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THE NATION

Urban Explorers Are Picture of Stealth

May 20, 2001|JOHN JURGENSEN | ASSOCIATED PRESS

"We've found them in all the subway tunnels," says Mike Walker, a security spokesman for the Toronto Transit Commission. "Anywhere there's an opportunity to infiltrate the system, they'll take that as a challenge."

"We've never had to physically break something to get in. Ever," claims an associate of Solis who gives only his nickname, Tindalos. "More often than not, someone's been there before us."

Using tactics that helped them fight graffiti artists, transit cops in Toronto--the city where Infiltration is published--monitor the same communication tool explorers use most.

"Almost all our information comes from intelligence gathering, especially Web surfing," Walker says. "We know all the players, all the instigators."

By picking up tips on the Web, Walker says, transit police have been successful in foiling expeditions before they start.

Investigators have even made housecalls. A note left in a Toronto subway tunnel recently led them to a Web site, an e-mail address and eventually to the doorstep of an explorer going by the name Devastator.

"Our goal is to educate rather than enforce," says Walker, who would not elaborate on the encounter but made it clear that Devastator was not the first explorer transit officers had visited. "If we come across somebody bragging," he says, "we'll track them down."

If representation on the Web is an accurate measure, urban exploration is thriving as a global subculture.

A Web ring dedicated to touring "off-limits locations" links 78 sites, with countries as far-flung as Australia and the Netherlands represented.

"The Internet has played a big part in establishing contacts," Vern Chastree, 21, writes in an e-mail from Melbourne, Australia. Chastree, who goes by the name "id," is a member of Cave Clan.

"It's a very close community," he writes. If they meet like-minded international visitors, "Cave Clan members are more than happy to show them around. The same courtesy is often extended to us."

To foster such contacts, the Jinx Project publishes a magazine dedicated to urban exploration.

"We don't cover adventure in the sense the word is used in the media," says a Jinx co-founder who identifies himself as "Laughing Boy" Deyo. "We don't have much interest in bungee jumping or the other Mountain Dew variety of extreme sports."

Adventurers Both Active and Armchair

The explorers of an earlier era returned from mountaintops or jungles to describe their exploits before groups like the Royal Geographical Society, the science-minded set that supported Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay's conquest of Mt. Everest.

Today's urban explorers imitate them, and not just in jest. Every month the Jinx Athenaeum Society's meetings at Manhattan's Gershwin Hotel provide a forum for active and armchair urban explorers. The gatherings feature lectures, performances and debates on such subjects as urban exploration's portrayal in the media.

"We want to foster any impulse for adventure," says Jinx member "Lefty" Leibowitz. "We want to open people up to the idea that an adventurous life can be led anywhere, even in the city."

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