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Brian Cray - Hitchhikin', Trainhoppin', and Wanderin'

Wanderin' the world, at will, by any means

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Archives for July 2014

Akron, NY

Abandoned New York

Abandoned New York – Urban Exploring – Akron, NY

The town of Akron appears rather dull from a quick glance of the streets.  Despite the lack of people around my age I find myself wandering around any chance I get, tramping by foot or pedaling by bicycle. Just exploring radiant fields of green; scaling rickety vacant buildings; climbing overhung cliffs of quarries; watching the vapors from my breath form clouds of mist in front of me while roaming in the black gypsum mine caves; and scaling the few tall water towers in the area.

A months time passed since my journey to New York became a reality.  The freedom of the hobo lifestyle allowed me to break free from societal stigma towards careers and live in the present for the moment.  I pack tandem and sport rigs seven days a week on a variable schedule contingent on the weather and instructor’s availability.  I edit videos of first time jumpers and indulge in a few laughs at the priceless expressions on their faces.  Drop zone life is full of sweat, hard work, adrenaline, and fear, but overcoming it makes it worth the ride in the sky. I came here to get licensed and will walk away with that achievement in my wallet in due time. Until then the scenery in this country setting will keep me occupied for months on end.

Abandoned New York – Urban Exploring – Akron, NY – Gypsum Mine Shafts

Cycling the flat terrain towards random destinations keeps me sane. My mind wanders and roams around when exploring. The misty caves under the airport started the many treks around Akron and nearby towns. I journeyed across the runway through the knee-high grass along the fence-line looking for the entrance to the gypsum caves. Realizing a gate did not exist on the ten foot fence allowed me to use my urban climbing skills. I crawled up the metal fence like a water spider running across water and immediately plunged into a rolling fall once hitting the ground.  I looked for footprints or other signs of a path to the caves and my eyes shifted towards wilted grassy patches zigzagging to an overhung cliff…beneath it lay locked entrance gates for the caves. Hiking to the side of the cliff and peeping over the steep climb I saw a huge black void between a series of boulders. Long behold the makeshift entrance!

I crouched down and scurried into the cave. This time I packed accordingly, headlamp, long pants, heavy Carhart jacket and my GoPro. Graffiti sprayed across the walls and empty beer cans  decorated the floor. I expected to find a body or a drunk bum sleeping on the cold, damp floor, but not a soul lurked in the creepy, black, cavernous shaft. I paddled along following a thin yellow string that curved around the bends and pits of rock. After a few minutes distinguishing my whereabouts became impossible. The light that illuminated from the cave entrance disappeared as I trekked further into the cave. Droplets of water crept off the jagged cave walls splattering my face and jacket. The headlamp shot a radial light a few feet from my forehead. With each step the temperature dropped, oxygen slowly decreased and the misty vapors with each breath I took began to engulf my face like flying through clouds.

Akron, NY

Abandoned Gypsum Mine Shafts by the Akron Airport

Time felt like it stopped at points. The silence amplified the echoes of water droplets plunging off the white, gypsum crystals rippling the ponds of water and moist silt below. My feet slide on the slippery surfaces as I moved further into darkness. I continued to follow the thin yellow fishing line until reaching its end. My head began to throb and temple pain persisted, but in the distance I spotted a tiny ray of light peeping around the bend.

I stumbled towards the light, taking less breaths, as to not breathe in the clear methane gases. My head thumping due to lack of oxygen. As I moved closer the light shined its vibrant rays on the bedrock beneath me. At last I reached an exit, but wait, the gate locked from the inside and too small to squeeze through. I grabbed onto the metal frame gazing through at the dirt, wooded path. Then I realized I saw this all before entering. I just stood on the opposite side of both locked entrances. I followed the bend of rocks around to the other opening. I climbed back up through the entrance I met in the beginning of my urban exploration through the abandoned gypsum mine shafts under the airport.  My eyes adjusted to the sunlight after wandering in a black, misty, fog for the last 20 minutes. The pain in my head and temples dissipated as I drug my feet along the airport fence-line and back to the trailer. My bed whispered my name as I threw off my shoes and stripped down to my boxers passing out in a few minutes time.

The unbearable winds and persistent rain of the next few weeks made jumping almost impossible. Our weekly reservations cancelled due to weather restrictions left a wide open day ahead for me and my bicycle. Gaps opened up after 4 PM where the sun blistered in through the clouds peaking in and out of the broken pockets of the sky above. I cycled down by the high school where I spent the latter part of the day basking in the fields of green, reading Walden. After the locals left I found myself staring off into the distance at an old aqua blue water tower slightly rusted down the face of the ladder.

