. Your camera went on the fritz, left you hanging in your inky surroundings too long, and you freaked and retreated, smashed your head against a low hanging rust-covered something-or-other (you managed to hit the flash and catch the shower of rust); eventually you stumbled back to where Neil was trying in vain to get through the hole. You implored him to get through—you really wanted to explore, but you didn’t have the nerve to go alone.
Neil would not be left behind. He’s been attempting to kick through the iron barriers, the locked doorways… but nothing. At long last, he found a cinder block and smashed it continuously around the access hole for 20 minutes, until he’d taken away two rows of bricks—thereby making it lower and larger. You hadn’t thought it was possible… after all, it was a bunker, designed to protect soldiers from nuclear blasts… but not from a determined Neil wielding a cinder block. He joined you after just as gracelessly descending from the hole.
Together, using two camera’s and a mobile phone, you illuminated your path just enough to avoid major pits, weak points, and pools of murky water. You traveled down a long tunnel, deep underground, and through labyrinthine hallways, rooms, and stairwells. Months ago, you read The House Of Leaves (very good read) and so could imagine the layout of the bunker shifting, expanding, and shrinking in response to your malaise.
You spent almost two hours exploring the bunker, finally finding yourself spit out at the bottom of hill, out the back door, far, far from where you’d started. You were covered in cuts, dirt, and grime, and the bottom of Neil’s trousers were soaked with mud. The sad thing about the back door was that the amount of effort it took to get through the access hole had been for nothing. But, then again, the back door was so far out of the way, totally secluded, and still within a fenced off area… maybe very few locals knew about it after all.
You returned to the car, left Edinburgh, and headed for Glasgow. You suppose you hadn’t had enough. There were other abandoned buildings. Once in Glasgow, after the sun had gone down, the two of you located an abandoned warehouse in a sketchy part of town—a warehouse that loomed five stories high and overlooked other derelict yards. You’ll kick yourself for months over the fact that you left your camera battery charger in Ireland, because your camera died only a few shots into the adventure, and Neil’s phone battery threatened to leave you stranded in the warehouse littered with the stiff bodies of pigeons and sounding with the scurrying of rats. No more camera, no more fun. And the worst part of all, the last picture you wanted to take: a yard full of old tires, a moldy mattress, weeds… with a cluster of blooming flowers right in the middle of all that sadness. You couldn’t capture it.