New Orleans; it might as well be Mos Eisley for the reactions I’ve gotten from people when I tell them my explorations take me there. A local girl I contact makes reference to a surplus of axe murderers. The local tongue-in-cheek rag runs a piece on Sudden Bullet Death Syndrome.
Still, reputations have a tendency to collect momentum and outgrow their origins, and I had to find out for myself. This is what I repeat to myself as I park my motorcycle at the Walgreens in the East end of town, ready for a first pass at the infamous abandoned 6 Flags / Jazzland park.
Getting in proves to be easier than I had imagined, despite me having to casually walk onto the highway by a cop writing a ticket at the turnpike and almost having to tread through a swampy moat before finding a proper path farther along the perimeter.
My heart is pounding with excitement and I sprint despite the sweltering heat. The gravel tracks are overgrown, it doesn’t seem like anyone has been down them in a while. Nonetheless I take a minute to slow the pounding in my ears, stay sharp as I begin to wander through.
I spy some fellow delinquents atop a small coaster and sneak up on them to assess their group. Satisfied from afar that they’re just bored teens, I sneak up on them and yell out “WHAT ARE YOU KIDS DOING HERE!?” in my best Official Cop Voice. I almost really regret it when a head pops out from the top of the coaster and some kid nearly loses his balance but their stunned silence gives way to chuckles when they realize it’s just me. I ask them about the place, apparently they have been around a couple of times before but never run into anyone. As I suspected, it’s pretty out of the way.
Before I depart they point out a set of four 180 foot high white towers in the distance, uncaged ladders extending to the top. They tell me no-one has ever been all the way up, and the graffiti ending around the 30 foot mark seems to corroborate. I have my goal for sunset.
Heading out to explore on my own, the first thing I do is head back to explore the Batman themed set they pointed out to me. Graffiti on the buildings, crumbling structures, empty spaces where rides have been reclaimed for material, and everything – everything – is climbable. There is just too much to shoot, climb, explore, and I revel in the overwhelming stimulation.
As the sun approaches the horizon I can’t contain myself any longer and head for the white towers. The pathways are choked with overgrowth, wild vines with thorns that catch and tear. It’s only skin. I pick the tower that feels the least exposed, but the truth is from the highway I can be seen from any of these towers unless I wait for dark.
One thing I’ve learned from my explorations is people just aren’t paying attention, and those who are generally find themselves too busy to care. At least this is how I explain how I get away with shenanigans like this. Perhaps I’m just lucky; my recklessness will soon catch up to me.
In any case, the shadows are growing long, I start to climb.
I’m marking my progress watching the parallel set of towers across the fen, so as to not waste energy holding on and leaning out to get perspective. Energy is very important when it’s the only thing keeping you from impromptu flying lessons. Around the halfway point I’m getting tired so I try to rest on the rungs by locking my legs in – no dice; I waste more energy just trying to keep myself balanced. The towers across are linked by a catwalk a few feet from the summit – I’ll just keep going to the catwalk.
Hand over hand; a trancelike state as the rungs continue endlessly; repeated movements becoming automatic.
The trance is broken by a wave of vertigo. This is weird, very weird – I don’t get vertigo. I’m committed; three quarters the way up. Not the place to develop sensitivity to heights.
The wind blows, and the vertigo comes again.
Looking down, it hits me. I haven’t developed vertigo, the tower I’m clinging to at bone-shattering height is actually swaying. I’m relieved that my senses were correct, and wonder what this would feel like in the famous storm winds that ravage this part of the world. Shouldn’t be long now, I’m almost parallel with the catwalk on the opposite towers.
In all fairness to me, I am just overloaded. The visual stimulation of this place’s slow decomposition and reclamation by nature overwhelm the senses, and I’m flooded with adrenaline from a day hanging off the exposed skeleton of the various rotting structures.
All this to say, I might be forgiven for only having truly registered that the towers I was climbing were not identical to the ones I was marking my progress with across the overgrowth.
Still, I wasn’t in a very self forgiving mood when, muscles tired and excited for a rest, I decide I’m close enough to the top that I’ll be able to roughly gauge how far away the catwalk is by wasting some of my remaining muscle power on leaning out and looking up.
Oh, look at that.
There is no catwalk.
I look at the top, the challenge, probably twenty meters up.
My muscles burn.
The wind blows and my camera oh-so-gently nudges one of the rungs, releasing the lens cap to fall, fall, fall to the ground below. I don’t even hear the sound it makes as it hits.
Time to climb back down. I’ll be back, next time properly fed and hydrated.
As I reach the last 30 meters I almost slip on a rung I forgot was missing, and as I adjust my grip I hear the roaring of engines. They grow louder and louder, and shortly a pair of ATVs rip through the track around me. I try to grab a hurried shot, but I know the pole is swaying, it’s dark, and the shots are blurry. I’ve been hanging on for fifteen minutes catching shots of the sunset and waiting for the riders to pass again when I remember I’m supposed to be tired and getting down to ground level.
Transported back absently as I savour the giddiness of mischief well managed, I find Lost waiting for me in the Walgreen’s parking lot and ride in a fugue down the I-10 back home.
And as I crest the overpass the jewels of the city at night spread out before me. I reflect on the day, and decide I am not leaving tomorrow. Police lights flashing in the rear view, I smile and pin the throttle.