Abandoned New York – Urban Exploring – Akron, NY – Akron High School

Akron, NY

School rooftops

Plodding along I noticed cameras at each door entrance to the school, the barbed wire fence around the track and buses. I felt like I broke into a prison. I propped my bicycle to a nearby evergreen tree, through on my GoPro chest mount and Carhart jacket. I yanked down on strings to secure the hood over my head and ran towards the brown pipe that ran parallel to the roof of the school. Clasping both hands around the pipe and positioning my feet against the wall I scaled the building like a monkey climbing a banana tree. I reached the top unnoticed and walked around on what appeared to be duralast sections of roofing.  I climbed a ladder and reached the far right portion of the roof overlooking the playground and Bloomingdale Road. I plopped my ass down on the highest point of the roof watching the clouds of gray swoop across the sky. The water tower, not far in the distance, beckoned my name. I remained calm in a peaceful stupor, pondering the view of country houses, dilapidated barns and fields covered in green below from the apex of the water tower.

Akron, NY

You can see Akron High School from up here!

I wonder if it’s accessible and sturdy enough to climb? I pushed my sweaty palms against the sleek roof and stood up, shaking my head out of a trance, and remaining incognito from the people below. I slid down the pipe, I previously scaled up, like a fireman on duty.  The storm still lingered above waiting to burst its furry. No longer broken between the Clementine shades of the sunset. A few hours remained until complete darkness, but the race against mother nature still uncertain. I grabbed my bicycle and pedaled off into the sunset until reaching the Whiting building. Business appeared closed for the evening due to the vacant parking lot. I ditched my bicycle in the tall grass and crept through the trees keeping the rustling noises to a minimum.  The pollen and leaves tickled the hairs on my legs with each step I took towards the tower.  I decided to take the road less traveled and climb the rickety, rusted freight boxes in the construction yard. Hopping box to box, propping my legs between the open spaces as I scaled up and down, getting closer and closer to the water tower, I remained disguised from any potential workers.

Akron, NY

Look up…Abandoned New York!

I reached the end and jumped off the last freight box, rolling head first into a run as I hit the ground. I sprinted through the knee-high grass until reaching the base of the tower. I looked down, my legs covered in yellow fuzzies and dandelion powder, I saw a problem as I tilted my head towards the sky.  The overgrown number of trees made it near impossible to distinguish the ladder. Pushing back the limbs of small shrubs and squashing through the marshy ground I decided to climb a tree for a clearer view of an entry point.

Akron, NY

Climbing abandoned crates near a water tower.

Limbs rustled and broke as I pivoted my shoes nearest the trunk. After ten feet I reached the ladder. I swung my body and leapt towards the first step. Clenching the rough surface with every bit of strength. I pulled myself up and began to slowly scale the water tower. A few minutes of climbing felt like days. The ground began to shrink with each step and my eyes began to lose perception of height as everything perceived became ant size.  The ladder creaked as I reached the top, my heart beat thumping louder with the very last step.  I peered out through the joists and my eyes gazed on for miles at the spectacular view.  Cucumber green fields, dull rustic barns, freshly raked baseball diamonds and the flat roof of Akron High School all within sight.  I soaked in the scenic view as the sun disappeared in the sky taken over by gloom.

Akron, NY

The view from an abandoned water tower in Akron.

The down-climb took less effort and within a few minutes I reached my bicycle in the tall brush.  Brushing off my legs as I reached the gravel roads I pedaled faster to miss the incoming pellets of rainfall. No sooner I reached my trailer the storm above bestowed its wrath on the ground below. The ceiling trickled water down the wall between the windows clinking each drop into a bucket. The peaceful rhythmic rainfall calmed my eyes, dozing off into the night.

Akron, NY

The view of Whiting Turner below

Abandoned New York – Urban Exploring – Akron, NY – Abandoned Crushed Concrete Plant

The coming weeks in Akron stayed dismal, dark, and groggy. I roamed the Indian reservations next to the airport plodding along on my bicycle. With no destination in mind, I set out for a long flat ride through the country, fields of bright green and yellow cascading in the distance beneath the petrified skyline. I stopped in front of a crushed concrete factory. Large rusted, concrete conveyor belts loomed out over the yard. Siding flapped in the wind as it peeled off the vacant buildings. Small trees and weeds protruded out of every crack and crevice of the foundations. Stunned by the vacancy of the land I slipped my bike in a sewer runoff system next to the decrepit entrance sign which taunted the words, “No Trespassing.”

Akron, NY

Looking down a conveyor belt from an abandoned quarry.

I sprinted towards the barren plant, squashing through the marshy ponds formed under an abandoned concrete conveyor. Scaling the rickety stairs I held onto the railing as I approached the entry shaft. My palms and fingers covered in a brown, rusty metal smelling of iron. The inside reeked of dead animal carcasses as pigeons and Turkey vultures swooped in from the trusses above. The room a musty mess, but the birds used it for shelter. Debris from their nests floated through the musty air brushing my face and entangling my curly hair.

Akron, NY

Inside an abandoned concrete plant.

The view below looked over the town for miles; windmills scattered through the valleys. Hawks and vultures coasted through the air above circling for prey to snatch up. I tiptoed down the side of the conveyor belt, grasping the side railing when encountering wobbly grates. The downclimb involved swinging from truss to truss until sliding down a final pole meeting the ground. I walked casually towards the lake in the distance, kicking pebbles of slate as they plunged off the quarry cliffs. Another old conveyor peeped out in the distance.

Akron, NY

The lake that formed in this Abandoned New York quarry.

