To start, can you tell us a bit about yourself (in general,what you do for a living, etc.)?
I work in the medical field in the OR. I would say I am your normal everyday person but I am not if you get to know me.
So how long have you been exploring for?
Realistically, I’ve been exploring since I could be by myself in kindergarten/first grade. I lived on a very large plant nursery then and it had multiple abandoned buildings and some large heavy equipment that had been damaged from a large fire. I can remember spending days by myself exploring these places when I was alone; I was “home schooled” by full time working parents. There used to be a large ditch by the end of the property and I got my parents to build a simple bridge over it. I would go into the woods and go play by a few burned out houses back there, maybe a 5 min walk from the ditch. There was also a burnt out tractor, van, and VW Beetle that I would sit in and drive.
After moving I didn’t do much of it again until middle school when I got to visit family in Texas, Colorado, and Alaska. I would go visit for the summer and disappear all day in abandoned places that were close by. Then there was another gap until late high school when I discovered local places like Public School #4 and a few others. I would go there and sometimes bring friends to just relax at night if there was not too many bugs.
I didn’t know what I did had a name until around 2008 when I found some friends into it as well. I also never thought of taking pictures ’til then, when I noticed some places had changed or worse, had been demolished. I don’t post most of my photos online because of some people stealing them and claiming credit before and also being contacted by the police before.
How do you feel about the urbex “scene” here in Florida?
I wish it was more “open” about sharing spots with fellow explorers; maybe some sort of vetting deal where you have to prove yourself first. This stems from meeting an Aussie from Cave Clan which they have a long and intense vetting process to join but once you are in, they have a database of EVERY local spot and even people posting about seeing a possible spot for others to investigate.
I know the ordeal about vandals, scrappers, trashers, and the wrong crowd getting in but not everyone is like that and most of these locals are already semi-trashed anyway but I don’t plan to add to it. Yes I have broken a window or two when I was younger but I don’t break stuff now. I also don’t post most pics or locals. I have artifacted from locations that had been getting torn down but 9 out of 10 times, I asked for it and or purchased it from the people demoing the place. Now I am trying to de-clutter my life so I don’t feel that is for me anymore anyway.
You recently went down into the infamous Aerojet silo. How was that like?
I loved Aerojet. There is nothing to describe all the emotions I had from doing that. It took 3 trips to plan the entire thing. There was quite a bit of time between lots of these trips but it never fully left my mind. There was also death of my trusty camera and my hard drive full of UE pix.
Let me step back a moment: I am friends with the UER admin DarkWolf and this was before either of us knew the other was into UE. One day UE came up and we started talking. I showed him my UER account and he showed me his. We exchanged pix and stories. I then heard about “The Florida Door” and found out the local. I was eager to go and not much later had planned to come down and see it as soon as I had money.
We went there and walked but that took the majority of the day to explore the buildings before you even hit the rocket building! I was so disappointed when I was walking back saying that I will return to this place and see the rocket. I made a few failed attempts at going back there due to various issues, one being my hard drive and camera dying.
I then met Anna and she wanted to do it as badly as me and she knows ropes and I know the location. We made a trip down there after getting cheap craigslist bikes. We got to explore the buildings and climb down on top of the rocket itself without any ropes or safety gear. I was shaking and nervous as anything. I could barely operate my camera and or move. We climbed along the rim of the top part of the rocket. I kept snapping pix and not really even looking while I did this. I mainly looked via the LCD on my camera. I AM VERY AFRAID OF HEIGHTS. We got ideas of how we would go down to the bottom and started planning before we even got back.
I looked at forum posts from the only others to go down and I talked to one as well as watching all the videos I could about Aerojet. We started getting gear from online for the eventual trip down. She told me that if she has to rescue me because I freak out or pass out she will be very angry because she is like 100lbs and I’m around 175lbs and way, way taller :P. Piece by piece, items arrived in the mail. Last bit to arrive was the rope itself, 11mm static rope, 360 feet of it! I was practicing ropes with Anna in my garage beforehand so I knew what to do and how to use everything, trying to learn as much as I could from her, 2000 work hours on ropes. I HATE heights and so I was going to make sure this was as safe as possible. I had an industrial harness and 2 ropes and ascenders and descenders and safety devices…. all the pro gear… not even the recreational gear because I was so paranoid. There was going to be 2 points of attachment for each of us as well as a safety point. I then arranged all the gear and saw this was too much to carry 10+ miles into the everglades! I built a wooden cart with swivel caster wheels and railing. I organized all the gear into a big storage container and fastened it down to the cart. I packed first aid kit, army rations/MRE, protein/meal bars, and LOTS of water. I was paranoid about someone coming in and cutting our ropes or basically being up to no good (as I was :P) I got a super long cable lock and used that to attach the cart to both bikes at the same time to make pulling it easier. This would also double as a way to chain up the only entry points.
After a 6 hour drive and almost zero sleep that night, we arrived in the early am to find that the place was crawling with people and the parking lot at the prison had been blocked off with fresh BIG rocks! We unpacked our stuff carefully from the car trying not to be noticed. Apparently a couple of geocachers saw and knew exactly what we had planned. After the front gate was quiet for a bit, we hooked up bikes/cart/cable. It worked great. The heavy cart fit under the gates and when we both did the same speed it was not much effort. The way it was hooked up, it would slide to one side or another if one of us was faster or slower to prevent issues. We had to take it slow because the vibrations higher speeds would have caused the cart to fall apart.
