ROSCOE VILLAGE — There's more to the Midwest than fields of corn and soybeans.
Just a few hours' drive in any direction from Chicago, Aaron Wolf has discovered hidden lakes and dense forests, rivers to raft and rocks to climb.
In May, paddling the White River outside Indianapolis, a bald eagle flew so close to his boat, "I could hear the air being forced from its wings," he said.
Experiences like this convinced Wolf, 30, to chuck his career in advertising and launch Adventures Accessed, which the Roscoe Village resident promoted at the neighborhood's annual Retro on Roscoe fest in August.
With the business, Wolf has set himself up as an outdoor outfitter and guide for everything from day hikes to week-long backpacking trips — in the Midwest.
Set a course for adventure, within hours of Chicago. [Instagram/Adventures Accessed]
As much as it drives Wolf nuts to see people sitting indoors, it made him even crazier to be one of those people, spending his days in a cubicle, brainstorming ways to sell people stuff they probably didn't want or need.
"The work wasn't satisfying at all," he said. "I'd sit at my desk looking at Google maps — where's the nearest patch of green?"
Adventures Accessed is his gamble that others feel the same way.
Patty Wetli says many Chicagoans only see corn outside the city:
Wolf firmly believes that humans instinctively crave a connection with nature but don't know where to go to find it (raise your hand if you're familiar with Hoosier National Forest) or what they'll need when they get there.
That's where Wolf comes in.
He scouts locations in advance, obtains any required permits, gets clients to and from the site in a van he's dubbed the Blue Whale and provides all of the necessary gear (one of his biggest start-up expenses).
Before heading out on an adventure, Wolf will demonstrate things like how to set up a tent, how to use a water filter and how to hang food to keep it away from critters.
He'll even pack your bag for you.
"People screw up with the clothing and gadgets," Wolf said. "You don't need to change your clothes every day, you don't need three knives. A rule of thumb is, if something doesn't have three different uses, it's not worth bringing."
There are some key exceptions. Wolf said he always packs two ways to purify water and two ways to prepare food.
"The biggest essentials are shelter, water, food and heat," he said.
Wolf has set himself up as an outdoor outfitter and guide for everything from day hikes to week-long backpacking trips. In the Midwest. [Adventures Accessed]
Apart from equipment and transportation, for most people the biggest barrier to exploring the outdoors is mental, according to Wolf.
"It's a comfort zone thing," he said. "Most of it is about having a bed to sleep on or cleanliness or insects. You just have to take that leap that you're not going to give a ----."
Wolf is his own best argument that you don't have to be raised in the woods to become an outdoorsman.
The Buffalo Grove native wasn't exactly born into a family of granola-eating trailblazers.
"It wasn't part of our agenda," he said. "We were all about visiting the grandparents in Florida."
Mostly he was just a kid who liked to be outside, either riding his bike, playing baseball or sleeping in the family's hammock overnight.
"I never played video games," Wolf said. Instead he was drawn to "the air, the sky, the trees, the green things."
He enlisted in the Marines at age 18, in large part to gain the skills that would get him to and through college.
"I was such a turd in high school," Wolf confessed.
During deployments to Iraq and Japan, he encountered desert and rainforest landscapes for the first time and his appreciation for nature only grew.
"I feel at peace with the Earth," Wolf said.
Wolf founded Adventures Accessed to connect people with the wilderness around Chicago. [DNAinfo/Patty Wetli]
Since returning to civilian life, he's traveled from Yosemite in the West to the Great Smokey Mountains in the East and just got back from hiking in the redwoods along the Pacific coast.
With Adventures Accessed, Wolf can get his outdoor fix close to home, while hopefully making a living at it, but equally as important, while sharing his passion with others.
As much as he enjoys solitude, communing with nothing but nature has its limits.
"I get lonely after a few days," said Wolf. "It's good to have someone to talk to."
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