So You Want to be an Urban Explorer?

posted 12/01/05

So, you're interested in Urban Exploration in the Twin Cities metro area?

Good for you. Really. No, sadly, you're not alone. You're (probably) no wierder or more messed-up than anyone else. In fact, you're just one of hundreds of people in the area with at least a passing interest in all things UE. My aim with this page is to provide some basic information that's specific to the... how do I put this... "unique" environment of the Twin Cities. Mind your step. Please pay attention, it's important. Really. No, there won't be a test.

Firstly, as already noted, there exists in the area a large community of explorers and exploration groups. They do things a little differently than explorers elsewhere might. I think it's something in the water, or the effect of the long, dark winters. Anyway, to a great extent, this page is about how to do your thing while playing nice with those who were here doing this before you. If you're not an unsociable retard, you should be able to fit in just fine. Even if you are emotionally and mentally retarded, and totally lacking in people skills, there are still forums and people will welcome you with open arms...

Before you get your hopes up about becoming a member of Action Squad or the Secret Urban Exploration Ninja Mafia, you should be sure you're into this for the right reasons. Fascinated with history? Like geology? Have an insatiable curiosity about the world around you? Agoraphobic? A tomboy? All those are good. Really good, in fact. On the other hand, if you like to break or steal things, have "fire extinguisher wars", play with fire, or if you're looking for new places to hold raves, or create spray art, or skateboard, or smoke a bowl, or play paintball, or play at being a soldier, that's not quite as good. Also, if you think that urban exploration will make you "more emo", just plain "cool", or if you've somehow confused what we do for LARPing, then I'm sorry, but UE really isn't your thing. Don't go away mad, just go away. Now.

Much of the cooperative interaction, pettiness, and dick-waving between and on the part of explorers here takes place on a handful of virtual digital environments. Online, in other words. An online forum is the best way to introduce yourself to, and interact with, the community. Much like eating at a restaurant, you get a number of choices of varying qualities. Explorers in the Twin Cities are by a number of internet forums. Because of baseless threats, legal and otherwise, I'm not going to link to them. After all, finding where the kids who are so much cooler than you hang out is half the fun.

Let's put it this way: There's the forum where everyone who has two clues to rub together, can type reasonably well, and isn't an idiot, is welcome. It has a ridiculously large number of users from all over the world, and you can learn a lot there. Then there's the forum where all the high-school kids hang out, the one run by hackers and crackers and vandals, oh my. Oddly, hardly anybody ever posts there. Then there's the one run by the guy who wanted to be liked and feel important. This is where the cool thieves and vandals hang out. Don't worry, being morally and ethically challenged hypocrite isn't actually compulsory for membership there, but it helps. A lot. Oh, and then there's the one I like to refer to as "under the bridge". You know, where the trolls are.

Be warned, that the forums represent only a portion of the Minnesota UE community, generally the worst and worse still bits. If you'd rather avoid the endless and repetetive soap-opera dramas, the politics, the childish and immature banter, and everything else that makes urban exploration in Minnesota what it is today... then go for it. By all means, feel free to go do your own thing. However, whether you're on a forum, a blog, your own website, or just going at it the low-tech stealthy route, there are a number of things you really, really need to know.

Like it or not, there is a community of explorers here already. Like it or not, if you explore in the area, you're - even if you've never passed out on Max Action's couch, or been to the quarry - a part of that community, at least until someone who thinks they're more important than you says otherwise. Like many smaller communities (if you consider eighty people "small"), it is, to a great extent, theoretically self-regulating and self-policing. There are a number of, if not rules, at least guidelines, which if followed will allow everyone to keep on doing what they do. Urban Exploration is something different for everyone involved, and only a few clearly out-of-touch losers pretend that there's more than one, two, or at most three right ways to do it. Almost nobody denies, however, that there are any number of wrong ways to go about it, and they are what this page is to try and help you avoid.

Action Squad's motto is "Take everything that's not nailed down, and leave a little 'present' in the corner". However, the Sierra Club's motto is "Take nothing but pictures, and leave nothing but footprints". This is a very good motto to live by when exploring. In fact, many would argue that it's the only code of conduct to follow. If you're there to take stuff, you're a thief, not an explorer, and we will all point and laugh when you get arrested, and say bad things about your mommy to the media. The exception, of course, is if you come up with any sort of noble-sounding justification for your theft whatsoever, like calling it "archaeology" or "preserving historical artifacts", or say "they were just going to throw it away eventually anyway", in which case everyone will look up to and admire you. If you're there to tag the place, you're a vandal, and we will all beat the crap out of you, take your photo, and give it to the police when we catch you... then say bad things about you and your momma to the press when you're arrested... unless the vandalism contains crude humor or homophobia, in which case you're a tres-cool rebel, and mad props to you, dawg, for sticking it to the man.

