The Tunnel: Lessons From A Dumb Teenage Me
Updated: Aug 1, 2022
There is an abandoned train trestle in the middle of the woods, near the small town in Pennsylvania where I grew up. The trestle is long and very high above the river which ran below it. Several people have died falling from this bridge made of steel and wood. After all these years, parts of the trestles were falling apart. Certainly, no one should have crossed it or gone out there for fun. And of course, as a teenager with not much to do in small-town Pennsylvania, we did. Often.
On either side of this train trestle are two tunnels. The tunnels were in worse shape than the trestles. Even back then, these tunnels were dilapidated and crumbling apart. Fallen rocks and boulders lay all around and throughout the giant ominous dark tunnel entrance. Certainly, no one should have ever gone in these dangerous tunnels. And of course, we did. Often.
I have no idea why my friends and I decided to explore one of the tunnels. I have no clue what possessed us to walk through this very long and dark, broken down, dangerous, mysterious corridor of death, but we did. On the other end of the tunnel, we found a secluded creek with a great swim hole. As a result, we would make this epic tunnel trek over and over.
These tunnels were built around 1928. The sun had not touched the walls of these tunnels, the cold steel train tracks, the railroad ties beneath, the stones all around and even the dense air in and around this area for many, many decades, giving it an eerie feeling. Even 50 feet away from the dark tunnel opening, you began to feel a shift in the air. The air becomes colder, stale and crisp.
As soon as you enter the tunnel, the temperature further drops. It gets dark… quick. As you look into the tunnel, you can just barely see the other end. Far away, through the encompassing darkness, you see a small dot of faint light from the other side. Now, any kid with half a brain would have used a flashlight, but not us. I assume that the first time we walked through this tunnel, it was a spontaneous choice and we were unprepared. But why didn’t we bring a source of light all of the other times that we returned?!? Well, clearly, for so many reasons, I guess I didn’t make the best choices all the time.
As you begin your walk into the back abyss ahead, the tunnel quickly becomes colder and darker. You keep walking. As the light from the entrance of the tunnel grows faint, you are progressively engulfed in blackness and the complete absence of light. You experience a new level of darkness. You literally don’t see the hand in front of your face. And you keep walking.
You can hear drips of water falling into puddles that lay on both sides of the tracks. And you keep walking.
Other than the small dot of light at the end of the tunnel that serves as a guide, you see nothing. In the darkness, you try to time your stride so your feet land on the perpendicular wooden railroad ties. Bricks and rocks that have fallen from the crumbling ceiling cause you to trip. Why didn’t we bring flashlights? All the while you are praying that the aging ceiling doesn’t come crashing down, burying you alive.
I have no idea how long that tunnel actually is, but it is long. Using Google Earth, I estimate the tunnel is about 3/4 of a mile. Once in there, you would walk and walk and walk. Despite how much you walk, it seemed like you aren’t going anywhere. The opposite end of the tunnel remains a distant flick of light far, far away. It seems like despite all the walking you do, you are going nowhere. The end of the tunnel isn’t getting any closer. So much walking and so much effort, and it seems you are barely moving. The destination seems so distant. The end is so far away and you are so eager to get there.
Everything about this journey is a little scary. Actually, it’s a lot scary. You think to yourself, “When will this end? Why am I doing this? Perhaps this was a mistake. Maybe I should turn around and go back. The end seems so far away. Maybe I never should have stated this. I feel like I am making absolutely no progress on getting there.”
And then… you turn around and look where you came from. The giant tunnel entrance that you walked through to begin this journey is now just a little tiny light dot, barely visible through all the darkness you just came through. You have yet to reach the end of the tunnel, but you sure have achieved some huge progress in getting there. And eventually, you will.
It’s so easy to know that you aren’t where you want to be. It is obvious to recognize that you have yet to reach your goal. It is easy to pay attention to that internal voice that tells you that you are not where you think you should be. Yes, it is all too easy to see that you are not quite there yet. At the same time, it is just as important to really recognize how far you have come.
*Fun side note: These tunnels really were scary. In fact, this tunnel inspired a good friend that I grew up with (and continues to be a good friend today) to produce and direct a horror movie featuring this tunnel and train trestle. My friend of about 45 years is Drew Gabreski and his movie “Be Afraid” is available online.
*These are actual images of the tunnel and train trestles where I grew up. Seriously though, look at that ominous tunnel...
I suppose that was part of the allure.