1 : We Hate Ducks
Max Action & MuppySkum
went with the vague idea that maybe we'd gain access to the
flooded outfall of the drain by walking on ice. Nope. The
drainage was still heavy enough from the massive
outfall that it had melted the river ice outward in a
huge semi-circle. Ducks were swimming in the rare patch of
open, warmer water. They laughed at us. We vowed to return,
left, and went and explored the mighty Phalen
Creek Tunnel instead.
Trip 2 : Ships in the Night
August 28th 2003
Max Action, SaddleSore, and Ghoulia Hawk
was drawing to a close, and Action Squad still had not returned
to explore the Lucky 13 Drain. However, I'd kept it in mind,
which explained the inflatable rubber raft (with oars!) that
I'd bought at a garage sale for $10. So, one fine Thursday
night I suggested to SaddleSore that we go explore this massive
drain I knew about. She was game, so we called up Ghoulia,
who was also up for it once we assured her that, contrary
to her dorky friend's warning, there was plenty of breathable
air in a drain tunnel.
was dark when we arrived around 10 PM. We parked the car in
a nearby neighborhood, and found our way down the steep, wooded
embankment down to the river's edge near the outfall. The
raft required inflation, so we set up camp on a concrete slab
near a giant rotting carp, and busted out the foot-bellows
air pump I'd bought earlier.
as we were getting started on the long, boring task of pumping
up the raft, we noticed an insanely bright spotlight just
up the river. It was occasionally sweeping the river banks
on either side, but mainly it probed along the underside of
the huge bridge that spanned the Mississippi river, which
joins a nicer part of Saint Paul to a scummier section of
Minneapolis. From our vantage point, we could not tell if
the light was coming from a boat on the water, or from the
to say, this made us nervous at first, until we watched for
long enough to determine that it was not moving toward us
at all. Nonetheless, we kept a wary eye, ready to flee to
cover if the spotlight started coming nearer. This is why,
several minutes into our raft-inflating adventure, we immediately
saw the figure come up on the other side of the outfall pool,
from the direction of the spotlight.
impressions in the darkness: male, no flashlight, heavier-set,
probably not a cop, white, middle-aged, drunk, no, not drunk,
but in an exhausted hurry over dark and uneven terrain. I
had a couple seconds of thinking time, in which I ran over
the situation: there were three of us, but two were smaller
females and I'm not exactly a monster myself. I had no weapon
on me. Should I say something? Should we hide? Run? Had he
already seen us?
the meantime, the mystery figure had drawn to a stop, stymied
by the outfall pool that stood in his way. He may have been
considering going up into the drain, for all I know. SaddleSore
and Ghoulia were down lower than me, standing on the riverbank.
I was standing right up on the concrete lip on one side of
the outfall pool, directly across from where the stranger
was standing on the opposite lip.
opted to make a deliberate throat-clearing sound. This let
the guy know that 1) we were there, 2) we did not care if
he knew we were there, and 3) at least one of us a male. I
made damn sure that the noise I made was as deep and guttural
as possible, giving the illusion in the darkness of greater
size. I stood tall, puffed out my chest a bit to look larger.
I'm not sure if I employed these primitive techniques consciously
figure paused for a moment, and then continued, up and around
the outfall. Was he going to come down on our side, or continue
on the path up the embankment and away from us?
this could be determined, the situation became more complicated.
A second figure, similar to the first, appeared across the
outfall. Great. How many of these people were there? He was
clearly with the first guy, yet far enough behind that it
was clear they were not on a social outing.
up an oar, keep it down for now, and don't say anything,"
I whispered to my companions.
oars were hollow plastic, but I hoped they would look intimidating
in the dark if these people came over to us. The second figure
paused at the outfall pool across from us. I repeated the
throat-clearing trick, and then made a decision.
reached up and clicked on my headlamp, allowing the bright
LED beam to settle first on one of the people, and then move
slowly, calmly to the other, and then back again. They froze.
After a couple of moments, I clicked it back off, and remained
standing in place on the concrete lip of the outfall. A second
later, the two men continued onward, and took the trail up
and away from us.
a word had been exchanged.
theories are as good as mine as to what these fellows' story
was. It seemed likely they were running from the police, but
beyond that, it could be anything. Drugs? Murder? Graffiti?
Jailbreak? Illegal homosexual activity beneath the bridge?
