My First Expo

I met up with some of the Clan folk at the Adelaide Station. I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to find them since I'd never met any of them in person, but I needn't have worried. The t-shirts with pics of underground cavities and slogans saying things like "I go draining!" were a bit of a giveaway. :-) We met up with the others at the site of the drain, a short drive away out of the city. I wasn't the only newbie - there were a couple of others who were also attending their first expo, bringing the total number of folk on this expo up to around ten or so.

I confess that I did feel a wee tad trepidacious when I discovered that the entrypoint that we were going to be using was a two-foot-square metal grille set into the road that opened into a shaft that dropped six feet or so into a small cavity. Looking down into the dank darkness, I had a moment of "do I really want to go through with this?" But seeing how I tend to have those sorts of moments before trying just about anything new-and-different, and seeing how all the other times have worked out just fine, I went ahead and climbed into the hole anyway.

This metal grille at the edge of the road was the entry point to the drain. It's approximately two feet across.

The entry shaft led to a smallish room maybe a metre or two at most across, and the only way out from there was down a crawl-height pipe. Urk. But since most of the group had already gone ahead of me, it was pretty clear that was the way to go, and so I followed them down ten metres or so of pipe, which debouched into a large (six foot diameter) concrete storm drain. As I came out, someone said "watch out, it's slippery!" - and they were right! I slid down the drain wall and would have gone ass-over-tit if some helpful soul hadn't caught me at that point.

That was really the most intimidating bit of the whole expedition, for me. The rest was pretty straightfoward. At that point I remembered that I had intended to make a "drain travelogue" and fished out my camera to take a pic of where we were going. I wasn't the only one - a couple of other folk had brought digicams and took some pics as well.

(In case it isn't obvious, the dark stripe along the bottom of the drain is a trickle of water.) Once we'd gotten into the drain proper, I remembered that I'd intended to take some pics, so I snapped this one down the drain in the direction we were about to go. We all signed our names on the drain wall, and someone wrote "Pym Street Expo 2003". I gather signing drains and leaving messages for other explorers who may come that way later is traditional among urban explorer types.

Here's me in my best "intrepid drain explorer" pose!

The storm drain extended in both directions as far as the eye could see (which wasn't very far given that our only light was from the torches we were carrying). We headed in a leftward direction up the pipe. It was concrete and circular in section, with a little bit of water running along the bottom. I asked the more experienced drainers how high the water gets when it rains hard. The answer was that in Adelaide, not very high at all. I'm told it's different in Melbourne and Sydney drains, where things can get a bit wetter; but Adelaide drains are really safe that way. Something to do with the hills being so close to the coast and there not being as large a catchment area for the water (or some such). One person mentioned that they were in a drain when a sudden downpour (of the sort that tends to overwhelm the surface drains and flood the roads) occurred, and all she noticed was that the water around her feet got colder. Wow.

So we trudged along the drainpipe for what felt like a couple of kilometres. Every so often we'd see a small pipe entering it from one side or the other, and a few times it opened into a junction room where several other large drains would also meet. Some of the junction rooms were quite interesting shapes, and I noticed that the water beading on the ceilings made really fascinating textures by torchlight. I am definitely going to have to go back specifically for the purpose of taking photos of such things sometime. Which reminds me: that was about the point when the batteries in my camera ran out. *sigh* Oh well, the other folk with cameras have agreed to share their pics with me, so hopefully I'll still be able to post a photographic drain travelogue later.

The drain concluded in a largeish junction room with several smaller drains leading into it. Two of them were high up on one wall, so one of the digicam-endowed drainers stuck his camera up in the hole and took group photos of all of us lurking nonchalantly in the drain. Another pipe was really interesting - it progressed downward and disappeared into a pool of murky water. Someone commented that maybe the water was tidal or something, since it had been much higher in that pipe the last time they were there. A few of us shone torches into the water in an attempt to see where the pipe went. It looked as though it was a dead end - which didn't really make sense, because if it were, where would the water have come from? I guess we're destined never to know, unless someone turns up a map of the drain system in that area.

Since that was the end of the line for that drain, we returned back up it. We didn't, however, climb back out the way we came in - we continued past that access point back in the other direction. The pipes got rather odd from there on, as they had long sections made of black corrugated plastic rather than concrete. It was rather creepy since it absorbed the torchlight much more efficiently than the pale grey of the concrete pipes, and the plastic (it felt like polypropylene, maybe) was somewhat slippery underfoot.

A kilometer or so and a couple of junction rooms further on, and we came to the last section of the drain. We gathered in a junction room with two inlets (one of which we'd come in through) and three smaller outlets, each with a number written on the wall above them. A couple of folk started muttering about sludge and one drainer rolled her jeans up above her knees, and there was a bit of debate about which outlet we were going to use. The idea of using pipe #2 was universally pooh-poohed "because it comes out in the middle of the creek." (Uh oh!) So we started down pipe #1.

This stretch of pipe was not only considerably narrower than the previous pipes (I think it couldn't have been wider than five feet) but the bottom third of it was filled with sludge and mud, which reduced the headroom even more. I walked along it bent over; I really don't think the taller drainers had a comfortable time of it! One of them traversed it in a delicately sludge-avoiding way by dancing from side to side; I didn't bother and just walked through the sludge, which at times came almost up to my knees (and smelled like the bottom of my fishpond when I dredge it at the end of winter). Someone commented that "the light seems so far away!" and I realised that the bright spot I could see waaaaay down the tunnel wasn't in fact a flashlight but was daylight. A bit more trudging, and we emerged into a (fortunately mostly dry) creek bed. Mr Dances With Sludge had managed to keep his pretty white shoes totally grunge-free, but the rest of us had sludge and grunge up to our knees.

We stood around for a little while, letting the worst of the sludge and goo drip off our feet while a couple of drainers had a smoko; and then we headed back across a park to the entrypoint, where I had left my car. As we traipsed across the park, we encountered an old woman who looked the ten of us (with sludge up to our knees and cobwebs in our hair) up and down, and enquired of us "where did you lot come from?" There was a momentary pause, so I quipped "I'm from England! Where are you from?" She replied that she lived locally, and wandered off, no doubt perplexed. So that was my first expo. The drain we explored was quite a bit less challenging than I had anticipated (only a very small amount of crawling, and most of the drainpipes being six feet or so in diameter) but I can't say that I was at all sorry about that, this being my first descent into Underground Adelaide.

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