This Scouter’s thirst for adventure keeps him moving forward.
STEVE MILLER WAS AN ACTIVE Cub Scout, but he lost the opportunity to become a Boy Scout when his family moved to a town without a troop. That might explain why, as soon as his oldest son, Brian, joined Cub Scouting in 1996, the avid outdoorsman began making up for lost time. He has served in several positions in Cub Scouting, Boy Scouting, and Venturing and now works with a Boy Scout troop and two Venturing crews in the Phoenix area.
Miller’s specialty is high adventure. He and his Scouts have bagged “fourteeners” (14,000-foot peaks) in Colorado, backpacked at Philmont, and canoed part of Lewis and Clark’s route through Montana. Along the way, he has seen countless Scouts overcome challenges. In 2009, he overcame a challenge of his own: completing a Philmont trek less than a year after beating Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This summer, he plans to lead a crew of youth cancer survivors from across the country on a Philmont trek (see cancersurvivortrek.org).
What's the value of an active high-adventure program?
Besides getting youths away from their normal routines, high-adventure activities provide a unique opportunity for them to stretch their comfort zones—to take a step beyond and discover more about their capabilities. Building confidence in a high-adventure environment extends to higher confidence in other areas of life.
Give an example of how you’ve encouraged kids to stretch.
In preparation for Philmont, we went to northern Arizona for some training hikes. When the crew wanted to turn back before reaching the top on one climb, I told them, “It’s only another half-mile,” or “Let’s see how far we get in 20 more minutes.” I ended up doing that a couple of times, and they came up with the phrase “a Miller mile.”
Do you find that kids look for variety and increasing levels of challenge in high adventure?
Yes, most like to try different things rather than the same routine all the time. As they get older, they want more of a challenge. But it has to be matched to their reach. Too big a step will turn them off to high adventure. Smaller steps will help them advance farther.
High adventure can seem exclusionary to younger Scouts. How do you avoid leaving them out?
We try to have elements that interest all ages. On a recent Grand Canyon trip, we ended up splitting into three different groups. We had a group that backpacked into the canyon overnight, we had a day hike down into the canyon, and we had another hike along the south rim. That got everybody out there and provided appropriate challenges for everyone.
How can unit leaders get started without high-adventure experience?
One of the lessons I learned in Powder Horn training was how to find experts in the activity you’re interested in. From your local area to the area of the activity, there are always adults willing to share their expertise with youth. It may take a few phone calls, but someone knows someone who knows the expert, and usually that person isn’t new to Scouting.
Any suggestions for controlling the high costs of high adventure?
With every money-earning project in our troop, participating Scouts get 50 percent of what the troop raises placed in their personal Scouting accounts. They can use that for buying equipment or paying for Scouting-related activities. And you have to realize that you don’t need the latest, fanciest gear. Entry-level gear will work just as well.
How do you prepare for different climates and terrains?
This can take the form of preparation meetings, where you show which gear is needed and how to use it. Or try a gear shakedown, where you make sure all the necessary gear has been packed.
How do you handle Scouts or adult leaders who aren’t in good enough shape?
Sometimes you have to make a tough call on who should opt out because of their fitness level and the challenge of the activity. For some, it may be a wake-up call for a lifestyle change. But it needs to be handled delicately and with respect.
Why did you decide to take a group of young cancer survivors to Philmont?
Being faced with a life-threatening disease makes you rethink your priorities and appreciate the important things in life. It’s my vision to provide the opportunity for young cancer survivors to answer these questions for themselves, if they have not done so already. Many cancer survivor services provide hope and discussion groups for ways to cope, but none that I have found are in an outdoor environment.