Why were the cops so interested in the underside of the bridge,
all the way out over the river? Had these guys been up on
it? Did the cops suspect terrorism, what with the major bridge
and all? No way to know, but I'm sure it was an interesting
story regardless. I'm also pretty damn sure that the strangers
were just as relieved as we were when our chance encounter
on the riverbank did not lead to anything unpleasant.
making sure that the men were truly gone, we went back to
work inflating the raft. A seeming eternity later, the raft
looked pretty pumped up, and I decided to take it out for
a solo test drive. My mission: to get familiar with the raft
and to see what it was like inside the massive maw of the
outfall. I was under the impression from city diagrams of
the drain that only the first 20 or so feet of drain were
deeply underwater, much like the huge drain that leads under
cast off, carefully avoiding the huge dead stinking carp on
the landing, and trying not to pop the raft against a rock
while still keeping my feet dry. I wound up sort of sitting
on one leg, with the other out in front of me. I was quite
uncomfortable, but in our haste to get going we'd not bothered
airing the raft up completely, so it was sagging and bending
in the middle and letting stinking river water in when I wiggled
around. I quickly realized there was no way to change my position
significantly without taking on tons of water, and that regardless
we were going to have to pump the damn thing up a lot more
if it was going to be of any use at all.
I flailed my way back to the beach, where we pumped the raft
up a whole bunch more until it was tight, at which point I
returned the water once more. I got the hang of the oars a
bit, and then headed up into the outfall pool toward the gaping,
rectangular drain. The entrance was thick with mist, and the
current against me was not enough to stop me, it was enough
to turn me sideways repeatedly. The air was heavy and filled
with the heavy odor of the living river, with a sharp tang
of sewage tunnels: there would be a connection to the sanitary
systems somewhere within. As I slid
into the drain, my oars ground against the bottom: the
water just inside the mouth was only about a foot deep!
was wearing boots, not waders or sandals, so I tried to navigate
using the raft, even though the water was ridiculously shallow.
The oars would not work as river-poles: the plastic found
no purchase on the slick wet cement of the tunnel floor. The
going was slow and I was repeatedly turned back by the rushing
water. I couldn't see anything at all due to the thick mist,
and had no idea how much further ahead dry land might be found,
or if any even existed. I was starting to doubt it, from what
I'd seen and inferred about the drain so far.
about ten feet into the drain, I swore in frustration and
deliberately flipped the raft onto its side, landing on my
feet in the rushing drain water. The water filled my leather
boots in seconds, as it was knee-deep and my boots, alas,
were not. Dragging the useless raft behind me, I lurched deeper
into the unknown, away from the river and my companions, straining
to see ahead more than a few feet ahead.
tunnel widened considerably, and split into three parallel
chambers: a central main tunnel, and an overflow-spillway
on either side. I took the right one, perhaps because it looked
most appealing, or perhaps because of ingrained American driving
rules of the road. There was very little water in this passage,
and weird, pale plants sprouted from sandbars in the darkness.
Then the three rectangular passages rejoined, forming a single
13-foot diameter circular cement tube. A 6-foot high side
tunnel that I passed clearly led to the sanitary system, judging
by the smells pouring from the entrance. The rushing water
in the main passage was just under knee-level, and there was
no way to walk on either side, given the water's depth and
the round shape of the tunnel. The hoped-for long, dry walk
was looking pretty unlikely. To make sure, I scouted ahead
a little further, hurrying a bit because I didn't want to
leave SaddleSore and Ghoulia waiting on the riverbank for
the tunnel went on without changing for awhile, I turned back
and headed toward the river. The going was much easier with
the current at the backs of my legs, and next thing you know
I was back to the raft. The others heard me coming, and someone
called out for me to come out. I didn't hear urgency in her
voice, so I relaxed on the raft, and let myself float out
gently with the current with no lights on.
I emerged, SaddleSore explained that while I'd been in the
tunnel, a jet-ski type thing went flying past toward the bridge,
and that the spotlight examination of the bridge had then
resumed. Nothing seemed to be happening any more, however.
I explained that in order to get in, we'd all have to get
our feet and legs totally soaked. But by this point it was
getting late, and both my companions had to work in the morning.
