Iseb: The Worm Maiden

This is a story that must be told. Perhaps it is still the influence of HER strength that makes me write now. Fuck knows when all this madness started. You like tunnels huh? If you are a true tunnel fan, maybe a true fanatic, then when you hear about boring machines (the mothers of all tunnels) then it makes you want to see them. Good. So that’s what happened to us. Like grimey servants we followed every new trace that could lead us to her, the aim of our two year quest was always to see the toughest of all the machines. A dormant juggernaut that lies underground. Her name? Iseb, the worm maiden. It is for her love that we’ve done everything.

Imagine a little city by the sea. One inhabited by friendly people who love to show off their piece of land. This city, as an old way to say it, is a kind of state city. A kind of autonomous state that is more similar to what other mediterranean cities were probably like the past. Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and Arabs have gone through this coastal city in peace during the past, making business and enjoying the warm life in a neutral area before continuing their travels. Everything is cool and awesome for those who come here. You don’t even need a real amount of money to enjoy yourself. This nice emplacement in front of the sea is surrounded by mountains full of people that like easy living and sun more than anything else in the world. But this passion spreads and soon tonnes of tourists come to experience the puryfing sun beams, and of course with their visits they bring money. Lots of money. People here are more than capable of doing unimaginable exploits to attract more visitors, even great mistakes. That’s the curse of this country. The curse of Iseb.

This quest has always been a group effort, like many others. Things come true when you follow all the signs night and day that may lead you to your final goal. Even those that have been here for just a few days, showing us the depth of a hole by throwing a rock down it have had their own part in this story. A group achivement consisting mainly of not being overcome by the continuous defeats but also a huge amount of research, from web maps to the local press. The team expedition ended, nobody expects that before, founding some kind of rodent organization called simply “The Foundation”. Their members are many, everyone has helped the Trackrunners Foundation; In our first fruitless search with Dsankt, Yaz, Jimmy and Dyego for one of the boring machines, we found her laying on the ground, discarded and dismantled. Even still, we found some nice tunnels that night. More expeditions were made with Dyego, Jimmy and Nasty Steve but the iron lady was hard to find. We used to think it would not be possible, reading in the local press ever day and week was a confusing and discouraging experience. We found a lot of conflicting information. Finally, a few months ago we started a mision that many others would probably think was imposible. Newspapers nowadays give all the facts if you know how to look and read between the lines. Finally we got the news we wanted to see, the countdown had begun.

ROPERATS: The Belly of The Beast:

Our first inspections of the zone revealed to us the first few obvious things: the site was easy to access, even pretty well placed away from the prying eye of snitching neighbors. There was a huge extraction hole that was sealed. After further visits, meetings and rock throwing we concluded that the bottom of the hole was dry. All the sounds that we heard coming out of the hole were water sounds, so it was good news to hear the rock hitting dry concrete below. We also realized that the only way to get in would be with ropes. For the most part we were pretty inexperienced in such rope activities, but to meet Iseb we knew that ropes were going to be needed.

The result of our first checks with a laser rangefinder were clear: the hole was 80 meters deep. We also knew now with a fair degree of certainty that our metal lady lies there. If we were to embark on this mission we couldn’t take any risk trusting doubtful information. Looking down the hole we spotted some ladders to the bottom, but the only way from where we were to them was to go down through the hole on a rope for 10 meters until reaching the station and ladders level. Needless to say, the only way out was also back up the same 10 meter rope. It sounded doable, so we practiced as much as we could until the day when we were finally ready to get in. Calamar knows more-or-less everything there is to know about ropes, Dyego has the strength to do it and Paco, our hood rat, is an expert at finding almost non-existent ways out and tricky dodgings. Me I’m kind a tunnel freak, I would do it whatever the cost.