Explorers sneak in, for a given value of "sneak". They do not break (or smash, cut, or pry) and enter, unless they're rednecks, alcoholics, or both. If you think a crowbar, sledgehammer, or boltcutter is an exploration tool, you're not an explorer, you're a vandal on odd-numbered days of the month and a well-respected member of the community the rest of the time. Some places just weren't meant to be explored by just anybody. If the property owner has done a really good job of sealing the place up, respect that hard word and cause a lot of damage after you break in.

Discretion is, like, so yesterday. Wearing a headlamp while walking down the steet - especially during the day - makes you look cool. So does camo. Especially urban camo. Remember, the po-po can't arrest and beat up those they can't see, and camo makes you invisible. Crashing around in the woods at night, with flashlights, is a popular and recommended way of, ahem, sneaking into places. The first rule of Fight Club is, you don't talk about it. Fight Club is not urban exploration, though; not only does almost everybody know about it, but those who don't know about it, should. Stopping random strangers on the street and asking how to get to Satan's Cave is, you know, totally hip. Especially when you've already been given detailed instructions, but are too lazy to follow them. Oh, asking random strangers if they're members of Action Squad? Totally demonstrates that you're "in the know". Illegal pharmaceuticals don't belong on UE trips with less than six people, nor do fireworks, firearms, or other weapons. Get the picture? Speaking of pictures, remember that camera flashes are special; just because sunlight passes thru windows doesn't mean camera flashes will. Oh, and it's a well-known fact that nobody ever looks up, ever, so taking pictures on rooftops at night with flash isn't likely to attract any attention at all.

If you are going to talk (or write) about your exploits, for the Gods' sake, please get with the program and call them "missions"; chicks dig military wannabes. The bad people of the world are just a lie concocted by the liberal media to fill your heart with fear; using a location's real name, and sharing how you got in, is totally a good and responsible idea, because, you know, even if there were bad people, they certainly wouldn't know how to use Google. Remember, kids; you're not just sharing things better kept secret with your friends (or website visitors), but with their friends, and friends of their friends, and so on. It's like viral marketing for your illiterate boasting! Don't let the nay-sayers get you down; there are only a dozen or so documented examples of locations getting vandalised or destroyed - or sealed, alarmed, or patrolled - because people who really shouldn't be handed a key to the candy store were given one.

The real fun - arguably - of urban exploration is finding places nobody's ever been before, but, yes, there is a lot of fun to be had in seeing places others have written about on their websites. The really cool thing is that most local UE websites - particularly Action Squad - are updated constantly to accurately reflect current information, and none contain any sort of misinformation and/or outright fabrication designed to mislead those that have less than benign intentions or less than huge balls.

If you're following these guidelines - which, sadly, seem to be pretty much applicable to UE everywhere - you have absolutely nothing to fear from area law enforcement. The UErs of the Twin Cities are totally low-key and law-abiding, and not a single local officer has even the slightest clue what urban exploration is. Keep it that way. Don't make yourself look stupid by sounding like you're part of some internet cult of bleeding-heart pinko hippies with benign reasons for being on the roof of an abandoned building at three in the morning; the fascist pigs have it in for you, man, so you better come up with a good story. They're not going to believe anything you say, but at least you'll be protecting your homeboys. Sure, getting arrested will completely destroy your life, drive away the only person who ever cared about you, and make your cat hack up a hairball on your pillow, but think of it as "taking one for the team". When the next big party is held in a storm drain, someone will smash a 40-oz bottle against the wall in your memory.

Lastly, remember that Urban Exploration isn't a hobby or a pasttime, it's a contest. It's a lifestyle. You earn and lose points, you are graded, and you will be scored. Just because some people say you get out of it, more or less, only what you put into it doesn't mean that intelligence, wisdom, or common sense help any. Just because someone else did or does something is a perfectly good reason to do it yourself. After all, it's all been done before, right? If you have to ask, the answer is probably "no", but if you ask enough people, someone will eventually say "yes". It's easier to get forgiveness than permission, but a lie can run around the world before the truth has it's boots on. Trust your gut, that's what it's there for. Walk softly, and carry a big flashlight - plus a spare. In all seriousness, though, you really don't need your own website. Honest, they're more trouble than they're worth. Don't be afraid to ask questions, but be warned, ask any question online, get at least one stupid answer. Measure once, cut once; think once, post once.

Thanks, and good luck. You're going to need it.


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