We decided to call it a scouting night, took a minor eternity
to deflate the raft again, and headed back through the woods
to the car. Then we went back to my place and watched a post-apocalyptic,
warriors-of-the-wasteland 80's movie and it totally kicked
and Ghoulia said they would be free early the next week to
return to the drain and explore it. Somehow, I think they
saw in my eyes that I wasn't likely to wait until next week
to go back.
so, they were right.
Trip 3 : 13 is Our Lucky
August 29th 2003
Max Action & She-Who-Cannot-Be-Named
very next night, I bailed out on a party at Ghoulia's house,
in order to finally conquer this troublesome drain. She-Who-Cannot-Be-Named,
who I've known for over five years, was finally ready to come
on her first Action Squad mission, so we left the social world
behind and went down to the riverbank. We got in without trouble,
and began the long upstream trek into the drain system, me
in some water shoes I'd bought at K-mart for the occasion
after the previous night's failure, and She-Who-Cannot-Be-Named
in a pair of my red too-big Converse. I assured her she didn't
look like a clown, but the fact remains that she did.
we got in without much trouble, climbing a ladder down to
the drain mouth in order to avoid having to wade through the
deep outfall pool full of stinking river water. And then we
explored the drain. The drain was like all drains in its overall
monotony: the majority of the trip consisted of slogging upstream
in knee-deep water through a concrete tube. The interesting
element here was that the tube was 13 feet across, which,
while not absolutely amazing, was nonetheless pretty impressive
to be in.
first new point of interest was a side
passage that went off to the north. It was made of old
red brick, and about 8 feet high. In some places, the brick
wall was instead made of chunks of limestone
block, and there was a hole in one wall through which
an abandoned, flooded old drain was visible. Repeated examination
of this space failed
to reveal any dead bodies, so we moved on. The tunnel ended
in a pretty bizarre drop shaft
that I'll try my best to explain.
there was a vertical shaft with water falling down it into
a presumably deep pool at the bottom. When water would overflow
from this basin, it would fall down a series of concrete ledges
into further basins. After three or four of these, any water
left would run into the brick arch tunnel. Feeding into this
system prior to the stepped basins but after the drop shaft
(duh) was a side tunnel about 6 feet high and 2 and a half
feet wide. From the smell, it seemed that this was a sanitary
would have checked it out, but getting there was a bit of
in order to get into the tunnel, one would
have to jump over the final deep basin (which was several
feet across), and land on the wet, slippery cement ledge between
basins (which was a foot or so wide). If you missed, slipped,
or took a step after landing, you'd be in over your head in
some pretty gross water that probably had a good deal of sewage
particles floating about in it. So, being the kind soul that
I am, I left this tunnel for others to explore. I'll put a
link right here to the first person to get a trip log and
photos of the area beyond this lovely area up on the web.
(Go on, sissy: it's actually not that hard to cross, especially
if you bring some stuff in with you!)
we had returned to the main drain tunnel and continued upstream
toward the real goal of this trip: the Lucky 13 Drop-shaft
Temple. I knew from studying plans of the drain that we would
find a "temple" similar to the "Temple
of the Drowned Cat" in this drain; however, this
one looked to be bigger, as well as more complex,
with sanitary tunnels and such added to the mix of tunnels,
ladder shafts, drop shafts, and impact cups. I love cool,
massive underground architecture, and was excited for this
splashed upstream, the turbulence from our feet and lower
legs pushing against the current creating a roiling, rippling
disturbance for several feet ahead of us. We saw a toad,
who knew nothing about how much further it was to the dropshaft.
Or perhaps he knew, but wasn't saying. His name was Bill.
could hear the dropshaft coming long before we could see it,
due to both the acoustics of a 13-foot concrete tube and the
low visibility caused by the flash photo ruining mist. On
the right side of the tunnel was a side passage; the floor
of this side tunnel was about five feet up the side of the
wall. Getting up into it was complicated by the fact that
water was flowing heavily into the main branch from the side
passage, meaning that we had to climb a slippery cement waterfall
to get up and in. I got up without too much trouble, but then
had to get back down and help boost She-Who-Cannot-Be-Named
this point, we were both more or less soaked (thank Gug for
waterproof headlamps and cameras), which was a good thing.
It was a good thing, because if we'd reached the Temple still
dry, we probably would not have felt as free to frolic around
in the awesome underground hexagonal waterfall that was running
down the sides of the impact cup platform. Sewer water, schmewer
water! A waterfall exists for only two purposes: to climb
and to frolic in.
when we finished frolicking (while making an effort not to
ingest any of the questionable water), we set to climbing.
