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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

High Urban Adventure

Moses Gates explores the world’s hidden cities

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Moses Gates has been around the world. To be more exact: around, above and below. But that doesn't make him a high-flying airline pilot or a down-and-dirty West Virginia coal miner. The title bestowed upon him and his ilk is that of "Urban Explorer." What is that you ask? It's the person who doesn't stop dead in their tracks at the first "no trespassing" sign—nor the next one for that matter. It's the one who chases the adrenaline rush of setting one foot over the line. These are not acts of overt malevolence, but of high adventure and definite intrigue—illicit as they are usually, if not always, are.

Gates gets these off-the-grid thrills across the geographic board, seeing cities as few others do, whether he’s in London, Rome, Moscow or Rio De Janeiro. His vantage point is from the death-defying heights of urban bridges; the dark, dank depths of seemingly endless tunnels; and even massive, treacherous sewer systems. Yuck. These subterranean jaunts of course include a hearty exploration of Paris' infamous catacombs, a 200-mile labyrinth infested with skulls and bones. With all the time and effort put into these expeditions, this is more than just an off-hours hobby, it's a spiritual journey of equal parts mind, body and plain ol' guts.

Hidden Cities: Travels to the Secret Corners of the World's Great Metropolises (Tarcher/Penguin) jump starts with an impending arrest on top of a venerated religious institution—Notre Dame. Yet ultimately, from this encounter, we discover that different cities have different levels of tolerance: in New York City you do your damndest to stay out of jail, while in Paris, the authorities are pretty liberal about treks off the beaten path—Gates and his partners experience a pretty loose investigation while visiting the latter, and the authorities even let them keep the photos they take while invading the holy shrine.

Gates' home is New York City, and good for him, as it's a veritable playground for his daring adventures. He explores its sprawling subway system (on foot) as well as the numerous historical bridges that make it a "climber's paradise," even participating in daring, amorous conquests on those dizzying peaks—a spectacular alternative to the "Mile-High Club." Ironically, he also puts in time as a tour bus guide there (as well as ultimately serving as an assistant professor and helping out on TV shows with—you guessed it—exploratory matters), showing people the flip side of sightseeing in a decidedly safe, pedestrian way.

Often times, he partners with his buddy, Steve, who, it's revealed, has a deeper reason to live life to the fullest. Clandestine pockets of likeminded explorers around the globe also join them at times. It's good to hook up with similar adventurers, surrounding yourself with knowledgeable, aware colleagues. And the fact isn't hidden that often times these adventures are fueled by the persuasive fires of booze.

There are of course numerous risks inherent to such bold exploits, whether it's run-ins with the authorities or serious injuries, but these are risks that Gates and his cohorts have chosen to engage. Yet, he knows when it's time to start giving up the ghost, and Gates leaves it to the younger set to prove that "All the world's a stage" and there's one hidden all around it as well.