All the rats were in their own homes each day thinking about the future adventure yet nobody could imagine the end, or what we’d find. To do it well we needed some extra equipment and with a little effort we acquired the materials that we needed. It wasn’t high end, high class stuff but basic equipment plus some extra tape to fix whatever got broken. In our free time we climbed bridges, trees and whatever else we could find to train for the possible 80 meter ascent. During the preperation some rats were too injured to help, other working all day and night, it was a hard process to have everything and everyone in the same place and ready to go, but this was a team effort, so we waited for the perfect time. The morning we arrived to the neighborhood that housed our faily obvious and ugly contruction site, nobody in the sunny city could even have imagined our idea. They probably couldn’t even imaging what lay beneath them. We arrived silently. We knew exactly where to go, but we knew less than we’d have liked about the process of getting to the bottom of the hole. Luckily, we manged to get in quite easily near the entrance hole with all the ropes, food, water and all the stuff.

Calamar was the first to get inside, hanging with two ropes suspended just in the middle of the huge hole with 80 meters of nothing below him. He managed to throw a pickaxe, hooking it onto an iron rail close to the edge of the hole and started to rull himself in to the level where the ladders began, the station entrance level. Awesome, nothing can stop the desire of a tunnel freak to see an abandoned boring machine. All the others came after him quickly, and as one more rat reached the ladder level the more people we had to help the next rope rat up by pulling. It took around three hours to do it, including setting up the safety ropes and stopping, suspended was probably more exhausting tan the action itself. Once we reached the top of the ladders we didn’t even stop the breathe and take in what we had just done. Instead we headed to the ladders and started to climb down 65 meters. We realised just how rusted the ladders had become. Nine years of falling water had sure done some damage here. Bits of rusted metal were falling off the ladders as we climbed, and then without even touching it, part of a railing on one of the levels fell off in front of me. I was scared to death, so I started to shout to the others that we must retreat back up now and quickly. We were psychologically exhausted at this point and so the climb down was cancelled since we didn’t have enough ropes to reach the bottom. The important thing was that we had made a start that day.

This was the last painful sight of the place that I took just before leaving without any success of meeting Iseb. Another day you beauty. We left, but not without some small success. We found a better way in thanks to Paco. He is good at that stuff, always lurking in narrow places. He finds holes where all the others don’t find anything. We must come back again with larger ropes and more food. Next time the quest could be longer than the expected.

GRIMEY SERVANTS: Descending Black Ropes

Second day in the game. We all knew we had to be ready for the worst of all possible scenarios. Lucky for us Calamar knew exactly what we would do if we had to ascend the 80 meters just by ropes. On the first day HER Servants were defeated. Ignorance is bliss, but not when you believe that ladders can be used and in the end they couldn’t be. Paco our dodgy rat couldn’t come. So our initial team was dismateled. Dyego managed to find a way to come, and Calamar was always deseperated to go back to the hole as soon as we all could. We all really needed to see the bottom, and now we were going to do it thanks to acquiring a proper rope, a black rope. Getting in was funny as always, throwing the heavy rope inside over the perimeter fence was funny too. Jimmy, always helping from the shadows, provided useful stuff. Some cams, lighter tripods.. Jimmy knows a lot of people, and that day we were given the chance to meet one of his overseas friends. Urban Fox. She was lucky to meet us on such an important date for the rodent comunity. She was warned also: 80 meteres down and maybe 80 meters up through not blessed black ropes. She had never had to face these distances before, but already knew what to do, like all of us.

Rappelling shot made by Urban Fox

Moment of glory. We reached the bottom and found the doors open. Rats are awesome, especially if they have a “stop” device for rapelling down 80 meters. It’s better if you watch the video – words are unnecessary.

Facing down the hole, shot made by Urban Fox

Once down and after eating some energetic shit we ventured in to the tunnel. The left side was lit and the right wasn’t but we knew very well by this point where the boring machine was, so we had to stand up to the dark and light our own path using torches. Ahead we knew we’d have to face a walk through a dark tunnel full of water, using rusted and unsafe walkways, going into the unknown without the slightest hesitation. We were being pulled in by HER strange suction force. Inertia.

