Notes From Underground

Greg Brick explores the sewers and caves that lie beneath the Twin Cities. Sometimes what he finds is beautiful. Sometimes it's just gross.

To our left is Chute's Tunnel, which was originally excavated to provide a water supply for the mill. When the workers unexpectedly struck the cave, the tunnel became useless. From 1875 to 1880, an enterprising businessman gave ten-cent tours of Chute's Tunnel in a torchlit flatboat. It was, Brick notes, the state's first commercial cave. Brick, Tortorello, and I try to walk up Chute's Tunnel but quickly became bogged down in a deep, bright-red, gluelike sediment. On a previous trip, Brick made it deep into the passage before sinking waist deep in the muck and losing his shoes. "I had to walk out in my stocking feet," he says, with a hint of pride.

We spend an hour or so in the cave. Nelson takes pictures. Tortorello asks questions. I wander back into a dry and distant recess to lie down on a rock. I turn off my flashlight and the space becomes a sensory-deprivation tank. The whole world disappears.

A day after the Chute's Cave adventure, Brick and I meet at a Perkins. Recently laid off from his job as an environmental geologist, Brick is at loose ends, contemplating a change in career. The field, he explains, is too cyclical, and there are too many folks out there with master's degrees. "It just has the most insidious combination of characteristics," he sighs. "The work is extremely hard to get. It takes six months of looking. And once you get it, the work is boring and doesn't pay more than $30,000 a year. I'd just like to get away from the grind, maybe teach physical sciences at a community college."

Tony Nelson

He is thinking about writing a straight-up guidebook to the caves of Iowa for a small regional press. He has also been contemplating his relationship with his fellow explorers. He respects the traditionalists in the MSS and is willing to share information with them freely, although most of them have little interest in exploring underneath the cities. But he worries about guys like Max Action messing up access to his favorite spots. It's not that he has anything against Max per se. He may be the nicest guy in the world, Brick says. And, who knows, maybe he could help with research. After all, it's a struggle to find anyone willing to do sanitary work. "It's just that same old thing," he says with a smile. "They're all weird but me."

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