One day, we set out to find the source of the SR 520.
Like Richard Burton and David Livingstone before us, we had no idea what to expect. Unlike them, however, we had the internet.
The internet told us to park in a conveniently-located lot near 2512 Lake Washington Blvd E. This is where we would find the entrance to the abandoned overpass, otherwise known as a ghost ramp, that haunted us every time we crossed the bridge.
The internet also instructed us to plot a course from the parking lot to the east, on foot, into the wilderness known as the Washington Arboretum. We girded our loins, donned our hiking boots, avoided the woman with an excessive quantity of dogs, and set off on our way.
We found our target underneath a megalithic structure upon which actual live traffic continued to flow. A short climb onto the ramp, and we were at the beginning of our journey.
Our path was choked with garbage and debris, relics of ancient ceremonies known as “benders”. We then found ourselves obstructed by millennia of thick vegetation, grown out of control as the jungle gradually absorbed the ancient structures.
We brandished imaginary machetes and hacked our way through to sunlight. We looked back for a brief moment, then continued north.
An ancient road lay before us. Paved with mortar, weathered by years of rain and lichen growth, but still in excellent condition. And wide, many shoulders wide, enough for two or even three chariots to pass each other at high speeds. Clearly the work of skilled craftsmen, not cheap laborers, conscripts or (god forbid) a labor union.
At this point, we began to see ominous stone carvings warning us to proceed no further, etched in an archaic martial script by some forgotten king’s mandate.
The warnings were at times accompanied by more modern writing. These might have been left by earlier trespassers, attempting to communicate some obscure message to those who might come after them.
We ignored our misgivings, and continued our quest.
At length, we reached a metal gate. It seemed like a late addition to the monumental structure, perhaps added by desperate holdouts as a defensive measure while civilization collapsed around them. It might have served to defend precious water supplies, or perhaps to repel a hypothetical barbarian horde advancing along the 520.
Past the fence, we encountered further writings that helped shed further light on the last dramatic moments of the collapse. Clearly this was an important supply route during these times, perhaps the only open road from the farmlands to population centers towards the west.
In the distance we observed a gigantic structure that would no doubt prove to be of great historical importance. We speculated that it might serve as a site for gladiatorial games of some type, perhaps as part of some institution of higher learning devoted to the combat arts. One of our party suggested it might be the site of an obscure ball sport believed to have been practiced in those days, but we found that theory entirely implausible.
At length, we reached the very coordinates where the famous Gina I♥U markings had been observed by aircraft several years ago. While some scientists affirm that the original words were part of a longer and more complex message, we remained agnostic to its actual meaning and longed for an on-site inspection.
This being the very inspiration of our current expedition, we were disappointed to find that little to nothing was left of the original etchings. Clearly some agent beyond the usual erosive forces of wind and rain had contributed to scrubbing this primitive graffiti from the causeway. Perhaps it had been some local catastrophe, an earthquake or mudslide.
In the same area, we began to gather further clues about the fall of this ancient civilization. Seeing the monumental structures build alongside our causeway through what appeared to be highly sensitive wetlands, we could only speculate at the creativity of the Environmental Impact Statement that could have justified such indiscriminate environmental damage.
Clearly a civilization capable of this must have known no boundaries on its population growth and its thirst for natural resources. Once carrying capacity was exceeded, open warfare for precious resources must have rapidly developed between hostile tribes.
This hypothesis was immediately confirmed as we encountered a cache of primitive weaponry, perhaps abandoned to the elements after a major battle.
Another interesting find was a metal structure whose purpose wasn’t immediately obvious. While some in our party speculated that it might serve to facilitate the manufacture of simple textiles, others suspected a more bellicose purpose: perhaps even some ancient type of torture device.
We found two similar forms of this artifact. The second appeared more recent in construction, and also more flimsy – perhaps an indication that metal was becoming more difficult to obtain in later years, as local mines were exhausted and trade routes became more dangerous.
During our exploration, only once did we encounter any signs of native human life. Given our observations during the expedition this far, we had become concerned that a face-to-face confrontation might result in a hostile welcome. We were also concerned that initiating a first contact with heretofore un-contacted peoples might exceed the charter and scientific wherewithal of our expedition.
Fortunately, the natives paid little attention to us, being more preoccupied with the pursuit of what we deemed to be some intense hunting activity. Given that such a flimsy craft could not be used for large-scale trade, we speculated that the native survivors were likely organized into small autonomous tribal encampments, using the river for transportation in times of necessity. Surely such people would live hand-to-mouth, with little time for recreational activity or water sports.
As the abandoned causeway reached its end, we felt a mixture of relief and disappointment. We saw derelict architecture give way to well-maintained urban structures. We heard the trappings of civilization once again begin to drone around us. And we felt ourselves the target of some very strange looks from passing drivers.
A choice loomed before us.
We could either walk down into the populous city and again lose ourselves among the traffic, the crowds and the mercantilist bustle. We might even be able to make it to the Montlake bus stop.
Or we could turn around and walk back, through the silent echoes and stillborn dreams of aborted urban development, trespassing again upon the sleeping authority of the forgotten highway builders.
It did not take us long to agree that the latter seemed by far the better option.
The complete Flickr set.