Walking. Walking nonstop. All silent. Creaking walkways and beat bursts when crossing, but it was much worse to go down where those rusted and moldy tracks were full of water. Judging from the environment around us we could ensure that we were safe, safe of being spotted by workers or sensors and all that shit. This tunnel looked like it was dead. Only the incessant noise of water pumps, increasing from time to time disturbed us. When we had trodden a thousand meters through that grimey tunnel, something that seems at first the sound of a water pump started to increase dangerously. Fuck, fuck, fuck. It was a train!! A train?? What the fuck? Why was there a train here?? Fortunately, it resembled a turtle and not a train and so gave us time to hide in huge structures that had been placed on the roof of that section of the tunnel, accessed by ladders. With our headlamps off so that we would not be seen from the distance, we ran through the structures desperately shouting at each other to hurry the fuck up. Hitting our helmets and our backpacks on almost everything we found on the way and making horrible noises. Thankfully the train could not hear us. It was some sort of a heavy work train, it looked like a tank, I am sure it was the train that is used to carry the prefabricated parts to the TBM. I will never forget the image of that train disappearing into the darkness, gliding above the water. After spending an awful time imagining the possibility of being discovered we began to realize that the train was coming from the TBM! Why? Were they looking for us? As far as we know the tunnel ended not far from here, so why would a train come from there? We were a little concerned, the whole piece of tunnel that we had walked was totally unprotected and did not have any place to hide, we were fucking lucky to be in the right place at the right time. We stopped there for a while. It was lunchtime and we had to deliberate and figure out how we were going to go from now on.

Three rats eating bread by Urban Fox

After eating something and hiding in that dark place that we were lucky to find like the rats we are, we considered the time it was and decided to go ahead to the TBM, the train was likely going back from a routine inspection. So bringing all the pace we could, we started walking at full speed until what seemed like the end of the road. The ass of the tunnel. Not coincidentally, a poster presided near the fence that clearly said that this was “ANAL 7″ after someone had erased the first letter C.

The door was so large and loose that even with its padlock, we could get in. Lifting TBM’s skirts slightly through what looked like it must be her ass. Poor Iseb, abandoned with her ass in the air! More than a metal ass it looked like a boat of the depths, marked as a boat at least. She even had the image of a virgin, like miners do in tunnels. Nasty Steve was not there so nobody was going to hurt that virgin, for now.

With the joy of having finally found the TBM, we started to cross it, each at their own pace and separately. We quickly found a place to leave the extra weight we carried and launched what could have been called a base camp for the new and unexpected crew of the TBM. Walking through the sleeping beauty, trough her corridors amongst rust and spiderwebs, she looked much bigger than we could have imagined. She didn’t seem to have an end. Eventually we reached a point where we couldn’t go any further, it was full of pipes and unknown mechanisms but the end was intuited. The head of the TBM had to be there.

Yes, Iseb’s head had to be there but there was no way to reach it and that’s when we started to doubt where we were. We knew where the TBM had to stand but perhaps it was stopped before the location mentioned in the press, after all we know the press, above all, can not be trusted. In this case perhaps there were still some meters left to drill. Unable to see the head, we carried ourselves back through the TBM looking for pornographic photos to take. You can see them below, and they will delight any wanker. Poor Iseb, nude infront of us. It was getting late and the possibility that the train was coming back again was getting greater, so quietly we inspected all the surroundings to find a way to the head but only found more places filled with tubes and grease. One of them was a gate, a gate that could well lead to the head, but it was closed and had the typical earmarks of being a really securely closed door for some reason. We could all feel fresh air rushing through that door from the surface but since we did not know in what state the TBM actually was, we preferred not to force any doors that looked like it could have been withstanding high pressures.

Now we had to think about the journey home. Through the hot and humid tunnel with no places to hide and a train possibly returning to us on the tracks. The walk seemed much shorter than it had on the way there. We all knew where the walk ended and I think this fact made us go faster than we had on the way in. We didn’t even stop at the only metal structure where we could hide, where we previously ate. We had to return quickly.

Once in the entrance hole, Calamar and Dyego couldn’t resist walking some distance in the lit side of the tunnels, meanwhile Urban Fox and I hung around doing our stuff with cams and tripods, killing time before beginning the beast of an ascent. We were all a little tense about that. In fact, Calamar and Dyego were walking toward what we knew could be another hole with a more affordable way out, but the increase of light and knowing the train had gone in that direction, made them decide to return.

