Aaron Wolf grew up in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, where he spent most of his childhood outdoors. After studying business at DePaul University, Wolf knew he did not want to spend his time in an office cubicle but would rather be outside exploring and showing people the beauties of nature. He owns a company called Adventures Accessed, where he takes people on hiking trips and shows Chicagoans a side of nature most have never seen. People can go for day hikes or stay in the outdoors overnight. In either case, Wolf guides the group every step of the way. He even packs backpacks for hikers using the same supplies as his own. All people have to do is pay a fee and supply their own toiletries and food—Wolf handles the camping supplies. The Chronicle spoke to Wolf about his business, favorite childhood memories and why students should go on trips with him.
THE CHRONICLE: What inspired the idea for Adventures Accessed?
AARON WOLF: I studied business at DePaul getting everything ready to have a career in advertising, but it just wasn’t fulfilling for me. I really love to spend time outdoors Being in the office wasn’t satisfying, and I wanted something more. I wanted to do something on my own on my terms. I felt like my back was in the corner. [I thought], “I’m going to sit here in the office for the next 30 years of my life,” and to me, those efforts feel all for naught. I really wanted to do something I cared about. I love the city and I love nature. There’s this stigma that there’s nothing to see in the Midwest, but if you push through the rows of corn, you’ll find these oases, national forests and state parks. It’s all within a five-hour drive, so I put together some resources, got a bunch of equipment [and] bought a large van. I’m just working on getting people out of the city.
What would you say to people who do not typically go outdoors?
You’ll learn who you are as a human being. There’s a connection that we have with nature [and] with being outdoors. There’s no question as to why people are in a better mood at the park on a sunny day—that’s where we belong. That’s where I feel that connection. I feel more human [outdoors] than I do living in the city. If everyone got the chance to spend time outdoors, they might realize this is a beautiful place and we should take care of it.
What sets you apart from other travel companies?
We seek to form meaningful connections [between] you and the outdoors. We’re going to go to the places you don’t know about and, at the same time, I’m going to provide you [with] everything you need to thrive in the outdoors. I don’t know any company that is providing full backpacking systems, which not only cover tent and sleeping bags, but water and first-aid kits. Everything I put in my personal pack I duplicate and put in yours. Even on our day trips, everything is taken care of. I also encourage customers to make their own adventures if they have their own idea. It hasn’t been done yet, [but] I want to do it.
What is your advice for college students who want to go on one of your trips?
Grab some friends and make an adventure out of it. I can guide the trip if you don’t know what you’re doing. I [like to work with] college students—the soon-to-be decision-makers are the people I want to work with the most. They should know they don’t have to do any work at all. I pack the backpacks, make arrangements and get the permits. Everything is paid up front, [so] all you have to do is show up and bring your food, friends and a change of socks. Be prepared to follow guidelines about the outdoors and embrace the experience. I’ll pitch tents, collect firewood—whatever it takes to get people comfortable outside—all I want people to know [is] they’re taken care of. The city will always be here when you get back, [but] the forest might not be. Get outdoors, Chicago—I offer student discounts.
Do you think understanding the environment is essential for this generation to make important decisions later on?
How are you going to understand the issues in the environment if you haven’t even been out there to see it yourself and see the impact? People just have to experience the outdoors—it’s crucial. They don’t even have to know about the issues, but if you understand the area, the environment, the ecosystem that you visit and have any connection [to it], you will be more likely to want to help out.
What is your favorite memory about nature?
There was one camping trip when I was 10 with my friend, his older brother and their father. We went on a hike and climbed this steep hill through the ferns and everything was just so green, lush and beautiful. I expected to see a road at the top and I expected to hear cars go by, but I just saw more hills and exposed rock and blossoms and I thought to myself, “Oh my God, this is amazing. I want to just keep going and keep walking and see what’s out there.” We eventually got lost and had to scream—all of us—for my friend’s dad to show up.