There was a ladder up to the impact cup platform. Kind of.
(More on this later)
She-Who-Cannot-Be-Named was wearing oversized shoes, and this
was her first trip. Climbing the ladder up into the waterfall
under the circumstances did not hold appeal for her, so we
decided that we'd save the upper reaches of the drop shaft
chamber for a later trip.
She-Who-Cannot-Be-Named slipped on her way down into the main
tunnel and took a dunking in the cold waters of the main tunnel,
we headed back downstream, appreciative of the ease of travel
moving with the current instead of against it. Soon we were
out under the open sky again, and I was already thinking about
coming back again.
Trip 4 : Revenge of the Poopsicles
Max Action, Wop, Nelson Mandolin, & Winger
a week later, Action Squad returned yet again. We got in without
incident. The first stop was the weird brick tunnel drop shaft,
where Wop almost talked himself into crossing the first basin
by walking on a 5 foot length of rusty rebar we'd found. But
then he didn't, so you can still go check it out yourself
if you're so inclined!
it was onward to the Lucky 13 Temple.
time, I was determined to climb the ladder shaft that started
from the impact-cup platform above, and went all the way up
to just below the surface. First, we had to get up onto the
platform. The only way up was the ladder. Or, the thing that
used to be a ladder. This thing was constantly being watered
from above, and was so heavily encrusted with minerals and
rust that there was not even a space for a foot to fit in
between many of the rungs! We managed to clamber up somehow
anyway, getting nice and soaked in the process.
the platform, the first ladder started upward. Looking up
the ladder shaft, we could see that the ladder was in sections,
alternating from one side of the shaft to the other, with
no real platform to stand on in order to transfer from one
segment to another. From a distance, it looked annoying, but
do-able. A 6-foot tunnel branched off of the vertical shaft
to the side, at the top of the first segment; I knew from
the maps I'd checked out that this would connect to sewage
tunnels of some sort.
we started upward. I tried not to notice the disgusting slime
that coated every surface of the ladder
I knew from
experience that this was essentially condensation from sewage
mist, but didn't want to mention this to my companions, who
were not as psychologically immune to sewage as I have become.
(Or as psychotic, some might say.)
once we got into the side passage, there was no disguising
it. Every surface was coated with sewage slime, and it was
hanging from the ceiling in jiggling, disgusting formations
what we call "Snotsicles." I had flashbacks
from the most disgusting mission Action Squad had ever gone
on: the Stahlmann Brewery Cellars.
there was a manhole cover half open in the floor; beneath
was a rushing torrent of raw sewage. Mist from the sewer was
oozing up through the opening and into our tunnel and lungs.
After determining that no, no one wanted to descend and explore
the torrent de turds, we continued around the 90 degree left
turn, to discover a second sewer manhole cover and a dead
headed back to the ladder shaft and looked upward. The metal
ladder rungs were absolutely coated with thick, gelatinous
sewer slime. I had gloves on, and was willing to proceed,
but my non-gloved compatriots had lost their will to continue.
I'd call them pussies, but man, that shit was so damned gross
I really can't blame them. Not only was it nasty, but it made
the rungs insanely slippery, and the ascent would require
switching back and forth from alternating-side ladder segments
at least 4 or 5 times. I did not want to risk a death in the
Squad, and quite frankly had breathed in enough sewer mist
for the day. (I don't even want to think about the potential
diseases one could get by inhaling the thick, fetid sewage
mist in an enclosed space.)
by this point it had become almost a tradition to stop short
of a full exploration of the drain, going one step further
each time we went. This way, we'd always have a little more
to explore in the future, when we were in the mood for some
underground exploration, but didn't have anything new to check
out at the moment.
we left. On the way back down into the main tunnel, everyone
but me managed to slip and slide down into the freezing, knee-deep
water on their butts, which was plenty amusing to witness
from the warmth of my mostly-dry pants.
At the rate we've been exploring the Lucky 13, the entire
drain wouldn't be finished for years, so I've decided that
this is a good enough point to post the trip logs and photos
taken to date up on the site. Expect future updates, including,
hopefully, a collaborative effort with some local drain photographers,
who bring tripods, flashbulbs, and other photography paraphernalia
along. The pictures they take of drains are awesome
I think that we'll return in the spring, when the weather
warms up a bit again. Stay tuned.