One of the things I enjoy doing when riding is what I call “Rural Exploration.” When taking rides through the more bucolic areas of my little state, Don and I stay on the lookout for abandoned houses and properties to explore. Much of my photography is of abandoned places; mills, houses, barns and the occasional mansion make up the majority of my work when I participate in art shows. But I never go inside any place alone, and if I hear of or see a place ripe for exploration, we make plans to check it out.
In a previous column I wrote about Getting Lost, and “Rural Exploration” is only slightly different in that you should always have a partner. Keep a well tuned bike and have good tires as some entrances to these forgotten places are pretty rough to get over. Carefully scope out the property before proceeding. Are there vehicles around that don’t look abandoned? Sometimes these places are just home to eccentrics who don’t believe in lawn mowers or weed whackers. If the property is fenced off, don’t try to climb the fence. Keep riding and eventually you will find another place to check out.
Now that you are on the property and it is apparent it has not been occupied, the next thing to do is find windows that haven’t been boarded up so you can look inside and assess the situation. Are there floors? If there is a porch or steps leading to the door, are they rotted or in decent shape? If the rot is obvious, step over it. Better yet, find a good sized branch and hit the steps and porch floor with it. Go one at a time so that should one of you fall through, the other can stand back and laugh. Once they stop laughing, they can help you or get help if needed. This has never happened to us; daring moves and a good stick has prevented any injury in all the places we have explored.
Even if there is no way to gain entrance, you can still take decent pictures of the interior of your newly discovered old home. Place the camera lens squarely on the glass of a window. Be sure the camera is set for low light situations and just shoot away. This is also a good way to see what’s inside if the window is above your head. The camera becomes your eyes and you can get some very interesting photos this way.
There is a rule that we photographers of the old and abandoned always follow and that is “Leave it as you found it.” Never ever take anything from the property except the pictures and the fun. If an item might make an interesting vignette by placing it on a shelf, that’s ok, but take nothing away, tempting as it might be. You are trespassing and you don’t want stealing to be added to the charge or the guilt trip you might experience the first time you venture out.
A couple of final notes if you plan on going out exploring. These old places contain mold, lead, asbestos and critters. If you gain entrance (and NO breaking in, friends. Open door policy only), make your stay brief or bring face masks with you. Check yourselves for ticks before getting back on the bikes. Try to go back out the way you went in so there are no surprise holes or divots.
Rural Exploration is exhilarating as well as a way of preserving the past. It is inevitable that the places you may visit will be gone one day soon. When I’m wandering around in the overgrown weeds and looking at the remnants of the lives that once called this place home, I can imagine children running around and almost smell the fresh linens hanging on the now rusted and broken clothes lines. I know that once families gathered for holiday meals and that fires warmed their bodies as they gathered around the grand fireplaces. Rural Exploration is addicting, to say the least.
By Louise Reeves