My fingers trembled under the layered slate cliffs as my feet tested the rock below pivoting around the bends until I found the perfect foot holds to descend the cliffs.  The smooth down-climb changed in a second when my hand slipped off the grooves as I ripped the rock out of the cliff to regain stability. Gravity took over for about a second while I positioned myself for a PLF landing. I hit the ground feet first, my knees absorbing most of the shock while I rolled head first forward. Luckily, I walked away unscathed, but this wouldn’t be my first encounter falling off a cliff. I stood up, brushed the dirt off my shirt and hiked up the steep hill towards the windmills. To the right, the dark blue quarry shimmered as the sunlight gleaned off its ripples.

Akron, NY

Looking down from an abandoned conveyor belt

To the left, a perched run-down excavator dangled between the concrete conveyor shaft. I monkeyed my way down the shaft, scaling down the ladder until I reached the belt, which angled upwards toward the lake. My knees rubbed against the coarse rubber, red crease marks imprinted into my shins as they sank into the cracks of the belt. My hands painted black with each crawl as I reached the top. I turned around, sat down and peered out to the horizon while I basked in the sunset for a few minutes.

Akron, NY

Look out below!

With daylight passing by the minute I braced myself between the trusses as I climbed down the structure and headed towards the road where my bicycle sat camouflaged between the different shades of grass. The ten-mile trek back home through Indian lands left me at peace, but what would I do for my next adventure. Exploring shrank as I ventured more and more through the small town of Akron.

Akron, NY

An abandoned excavator

A few days later, soaking in the boredom of this rainy town, I decided to head out down to the other quarry northeast of town. I vaguely knew this existed from my many dives looking out of the airplane above.

Akron, NY

Trespassing selfie

Abandoned New York – Urban Exploring – Akron, NY – Quarry Near Crittenden

Akron, NY

A semi-vacant quarry. Scoping out potential cliff jumping spots.

With a little research using Google Earth I ended up in another quarry just a few miles from Akron Falls. I pushed my bike through the side, gravel entrance.  Journeying through the waist-high grassy fields, I pushed my bike up the steep, rocky hill until I reached the top of an urban explorers paradise. Out in the distance craters of gray shadowed the land of the quarry. I pedaled down the bumpy, gravel road meandering around the slate cliffs until I reached the entrance. The road less traveled appeared to be a more viable option. So I veered right after the cliff face until I stumbled upon a pipeline. Three pipes about 24″ in diameter ran parallel up the cliff face crossing the gravel roadway. I leaned over the ledge of the railing looking down at the pipes. The drop, at least sixty feet, made my palms sweat as perspiration dripped off the railing plunging into the water below.  Leaning my bike against the huge iron piping, I jogged towards the cliff face to begin a downclimbing expedition to test out the water depth below. My hands clenched the brittle slate as I scaled down the jagged rock.  Cornering myself into a risky place I took a chance and continued the climb. Pulling a rock off the face with my back towards the ground I flailed in the air for a little over a second. My left foot hit first as I fell back on my ass landing in between two massive boulders. Glasses stripped from my head as I determined if anything bones broke during the fall. The ball of my foot ached, my ass and leg bruised from impact and my wrist oozed with blood. A solid razor blade like slice ran parallel directly below my hand. At that moment I felt like a cutter. I cruised back to the airport and bandaged the cut with gauze leaving cliff jumping for the next slow day during the week.

Akron, NY

This is like an 80 foot drop!

This time venturing into the quarry I meandered around the road leading down to the water.  Hopping rocks to avoid the marshy clays beneath my feet  I ended up at a small pedestrian maintenance bridge for the pipeline.  To test out the water depth I walked further down the cliff face until reaching the still water. I set my pack aside and jumped in with all my clothing on exploring the depth right near the pipes. It seemed to be at least ten feet deep and free of any rock formations. Scaling the cliffs above I decided to test jump the water in increments. After twenty to twenty-five feet I reached a point of no return. With a little adrenaline running from the fear of the unknown my only choice involved jumping.  I bent my knees and made the leap hitting the water straight as a pencil. Everything worked out well, but as soon as I swam to the surface, everything around me blurred and looked fuzzy. I reached up to grab my glasses, which no longer lay across the bridge of my nose and ears. My $300 Oakley’s dove to the bottom of the quarry. I tried to free dive down to find them, but the depth and water clarity made it impossible to see them. With minimal vision, wet clothes and rain in the near future I grabbed my gear and set out for the trailer.

Akron, NY

Just roaming around the quarry

Within minutes pellets fell down from the sky pelting my body all over. I pulled off the road under a tree since my sight became unbearable. After a few minutes the rain dissipated so I used this opportunity to continue my quest homeward.  Literally within a few hundred feet I heard a pop and a fizzle come out of the front tire…”pzzzzzzzaaaah.” I lost control of the handle bars and ended up plowing into a deep puddle. I walked the bike back to the airport a few miles. Getting sprayed by the vehicles that passed by ever so often maintaining my saturated state.  What a day…

Akron, NY

Abandoned New York: I can ride my bike with no handlebars!

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