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Journal: Tunnelling to York's Pool

A crawlspace in the tunnels south of Bethune.
York University Tunnels and Pool (late February 2003): Back in the days when Pablo and I were first charting the hazards of the northern and southern tunnels under York University, we learned to take the stories about the school's utility tunnels with a grain of salt. No, students didn't live down there. No, a guy named Burd hadn't died down there. No, the Sasquatch Tunnels were not actually inhabited by hairy hominids. It seemed reasonable to conclude that the legends about a set of tunnels leading to a viewing gallery under the school pool were equally ludicrous.
       Or were they? When Kowalski rejoiced that he and his exploring friend (who, confusingly, was also named Pablo) had recently spent most of an entire night touring the tunnels under York and searching for a variety of the school's famous sights, I had only one question for him: did they find the pool?
       Kowalski offered to show me his answer, so a day later I took the bus up to York to meet him. The entrance he and Pablo had used had been sealed off, but they'd had the foresight to prop another entrance open while they were down there. We headed to this backup entrance, and were soon deep inside the familiar maze of tunnels.

Main steam tunnel
We marched towards the throbbing heart of the university.
       The tunnels had acquired a little new graffiti, and were a little brighter than I remembered them, but otherwise they seemed to be doing fine. We made our way south and west, towards a rhythmic thrumming noise that Kowalski billed as "the throbbing heart of the university". As we got closer, the noise throbbed more and more intensely, until we finally came upon the heart itself: a damaged ventilation fan. Obviously, Kowalski is quickly picking up the York tradition of giving grandiose names to minor landmarks.
       Soon after this, we arrived at a door to a mechanical room and headed into the darkness beyond, closing the door behind us.

Pool gallery Pool porthole
Stairs led to a gallery of little portholes looking out into the deep end of the pool. (Yes, there were scantily clad female students in the pool, but we came to peep at places, not people.)
       The room was filled with the sound of sloshing water and completely unlit except for a pale blue glow coming in through some windows. And those windows had people on the other side of them. And those people were deep underwater. The main part of the room was several feet deeper than the deepest part of the pool's deep end; we had to climb up some stairs to peek through the windows and get a good view, and we did this very timidly. Although I'd been swimming in the Tait pool several times before, I'd never noticed the portholes before, so I had no idea if they were one-way or two-way glass.
       Letting the poor swimmers have their privacy, we examined the odd machines under the pool for a bit. We then decided to return to the safety of the tunnels, but I heard Kowalski mutter the dreaded word "oops" as he tried the door handle. Locked. I kicked myself for not learning anything from my experience that afternoon.
Bewildered cow
Finding a tunnel-connected mechanical room full of drama and art supplies left us as bewildered as this poor cow.
       Would we now have to bang on the glass and plead with the swimmers to let us out? I hoped not. That would be awkward for everyone.
       Fortunately, it didn't come to this. We exited by another door, emerging in a public basement of the gym. After trying a few other possible entrances to the tunnels and finding them all to be dead ends, we re-crossed the campus to return to our first entry point. As we headed back, Kowalski ran into a female friend of his. "Heading back to work?" she asked. "No, we just got locked out of the tunnels, so we're heading back to start again," he replied. I laughed. "She's been down there already," he explained.
       The next site we saw didn't actually have a name yet, so I'll dub it, oh I don't know, the Fantastic Psychedelic Realm of Artistic Wonder. This was an old mechanical room that had somehow come into the possession of some art department; the room was filled with paintings, props and costumes. Old clothes, police uniforms, and ballerina costumes hung from clothing racks. I suggested to Kowalski that if we heard someone coming we could quickly disguise ourselves as a policeman and a ballerina and then get away, but it didn't come to that.

Tiny tunnel Icon
This tiny door led to a small maze of ventilation tunnels; halfway through, we came across an intersection where the icon said no but the ladder said yes yes yes. The short, dusty tunnels above eventually ended at a 12-foot-drop.
Life on the line
We decided to let this guy live... for now.
       We headed south to explore some areas neither of us had visited before, pausing to scour and photograph every mechanical room we passed along the way. In unlit tunnels, we waded through disorganized piles of cable weaving across the floor. Kowalski remarked that someone must have added an extra 0 to the cable order.
       Some of the mechanical rooms were small and uninteresting, but others were enormous, multi-storey beasts filled with metre-diameter pipes and gigantic machinery, and oddities like an old Good Humor ice cream cart. Some mechanical rooms went several storeys up from the steam tunnels, while others went several storeys below the tunnels. One whole level of mechanical rooms seemed to be filled entirely with broken machinery that had never been replaced. And of course all the rooms were filled with the sort of bizarre signage we've come to expect — nay, demand — from the underbellies of large institutions.
Danger valve Air supply
Who would have thought to look for the 11th commandment in a humble mechanical room?
imalloutoflove- imsolostwithoutyou- iknowyouwererightbelievingforsolong- imalloutoflovewhatamiwithoutyou- icantbetoolatetosaythatiwassowrong
Under pressure
You think it's easy bein' a door?
       After heading as far south as the tunnels would go and poking about in the dull basements of the graduate student residences (where I was very insistent on propping the door open behind us, even though Kowalski assured me none of the doors would lock), we turned back to take the other branch and poke about in the very hot area under Atkinson College, which one must pass through in order to access another short branch of tunnels leading south. We took this as far south as we could go and then headed back out to the main steam tunnels, sighing with relief as we shut the door behind us. "You know a place is hot when it's a relief to come back to the steam tunnels," Kowalski said.
       After navigating tunnels, mechanical rooms and even some ongoing tunnel construction for several hours, we finally decided to call it a night, and headed out through the basement of the Fine Arts building, feeling that we'd come very close to seeing the whole system. Of course, there was that one ledge we couldn't quite get to...
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