We met this morning at 10 o’clock and it was already past 6pm. We spent another two hours ascending the rope one by one, each person taking around 30 to 40 minutes each on their climb. It was exhausting. We had assembled another shorter rope to assist us in lifting all our bags and equipment to the surface but even with that assistance it was very tiring. Without strength for anything else we crawled to the exit. Maybe we had not seen Iseb’s front, but we had seen everything else behind it. It wasn’t our choice. That day we set a new record for ourselves: 12 hours underground. We named that day as the “Solar protection day”.

HEAD HUNTING: The Greazy Kiss of Iseb

We are mainly a bunch of technophobe rats, so it’s usually best that you don’t try to find us on social media or garbage like that. I usually spend more time than I want searching for stuff on the internet, but Calamar was totally freaked out by the idea of not reaching the head of the TBM so decided to find out everything he could through his online research. It took a whole month for us to try another descent, but that month was full of revelations. That pressure chamber with the rounded door, we now knew, lead to Iseb’s lips. Damn it. I knew we should have tried to open it on our last attempt. We would see. Now we knew with some certainty how many liters of water we should bring with us, how many meters of tunnel we had to walk and when would be the best time to do it. On sunday, no surprise trains should appear. On this occasion the initial group came back together for one last attempt to see the cutting face of the beast. Rappelling was done fast and with determination, the goal was just to reach down and start walking without looking at the rest of the TBM. Once inside we headed straight to that rounded door quickly without any distractions. We opened it and nothing happened. There wasn’t unpleasant deflagration or an explosion of any kind, we were alive. We quickly rigged up some climbing gear to keep the door open, for sure we didn’t want to stay trapped down there.

Among many other things, that month gave us enough time to study how a TBM works. Watching videos and reading all kinds of articles about the TBM EPBs we got to know what happens when a machine of this type reaches its destination. It is simple: the destination is a mineshaft which is the only point at which its head can be extracted. The rest can be removed from the rear of the tunnel but not the head, it must be removed from the front. Also, a TBM head is full of holes where engineers working in can move around. So if the TBM stood still it could only indicate that had already reached their destination and the way to cross the head was viable. Yeah, it was doable but it was a huge and rusty space full of grease and tricky floors for our shoes, with the emotion of the moment no one was looking for ropes or anything to secure us, just hold on tight. It was nearly time to kiss Iseb.

Here it is, Iseb’s head! It was much better than I had imagined. A twelve meter diameter of pure love just in front of us, was bestial. I couldn’t stop staring at HER. I could see the strain on her, the hard work she had done. The dirt in every part of the face. Pure beauty. All the space around her was filled by a foot of dirty water. A mixture of sand, dirt, water and oil. This mantle of fluids that covered everything was perfect, the vapors fogged my camera lens but the effect was delightfully dramatic. Go and use a filter to look like this. I can see the new Instagram filter now… TBM vapors effect! No way. This was real and the end of our search. I think that a sense of relief tortured all of our bodies. We are no drama rats so before Iseb would attempt to subjugate us with her gaze and definitely enchant us to die of love right there, we managed to find a way out.

Head hunting was over, and in front of us there wasn’t any way out. There were some traces of rats of the past trying to get out without success.  It was clear that we were not the first ones, nor will we likely be the last ones. But our love for Iseb will prevail forever.

A huge respect for all the workers who have been working hard inside this underground nightmare and shame for those who have left Iseb in this grievous state of decay. Sure, with all the tools that had been scattered about the place we could have thrown the door to the floor, as many “independent journalists” believe that is how we act. No bastards, no. We just repeated our steps through the humid tunnel.

Personally I did not ask what was going on through their heads and I can not speak for the other rats but I was saying to myself, full of satisfaction, that I should savor this last walk in the dark as much as I could. Who knew if we would go down again. That day our timing was going well. It wasn’t even noon and we were already back at the start. So once we were in the hole again, we already knew how hard it was going to be to climb 80 meters up, so we had preferred to try and find another way out ahead. It was an awesome walk through nice structures and beautiful tunnels, we even found a massive undreground lake filled up with crystal clear waters, but this is another story and should be told another time.

