On July 3rd I set out to find a rooftop to photograph the Boston fireworks the next night. I scouted a roof right on the edge of the Charles River that was covered in scaffolding and made plans with another explorer to meet up the next day. Little did I know this event would change my view of the world.
I've been bitten by an exploring bug, a thirst for adventure and adrenaline I've not experienced any other way. Seeing a city from a rooftop, knowing that no one around you is looking up, or sneaking into an abandoned building that people see everyday but never notice is a rush I can only describe as addictive.
Of course with any addiction there are side affects. I started spending all my free time exploring new heights and abandoned buildings. I wasn't sleeping and was starting to realize that sitting at a computer all day fixing the plumbing problems of modern day pipes was not at all rewarding or exciting by comparison. I became increasingly frustrated with my job and how much of my life it consumed. Because of this my attitude with coworkers and my employer deteriorated to the point they felt it necessary to write me up.
I sat down with my employer and explained the situation. I'm over worked, under payed, burnt out and starting to hate computers. Their solution; give me a month off to explore as much as I can and try to get it out of my system.
I recognize that this is unheard of in almost any company and freely admit that the people I work for and with are fucking awesome and I am happy as shit that I work for them. I don't know if this trip will help in the long run cause now I have a major case of wanderlust. But if this is something I can look forward to each year then I think I am going survive.
The plan for the trip; there is no plan. I knew I couldn't afford lodgings or to fly everywhere I wanted to go so this was going to be a legit backpackers journey. I borrowed a quality backpack, bought a tent and sleeping bag and packed up everything I thought I would need (roughly 55lbs of stuff, way too much in hindsight) and set out on Aug 29th to Rochester.
The train ride to Rochester was 11hrs long, with a 2 hour break in Albany. I found a local dive bar and quickly pounded a few coronas (the bartender apparently has a hatred for wheat beers so I took the only swill I could handle). The bartender turned out to be an old faghag and we got along great. She gave me her history of Albany and introduced me to a few locals, charming as it was I was desperate to get back on the train and to my first destination.
I arrived in Rochester around 11pm and made contact with my first couch-surfing buddy, Nan. Nan had come highly recommended by a few of my friends. If you haven't met Nan it's hard to explain her. Nan is a veteran of the exploring community, a legend even! Her house is filled with amazing trinkets from the places she's explored throughout the years. If you think you've found a new place chances are Nan has already been there.
She arrives promptly at the train station with a very drunk don_corlyone (Steve) who proceeds to yell at me as my name is Don and he insists he is The Don. I politely remind him that his name is indeed Steve and he will need to forfeit the title Don while I am around. He begrudgingly agrees. I compromise in that I will call him Corley for the rest of my visit, he either likes this or is too drunk to argue further.
We get back to Nan's house where I meet her husband and another explorer Lynn (Gotpaisley!). After a few hours of smoking, drinking and good conversation I'm informed that we will be exploring a newly abandoned power station tomorrow morning provided we can keep Corley from drinking all the booze in the house and passing out for a day solid. Surprisingly I think he had already finished every last drop so had no option but to sober up. We all head to bed, me on the couch cuddling with Nan's awesome labradoodle Hudson.
The next day I wake to Corley double fisting beers, I'm not sure where he found them cause all the booze in the house was gone when I went to sleep but already the Corley that everyone seems to know and love is coming out in spades. This coupled with Lynn believing she is personally responsible for his actions (as she did drive him here) is a recipe for some comedy gold.
Our tour guide for the day Nick (EvilNick) arrives and we all pile into a couple cars and head towards our destination. On the trip we get to talking about personal protection and I let slip that I have a tazer on me. Corley is visibly excited by this and demands to be tazed. Being that I have never used it on anyone I jump at the chance. I'm not sure if the batteries were dead or not but it barely seems to effect him. We stop to get replacement batteries, same effect (I did eventually try it on myself and have to say that it's not pleasant).
We arrive at the power plant and make our way inside. The first thing that hits you once inside is the smell of coal and oil. Everything is covered in black coal dust, you can feel it invading your lungs and gritting up your teeth. Eventually you resign to the fact that there is nothing you can do about it and start to marvel at the majesty of all the machinery and metal.
The explore went off without a hitch except when Corley left to find another explorer (Troy) and locked himself out. After leaving here we head back to Nan's house so I can pack up my backpack. Nan needed to spend some quality time with her husband and I sadly couldn't sleep on her couch that night, it's ok as I have a better plan anyway.
Corley, Lynn and I decide to grab a bite to eat before they head off back home. As we're sitting in the restaurant watching Corley get drunker and drunker off of SoCo Lynn decides she wants to taze him again. I don't really see a problem with this and hand her the tazer. I guess this time it hurt a little more.
The old people at the table next to us wheren't quit sure how to react to a tazered screaming drunk man and report us to management. As we're paying our bill and getting ready to leave we where asked nicely to vacate the premises.
I say goodbye to Corely and Lynn and meet up with Nick again for a night time explore of the power station. Without the constant shouting of Corley and Lynn bickering back and forth Nick and I could explore all the hidden places of the power plant we felt rushed through earlier that day.
