DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Oct 20 2014

PANIC!!!

by Hope L

tunn

Imagine you are venturing into a tunnel that’s been bored into the bedrock underneath the ocean and that continues straight out, hundreds of feet below the seafloor, for almost ten miles.  There is no light, besides the faint glow coming from the bulb on your helmet. There is no sound, besides the water dripping overhead or sloshing around your boots. Most important, there is no breathable air, besides what you brought in with you, a lifeline pumping through a hose and into your facemask. At the end of the tunnel, you don’t even have enough room to stand up straight, since it chokes down to just five feet in diameter before ending abruptly. It’s the world’s longest dead-end tunnel, so there’s no way out other than turning around and making the hazardous trek back to where you started.”–from the Prologue to Trapped Under the Sea by Neil Swidey

Once, about twenty years ago in Bisbee, Arizona, I had the opportunity to go on a small rail cart into a tunnel, which led to a mine located almost a mile inside a mountain.  Upon entering the tunnel, the tour guide warned that it was the last opportunity to get off the cart and back out for those who were squeamish about such things.  As the cart slowly entered the narrow shaft into the mountain, with barely enough room for our heads and shoulders, the adrenaline in my body surged and I started to panic.  I was moving deeper and deeper inside the mountain, with no quick way out!

I had never thought about it, frankly.  Not until that very dayTra.  And from then on, I realized that I was VERY uncomfortable in certain situations: airplanes thousands of feet in the air, caves miles under the ground, and yes, narrow tunnels carved into rock a mile into a mountain.  In the above-mentioned Bisbee mine shaft there were wooden beams standing vertically in places, literally holding the mountain over our heads.

So, as I read Trapped Under the Sea by Neil Swidey, a chronicle of the engineering complexities of a tunnel built underneath Boston Harbor and carrying waste from a state-of-the-art treatment plant ten miles out to sea, I felt lucky to not be there.  I mean, the professional divers and construction workers who completed this impossible endeavor were paid to do a job.  It’s not like they would receive a gold medal, a place in the Guinness World Book of Records, or even special recognition in a newspaper or technical journal–like the engineers who devised the thing on paper, in the safety of their well-lit office, with ample oxygen, and above ground.

The premise of the task at hand was ludicrous. In order to retrieve the huge plugs that fitted over the many side outlets to sea, a team of professional divers would drive a Humvee loaded with equipment and towing a Humvee facing the opposite direction (to come back out of the tunnel). They would drive almost ten miles in the tunnel constructed under the sea floor–and they would walk once the space became too narrow for the vehicle(s).

The impossible task was eventually accomplished, but not without the ultimate sacrifice paid by workers.

I shall try to remember this when my life gets tedious, annoying and/or boring, for I choose to experience any dangerous adventures vicariously through books, thank you very much. (See the book trailer here.)

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