Well this is the end. Our new idea for a glorious way out proved a fiasco. A little disheartening, in honesty but deep down we knew we would not wage the rise. What we had reached was a new station. All bright and yet unsealed through which a lot of writers had been crossing going to the nearest yard. Due to this things had been tough around there to the point where you can no longer pass without the proper key. It’s full of sensors and cameras so we only stopped briefly to eat and get ready for the painful climb we had to deal with.

Tunnel Love.

ANNAL 7: Some sort of annex

I read this story a lot of times before publishing it. Waiting for everything to be perfect, or at least as good as I can make it. Not counting this stinking annex, the text above was divided in three chapters that were started to be written at the end of the day we reached the bottom and ended the day after we have been in the head of the rusty machine. That’s cos it sounds a little bit epic for my rat taste now, but I didn’t touch it so much since its beginning on paper. I need to add this final section to complete even more this story. Quite long and with a huge amount of photos, but despite its extra porn it all looks short to me. We had spent a lot of time, hours and hours looking nervously to each other, sharing food and spreading the efforts to do it safely in a proper way. Sounds legit to add more stuff then.

As you can see these kind of activities cannot be done without the adequate training, in fact yes you could do it without the right training. You could risk your life climbing down untrusted ladders, but if I was you I wouldn’t do it. To be fair I add these shots because we have spent more time looking down the hole or looking the hole up than wandering around the boring machine. So this tense waiting made me trigger happy. This is just a selection. It was really weird at times, from the top of the hole you can hear the sound of the sirens announcing that the doors of the train are going to be closed. Even the people in the hall of the active station talking to each other and choosing their own walkway. Only a welded iron door separate us from them, the climbing gear is really near to the unwarned citizens, maybe even near to a distracted guard some times, but nothing happened. We’re just tunnel lovers with one aim, to see the beast, and to do this we don’t need to attract any unwanted attention, except in the moment to get in and to get out.

Rappelling shot made by Urban Fox

As you can see this was not just a weekend of mischief, well in some parts it was I guess. So here I am adding stuff to the story and counting the days to descend again just one more time to say good bye and kiss Iseb for last time, maybe swim a little bit in an underground lake – who knows. While inside we can feel relatively secure, well you read not far from this paragraph about a train grinding the rails over the water, didn’t you? After that fright we chose more carefully and accurately the days to get in, even knowing ow about the vast absence of light we built a powerful torch just to look at Iseb properly. It was ridiculous, if you stare at that torch you would get seriously blinded, it only worked for a fews seconds cos it might be burned down by itself. Dangerous machine to carry up and down but worth the carry. Below you can see now the head well lit, thanks to Calamar and his inventions.

So, provided with this new torch we made one more descent in to Iseb’s garden, just to light her up properly, seriously I only took two shots that time. One of the main Trackrunners Foundation friends, Dsankt, went down with Calamar and me on this final trip. I remember so clearly the only word he said when he was in front of the pressure chamber: “Gangsta!” This last trip was worst in feelings than the other ones. It was raining outside all day, the entry point was covered in mud and more water than usual when its dry and we had less time that we would have wanted. To see the beauty we always had to walk many kilometers through the wet and massive tunnels and the same distance again to come back, mainly in silence. It felt too much that time. We hid our climbing gear in a fire extinguisher box quite near to the extraction hole where our 100 m rope was waiting for us, but when I was coming back I checked every red box I founded in the way – it’s not this one, it’s not this one… It made me really nervous. Finally at the hole, my harness put on and Dsankt’s scotch whisky shot just before the ascent gave me a smile on my face.

Inside the head on to the pressure chamber, shot by Dsankt

Well I leave you with this bad caption of the lake, which we found in the other side of the tunnels. The bright side of the tunnel was worth to see, full of things and rare scaffoldings everywhere, but the weirdest thing we found was this lake which was surrounded by darkness, its water shone under the light of our torches to give us away some kind of primogenial sight to end the day. Turns out that this massive and expensive construction only serves to pull groundwater up to clean the streets of this sunny coastal city, but this is not our business. Rest in peace Iseb. Your work will not be forgotten.

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