Nick and I make plans to head to Buffalo tomorrow night (my next destination anyway so free ride, woohoo!) to explore a hospital and I have him drop me off a gorgeous cemetery Nan and Lynn showed me earlier that day, this is where I plan to make camp tonight. Getting into a locked cemetery with over 50lbs of gear is not an easy task. Eventually I make it in, find one of the tallest hills and setup a tent I've never used in the pitch darkness. I eventually get it setup properly and get as comfy inside as possible. I slept amazingly well even knowing that I was sleeping on top of dead people.
The next morning I wake at the crack of dawn. Some deodorant and a change of clothes and I'm ready for the day. After packing up camp, I walk off my hill towards the little chapel on the edge of the cemetery. This site is affectionately called Saint Nan's because of the explorer who first found it.
I spend a little bit of time in here and realize that I need to poop badly! I don't want to poop in this beautiful church so pack up my camera gear and head out to a coffee shop across the street.
The people at this coffee shop where nice enough to let me charge my laptop and phone here for a few hours. The funny thing is carrying around a giant backpack with a sleeping bag and tent on it tends to attract questions. People want to know all about you and where you are going. There was no shortage of people who said to me "I admire you so much for just packing up and going" or "I wish I could do that, but...." but what? Just do it! Take a month unpaid, sublease your apartment for the month, pack up a bag and just go. There's resources out there for the poor traveler as long as your willing to live outside of your comfort zone, and isn't that what adventure is all about, finding and expanding your comfort zone?
After chatting with the locals for a little while I decide it's time to head out. I get permission to drop my crap in Nan's backyard so I can explore Rochester on my own. My goal for the day was Rochester Psyche's Terrace Building. This is a skyscraper of a building that was meant for patient housing. Now completely abandoned and offering a view of Rochester from just outside the city. I hear tales that it's completely empty and covered in black mold (you know the very bad kind). I don't care and decide I will get in here to see it for myself.
I arrive at the location and walk the perimeter looking for easy entrance, it's locked up tight! I send out a few txt messages and find that there may be a tunnel from the abandoned power plant out back that leads to the building. I gain access to the power plant only to find that I'm locked in one room and can't get any further unless I break some windows. Being on my own and the fact that there is construction going on across the street I decide this is not a good idea.
I leave to go get a beer, something to eat and to reassess what I had scouted. With nourishment and liquid courage I decide I am going to make another crack at this building, I will not be defeated again!
I get on site again and walk the perimeter, on my second pass I notice a shuttle van is watching me. The van slowly pulls up to me and an old man rolls down his window to ask me what I am doing here. I explain that I am a traveling photographer and I want to get pictures of this building.
"oh you don't want to get in there, it's empty and filled with mold" he tells me.
This not being unknown to me I respond, "no, you don't understand, I REALLY want to get in there. Do you know how to get in? Do you know who I can talk to about getting in? Please help me out guy!"
"Now I'm not hear to bust your balls and I'm not gonna call the cops but you can't go in that building and I would recommend you leave the property before the police make their rounds."
I take his advice and leave feeling defeated for having not explored anything on my last day in Rochester. I head to the same restaurant where Corley, Lynn and I where ejected the night before. They have $3 blue moon and free wifi so long as I keep drinking, this is a great deal! After a few beers I start messaging all the people I know in Rochester and demand they come drink with me. Trent and Andrew (VelcroZepplin) show up to my surprise. A few more beers with new company and I'm trying to talk them into climbing the Kodak building that is covered in scaffolding from ground to roof. Andrew has other engagements to attend to but Trent is willing to climb something (maybe not the kodak).
We head to Trent's apartment where I meet one of his roommates (I can't remember her name but she was awesome and hooked me up with some gushers and oatmeal bars). Trent gets his things together and we head downtown to explore. As we're crossing a bridge near an awesome waterfall I notice this cool looking building that appears to be abandoned. Trent, knowing all the local spots, tells me how it's an unused building of the Genesee Brewing Company located right across the street. I ask if we can check it out and he starts climbing the metal lattice work leading up to a chute of some sorts. He beckons me to follow. Once at the top of the lattice work you need to squeeze into a maybe 2 foot tall crawl space between a rooftop and the floor of the chute. You have to crawl at a 33 degree angle for about 100-200 feet till you reach the roof of one of the smaller buildings. Once on the smaller building Trent show me the wall we need to scale to get to the upper roof. I've never been much of a rock climber and watching Trent go through the motions I start to question if I can do this. When presented with these situations the first question is "do we need to go out this way?" cause climbing down is always worse. I get assured that we can walk right out a front door, this is all the encouragement I need and I quickly scale the wall and make my way into an open door on the roof.
As we're loosing light we decide to head back to the roof to get some pics of nearby waterfall and sunset.
Trent explained this as one of the easier entrances in Rochester, I'm floored as it's the hardest entrance I've encountered to date, but one of the most rewarding simply for the adventure of it. He gives me a ride back to Nan's house where I grab my stuff, meet up with Nick and head off to Buffalo.
After leaving Rochester I've learned of a few people in the city that are keeping the roof topping scene going out there. Yami Doki is someone I wish I had had the chance of meeting. The pictures of Rochester coming from him are amazing and I wish I could have seen some the places he's been. I've also become closer to VelcroZepplin since leaving and am excited to revisit because of the thriving draining scene he has going on there. I hope to spend more time in Rochester and with some of the coolest people I've met on my trip.
Part 2: Buffalo