Your outdoorsy friends might leave the city in search of adventure, seeking mountains and trails of faraway states to escape their daily grinds. But one option that won’t break your bank account is urban exploring, or “urbexing.”
Curious Chicagoans have been exploring abandoned buildings and other man-made structures for decades. Today, the community includes people of all ages and backgrounds who are loosely connected through social media (one especially active hub: the public Chicagoland Urban Exploring Facebook page).
I, for one, haven’t entirely lost my childhood desire to go places I don’t belong, and urban exploring certainly scratches that itch. A few months ago, curious about this scene, I reached out to some insiders and asked to document their escapades. Two weeks later, I followed Gabriel and his crew to a chemical plant, a private warehouse, and a coal factory; the next weekend, I tagged along with Max Power, Esmae, and Jose California’s crew to a warehouse and a gum factory. (Names and ages have been excluded to protect the privacies of subjects.)
Urbexers explore for different reasons. Many are pursuing photo opportunities. Max, Esmae and Jose, who each run their own urbex-focused social media pages, are always armed with a small studio setup of cameras and portable lighting equipment. Gabriel, on the other hand, is a longtime explorer who does it for the adrenaline rush. He stresses the importance of always coming prepared and carries a backpack stocked with equipment like extra light sources, a gas mask, and extra food.
No matter your reasons for exploring, you should be aware of Illinois trespassing laws. It is a criminal offense to trespass on property if you know it is privately owned, or, if its status was unclear, once you’ve received warning that you are trespassing. You can also receive additional charges for removing anything from or damaging the property.
If urban exploring sounds a little too extreme for you, you can still live vicariously through this photo series that takes you on a typical expedition.