The hint of sun on the horizon triggers my photographer’s internal alarm and I snap awake, grab my camera, and head for the fence I saw last night. There’s a camera trained on the main entrance, so I have to run through the field of ticks. It’s still early but already heating up. Despite this I am wearing my full moto gear, sans helmet, as I barrel through the least overgrown sections of the field, hoping to be able to brush off any parasites before they make it through my layers. There’s something about arachnids half buried in my skin…
But the view is worth it. The mist is so thick all I can see is the blinking lights on the 500 foot tower in the distance, suspended in the early morning gloom. As I approach the wind picks up and my target is revealed, a tantalizing peek from the distance.
There is plenty to tempt me on the way to the tower. I had originally planned to spend perhaps an hour here before heading off. I can see this is not going to be the case; the atmosphere of this abandoned space quickens my pulse in a way the kilometre jog in full gear couldn’t compare to. Some rattling chain link, nuclear deer, and radioactive tortoises later, The Ladder stands before me. Oh yeah, this massive concrete tower has a ladder… it just happens to be on the outside.
As an aside, I’ve been keeping to a minimalist diet this trip. I’ve lived in a circle of society where a fully stocked fridge is a given my whole life, and have never had the opportunity to learn what my body truly needs food-wise. I believe, however, that we can run on far less to our full potential. So all this to say, I’m looking up this 500 foot ladder and thinking, “Damn – I should have bought something for breakfast at the gas station”. I do have my water, however, and there are three platforms I can rest on before the outward curve of the tower necessitates a caged ladder I can consider myself safe on. Once you commit to the ladder, there’s no backing out. One rung at a time, the rest platforms seeming to stretch out farther the higher you go. The wind picks up, and it’s hard not to imagine how it would feel rushing past you if the welds on the ladder were to fail.
The gauntlet it took to get up there is forgotten as I look out on the mist covered hills of Tennessee washed over with the golden light of the rising sun.
I’m trying to capture the scale of this thing when I’m buzzed by a helicopter. Homeland security is something I really don’t want to mess with, but fortunately I’m close to the edge and manage to swing myself over and out of sight. And what an edge…
From the edge I can see the rest of the complex. The morning light hits it perfectly, and I still need to get back and hide the bike properly now that it’s light out before truly exploring the place. I take a shot, and slide down to ground level for another round-trip jog.
The inside of this place is incredible, the strange concrete warrens of the complex magnify and distort sound so it sounds like people are rattling around this hollow place. I find myself tiptoeing constantly, listening over the sound of my pounding heart for any hint of an actual presence somewhere within these walls. But apart from some crows, deer, a tiny frog, and my first owl(!) I am alone. Whistling in the cavernous spaces, climbing the rebar of half-finished reactors, trying to fathom the architecture, the mysterious purpose behind the exposed and alien skeleton.
A sense of urgency is the only thing that drives me to go, and I eventually tear myself away several hours later. The photos here are what remain after the Louisiana Incident, my first encounter with Homeland Security (to be chronicled in the next update – a two parter!).
Back on the road, substituting food for a McDouble at McD’s for a dollar. They don’t do two cheeseburgers for a buck here, which was a great source of carbs thus far. I’ve never had anything against crapdonalds myself, food is food and it’s tasty enough… but I am well past sick of it, need to slow down the pace so I can do more cooking. Plenty of that to come as I plot out my course through the beautiful Natchez Trace all the way down to southern Mississippi, and then New Orleans. I know nothing at all about the city, but it’s on the way, I feel I should at least stop by for a day or two.