Twin Cities urban exploration

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The Past, Present, & Future
of Urban Exploration

Max Action, Action Squad founder & webmaster



Long ago in the course of human evolution, before our ancestors were yet much like us at all, some organisms were wired such that they were able to overcome their instinctive, primitively-evolved fears of the unknown, the dark, tight spaces, heights, and other potentially lethal situations. These creatures were sometimes killed for their curiosity; however, the many that did not die often proved much more adept at locating vital resources for survival than those creatures that allowed their fears to keep them locked into the same safe routines and spaces. This trait proved beneficial frequently enough to the individual (and the tribe / pack / family that the explorer associated with) that natural selection tended to favor the genes of those creatures that had both general curiosity and the more specific drive to chart unknown territory.


In recent times, we can perhaps see the expression of this trait most clearly and readily in the felines, which spend their entire lives getting into, onto, under, behind, and between everything they can. It's a great way of finding mice, hiding spaces, look-out perches, you name it. Cats are very hard-wired for exploration.

The exploration impulse can also be seen in mankind, albeit to a lesser extent. You can see it in the pages of National Geographic magazine, for example; explorers who are rewarded with fame or at least a salary by their respective societies for boldly seeking out new information and potential resources from places the masses would rather not themselves tread. However, mankind has mapped so much of the physical world that there is very little uncharted territory left to explore, and very few have the financial resources to get to those remaining locales. The original expansion-based roots of the human exploration drive no longer seem either applicable or evolutionarily advantageous.

However, the natural drive to explore still lurks in the schematics of the human mind; such deep wiring is not undone in a mere few generations. So, most modern civilizations counter genetics with memetics; there is a certain social stigma attached those who do not "outgrow" the "childhood phase" of allowing one's sense of wonder, curiosity, adventure, and imagination to dictate one's behavior. No normal adult is expected to spend time wondering what lurks behind locked doors, beneath manhole covers, or up on the rooftops. And of course, no sane adult would actually ACT on such deviant, primitive motivations!

But some do anyway. In the guts of sprawling metropolises, there are those who attain subtle and deeply satisfying pleasure by triggering their brains' ancient exploration-rewarding wiring. We do so by exploring the lost, off-limits nooks and crannies of urban life; tunnel systems, drains, caves, sewers, vacant structures, or even active, yet private, structures. We call ourselves urban adventurers, urban explorers, urban spelunkers, infiltrators, sewer rats, vadders, diggers, and drainers. We are driven to share our tales with others, who get pleasure from reading them due to their own similar (if in many cases totally repressed) drives to explore the urban underbelly.

And with the advent and spread of the internet, we urban adventurers are for the first time forming our own exploration-based subculture, rather than merely being individual explorer-components of existing subcultures. Of course, with any new culture comes hierarchy, rules, definitions, trend-hoppers, and all kinds of things generally disliked or at least distrusted by the very people who had unknowingly laid the foundations for the growth of the modern internet-based UE culture.

But trends come and go, and subcultures blossom, are co-opted and marketed, and wane. We who truly love to explore know we have nothing to fear from public exposure. After all, our primary rationale for exploration is not truly a "rationale" at all; it's a primal motivation. A motivation driven by the irrational and simple, yet subtle joy it brings us, and not any fame, power, prestige, or ego-boosting that the nascent sub-culture or the media's greed may reward us with.

Regardless of what is or isn't trendy, or over-exposed, or socially unacceptable, true explorers will always have serious trouble finding the will to stop themselves from taking just a quick stroll past the "No Admittance" door, or from peeking beneath the unlocked grate in the sidewalk. Our need to explore is not a recent or calculated addition to our minds, chosen to capitalize socially off of a new and exciting "underground" activity. It won't fade in the face of any media attention, or government crack-down, or MTV commercialization. Imagination, sense of wonder, the drive to explore, love of adventure; these traits can survive almost anything … just like rats and cockroaches.


Admittedly, our niche role in the human species might seem marginal, quaint, or even silly at the present time, if you're of a very boring, practical, and short-sighted mindset.

But just wait … wait until the whole world is a giant post-nuclear wasteland populated by clashing tribes of biker warriors all battling over some rare and precious resource like gas or water or fertile women. Then, let me tell ya, the instincts we refused to squelch, the fears that we trained ourselves to ignore, and the skills that we honed in the lost spaces of cities are all going to prove invaluable. And the bozos who didn't get it are going to be sitting on the radioactive surface scratching their tumors and gnawing on rat bones left behind by mutant cockroaches, while WE rule the mighty underground cities that we forged in the lost remains of massive subterranean military installations.

If they're really lucky, maybe we'll allow them to fight one another to the death in the post-apocalyptic gladiator-style games we run for entertainment in order to placate the masses. And all kinds of tough scantily-clad post-apocalypse babes will beg to reproduce with us.



And that is why we explore.