Tuesday, 05 February 2013 00:00

Take a trip to the North Pole – Seriously

The Wilmette Life, A Chicago Sun-Times Publication

Chicago Sun Times

By Jackie Pilossoph

WILMETTE — Just off the beaten path in downtown Wilmette sits a yellow house marked by a totem pole and two signs that read "Polar Explorers" and "The Northwest Passage."


It´s local business that's been in Wilmette for 30 years, but their clients come from all over the world.

Polar Explorers and The Northwest Passage, businesses that were started by Rick Sweitzer, who has lived in Wilmette all his life, are dedicated to adventure and adventure trips, to places like Africa, Europe, and the North Pole, South Pole and Greenland.

"Our trips are life enhancing," said Sweitzer, "They take people out of their comfort zone and put them in unknown spots where they don't have control, and people come out of it fulfilled, enhanced, feeling good and wanting more."

Sweitzer said he got into the business because he has always done a lot of adventure traveling, winter bound ski trips, and paddle sport activities, and he started organizing trips for his friends, and realized how much he enjoyed it.

Annie Aggens is the Director of Polar Expeditions for Polar Explorers, and a guide for the polar expedition trips.

"For someone with a spirit of adventure, there's nothing more attractive and appealing than the thought of exploring the ends of the earth," she said, "It takes a lot of work and energy to be there, but it allows you to experience the world the way early explorers did."

Aggens is on a polar training trip in Minnesota with a team of people from all over the world who are going to the North Pole in April. She said she will be teaching them how to dog sled, ski, and survive and thrive in the extreme cold for 15 days. It's a trip that Burt Meyer of Downers Grove took several years ago, and one he said was like nothing he's ever experienced.

"It was a lot of work and it was not comfortable, but it was absolutely beautiful,"

said Meyer, a retired toy inventor who took the trip to the North Pole at 69, and spent 15 days outside in temperatures that were 15 degrees below zero. "It was challenging and I felt a tremendous amount of pride for being able to do it."

Meyer said he struggled a lot during the trip, and that there were a lot of emotional moments, but that Sweitzer and his team were amazing.

"Rick is such a resourceful person," Meyer said, "The people at Polar Explorers really know what they are doing. They do a lot of research and they know the people in the areas where they specialize. There are no amateurs that work for Rick."

In 15 years, Polar Explorers has taken groups on 40 polar expeditions. The trips start at $22,000 and can be more than $100,000. Sweitzer said his clients are adventurous, risk takers who want to experience life to its fullest, and who appreciate the environment and being in a natural setting.

"They usually have a lot of demands on their life and going to a place out of their comfort zone, and having a big challenge and succeeding is a big thrill and a big rejuvenation for them," he said.

Sweitzer's other business, The Northwest Passage offers trips to Africa and different parts of Europe, particularly the Island of Crete, where Sweitzer describes the travel as "experiential."

"We're travelers, not tourists," he said, "When we're on a trip we're immersed in local culture. We stay in family-owned inns and go to the small, off-the-beaten-path places so that people can experience the real culture rather than being a tourist."

The Northwest Passage also plans local day trips and adventure activities in Chicago and on Gilson Beach, including sea kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, rock climbing, hiking and yoga retreats.

"We try to keep adventure in everything," said Sweitzer. "I fashion these things so that people are challenged."



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