After a long ride, we round the corner to the rocket silo and there are people walking down the path. I zoom in with my lens to get a better look and we talk about what to say when we catch up. We agree to be super nice and friendly and hopefully they don’t call the cops. We stop by and they are the geocachers from earlier. Their bikes had apparently gotten flat tires and so they ditched them and walked. We played super nice and talked before passing them to the rocket. We get there and load everything through the fence and unpack. The geocachers get there and we freeze and pull out cameras to play nice. After a while I go out to talk to them because obviously, they aren’t leaving. We helped locate the geocache because it had fallen from place. There is a geocache by the rocket which I am the 3rd person to ever sign. We talked a bit and he gave me his path tag and told me how he bid on removing the metal/scrap machines from the property a while back and got a full tour beforehand. He said he knew what we had been planning to do and wanted to help and take a look. We needed the help!
They had welded the open holes since our last trip with fresh welds from 7018 electrodes which produce welds that offer a 70,000 pound-per-square-inch minimum tensile strength. These did not even have rust on them. We spent 4 hours trying different ways/locations for getting inside the rocket silo. Without this random dude’s, help I am not sure I could have done it. He and I stayed working at it without giving up. At one point Anna went to rigging up a detailed pulley system to try and lift a full panel up! Eventually we found the only possible way in.
It was already close to sunset by now and I was tired. He was sad that he had to start back by now due to the long walk. I chained up the entries as he left and then hid the bikes and travel gear not going down with us as Anna rigged up the ropes and rope protection. I double and triple and quadruple checked my gear, attachments and everything else. She reminded me of how pissed she would be if she had to rescue me. She went down first and I followed, my palms sweating as I went from the bright outside into the cool, humid dark hole. It took a moment for eyes to adjust because the sun was already at an angle in the sky but I was standing on top of the rocket again. I tugged on my ropes a few more times and then slowly put weight on them still not letting go of the floor beams above. After a bit and a very deep breath I told Anna my life is in her hands, since she rigged the ropes and I let go. I kind of dangled there above her and just tried to think of things other than plummeting to my death on the metal grating 150-180 feet below. She asked if I was ready to go down and if I remembered how to use my descender. I did remember it well and we started down.
I think she was enjoying the fact that I was scared but I didn’t really show it from the outside. On the outside, I was calm and composed minus the sweaty palms hidden beneath gloves. I could function like normal and I remembered how to do everything, but on the inside, I was freaking out. I tried to take some pictures as I go down but focusing in the darkness was not the easiest and I had to use a high ISO because of all the movement on from ropes. On the way down I see the NASA logo and it is so close, I couldn’t even photograph it. I take another deep breath and bounce off the rocket with my feet. I snap pix but they are blurry or the logo is not centered. I keep it up four,five, six maybe ten times before I am happy. I try not to think about anything but my photos. I get lower and try to do the same thing near the base but I can’t get the picture to focus right. We get to the bottom and after being on semi firm ground and walking around a bit to test the floor, the ropes come off.
I try to take in the sights, sounds and smells around me. We had the gas detection meter with us but the O2 reading was within safe limits the entire time. It smelled of abandoned buildings mixed with the outdoors; if you have ever smelled wet rusty metal and wet concrete that is the smell. Every sound echoed loudly as if it was right next to you and way louder than what it would seem. It was even hard to talk down there due to the echoes. It was quiet and cool yet we both had a layer of sweat coating every bit of exposed skin. We broke out our car headlight, super flash light and lit up the area. We went down a set of blue spiral steps until it dead ended into the water below. We looked at light bulbs, switches, fixtures, and circuit breakers from the 50s. It was stepping back in time down here. I bet many of these things would turn on if there was a generator seeing as nothing was computerized back then, just all wire and manual switches. There was also an elevator that looked like it could still work and I hit the button maybe for the last time ever and opened the elevator door by hand. Layers of blue and white paint flaked off of the surface of the door as it creaked open only to stick halfway. We looked at names and dates on plates on each thing down there.
Some of the valves and things still had pressure reading on them. On the bottom of the rocket was a solitary valve; I threatened to open it to see what would happen but Anna got upset. She went up the spiral staircase to take some photos and I took my chance. I set up a camera and then opened the valve on cam. It had tons of pressure inside! Air came rushing out of the rocket loudly. I quickly closed it and turned off the cam before coming out to check on Anna like a child who knew that he was in trouble. She didn’t yell or anything so I quickly disappeared and did it again to make sure the camera caught it all. I then did a couple long exposure shots with my lights on the stairs but with everything moving, the long exposures didn’t come out that good.
We could tell the sun was setting by then and we kind of rushed to get back up because of the lack of lights and the bugs that come out at night, not to mention the animals out there. I was dreading the climb up for a few reasons. I would be leaving this amazing place to maybe never return. I was not looking forward to the ride back to the car or home or possibly even cops topside. I had also heard of how hard it was for others to climb a short distance up and I was physically exhausted not only from 4 hours of working to get in but also the long bike ride and no sleep the night before and a 6 hour drive. We also had to climb the entire way up because of our distance from the stairs.
The climb up ended up being not that bad with only a couple breaks. It was a big relief to put my feet on solid ground as I kissed Anna. I covered up the way in and sealed everything up the way it was before I unhooked my ropes. She packed up the ropes and I took care of the gear. We got it all hooked up to the bikes just as the bugs were coming out and high tail it back. The trip back seemed so much longer and halfway down the road, we see what looks like flashing blue lights in the distance. One of us needed to go out first without cameras or gear to see if everything is okay. I stayed to pull all the gear and since it was her car, she went ahead. It was a few miles still ahead but she sped off and I stayed back slowly pulling everything. It wasn’t heavier but it sure felt that way as I kept telling myself to just pedal a few more times. She got to the car and it was just people driving over all the bumps with HID lights making it look like flashing blue cop lights. I was still another 20 mins behind her so we just met up at the car where I just plopped down.
Any final words or shout outs you’d like to say?
Thanks to everyone who posts inspiring photos and stories online.