Monday, 1 June 2009

Spirit of Adventure- Exclusive #2

Here is the second exclusive found on Scouting Magazine from the Spirit of Adventure book by ALvin Townley:


For the seventh season of “Survivor,” the hit CBS show’s producers selected Burton Roberts from 40,000 applicants to live on Panama’s Pearl Islands. There, 20 million viewers watched him improvise and persevere against 15 other competitors. Roberts would spend 36 days living like a castaway, trying to “outwit, outplay, and outlast” his fellow contestants for a $1 million prize. Here, Townley hikes and talks with Roberts about how Scouting forged his resilience and his desire to compete.

I hike fast. I always have, probably due to some combination of innumerable cross-country races and competitions with other Scouts as we hiked the Appalachian Trail on countless weekends. For a while, it had seemed I was as familiar with the trail up North Georgia’s Blood Mountain as my own street in Atlanta. I learned to appreciate the view from the front on those hikes, and consequently I’m not accustomed to looking at someone else’s boots pounding the trail ahead of me. One mile into a trail several hours north of the Navy SEAL base in Coronado, however, the heels of Burton Roberts’ Salomons were seared into my eyes.

Weeks of travel had siphoned away time for staying in shape, and I wanted to see if my muscles had atrophied beyond recovery. In that sense, Burton served as an excellent test. He had a long list of triathlons under his belt and still traveled the world for mountaineering expeditions, cycling tours, dives, and hiking treks. Clearly, he was still in shape. The proving ground for my fitness would be the Santa Monica Mountains near Los Angeles.

During our hike, I learned that Burton grew up on a Texas farm and then moved to St. Louis where he joined Troop 492. For him, Scouting provided a channel for his overabundant energy. The merit badges and system of ranks at Troop 492 became great motivators and expanded his horizons immensely.

“Our Scout troop pushed us to get out in nature which is so important these days because television, the Internet, and video games can engulf kids,” he said. “To me, getting outside is important because it gets you away from the monotony—or the craziness—of life. It gives you time to think, clear your head.”

Can you spot the real Scout? Castaways Burton Roberts, Darrah Johnson, Lillian Morris, Sandra Diaz-Twine, and Jon Dalton (from left) hold a tribal council meeting before Burton gets his game face on in "Survivor: Pearl Islands."

In addition to getting him outside, Burton observed that Scouting gave him a vast array of skills that became lifelong interests. He discovered Scouting’s adventure in its expansive curriculum and its insistence that Scouts master skills in so many varied arenas: “That was such an amazing experience that so many people miss because they don’t have someone pushing this tremendous variety on them—camping, whitewater expeditions, merit badges of every kind.”

Burton’s résumé still lists Eagle Scout because he believes the rank defines him at a deep level. “You don’t have to get Eagle,” he explained, “but it encourages you to have that desire to reach the high levels and go after things throughout life, not settle and compromise on what you want to do. ‘Eagle Scout’ says here is a person who is not afraid, very motivated, willing to go out and do whatever it takes to get something done, and willing to take on adventure and challenges and not stop until the goal is reached.”

Burton stopped to negotiate a creek bed, and took a moment to listen to the quiet of the canyon.

Occasional breezes and scattered birds provided the only sounds other than our boots and conversation. The pause made him think. “You know, those skills and the love of acquiring those skills led me straight to ‘Survivor.’

His 15 minutes of fame as a competitor on "Survivor" now history, Burton Roberts applies the same spirit to other exciting pursuits.

“You have to understand that it’s a cut-throat game where unfortunately there’s backstabbing and manipulating,” he explained after we’d discussed his success in navigating the selection process. “You’re dealing with strategic game-play 24 hours a day, wondering who is in your alliance, who is lying to you, who is going to vote you off. Is my alliance together? Is Alvin lying to me? If he is, what should I do? That’s what kept me up at night.

“But beyond all that,” he continued, “[‘Survivor’] was living in the most pure environment you could. You had the resources there, and you couldn’t get anything else, so if you didn’t catch food for a day, you didn’t eat. I’d go swim around in our lagoon every day, partly to be out there spear fishing to get food, but really I just loved it.”

On “Survivor,” Burton might as well have been returning to a Scout expedition. Fires? He could start them. Shelters? He could build them. Spear fishing? He improvised—successfully. “It was amazing,” he said, “to see people who had no idea how to make a fire or keep a fire going. Or little things like knowing you have to boil water before you drink it. In one challenge, we had to tie sticks together to reach a certain key. No one else could very effectively lash sticks together, especially under pressure. But I’d done that countless times in Scouts.

“I could have done away with the mosquitoes and backstabbing,” Burton said as we resumed our hike on the far side of the creek, “but being outdoors and living on your own was really special. And the older you get, the less opportunity you have for things like that, and the less people do.”

“Survivor” represented one challenge, but Burton joked that 15 minutes of fame is an accurate phrase. He enjoyed every second of the show, and then applied that same spirit to other pursuits. At every chance, this graduate of Southern Methodist University and Northwestern’s prestigious Kellogg School of Management kayaks, scuba dives, snowboards, sky dives, skis, hikes, and competes in triathlons. He’d recently completed his fourth Escape from Alcatraz triathlon in San Francisco Bay. He found a real challenge in the notoriously frigid water, and signed up for the Bay’s Shark Fest Swim, a 1.5-mile swim from Alcatraz Island to the mainland. He completed the event five times, once without a wetsuit. “Everyone told me it was probably the dumbest thing I’d done,” he said, “but I wanted to challenge myself and set a goal and did the best I could to prepare for the freezing water. Of course, I was cold for the rest of the day!”

His 15 minutes of fame as a competitor on "Survivor" now history, Burton Roberts applies the same spirit to other exciting pursuits.

Burton took adventure to a new level when he entered the legendary Eco-Challenge—an adventure race [that] covers more than 300 miles and has been televised on MTV, the Discovery Channel and as part of ESPN’s X Games. It would prove to be his most difficult test so far.

On the wild Pacific island of Fiji, Burton and several teammates competed with scores of others, racing through jungles from point to point and relying on their outdoor knowledge and survival instincts. (To learn the details and results of Burton’s amazing race, read Spirit of Adventure).

Burton led his rookie team across Fiji and learned to [again] value Scouting’s “Be Prepared” motto.

He explained that [being prepared] is not necessarily about having the right tools or equipment: “The more you’ve done, the more prepared you’ll be. It’s about pushing yourself and seeing where your breaking points are. Once you’ve gotten to that breaking point, you might want to back off, but you realize, ‘Okay, I’ve been there before.’ You know you can go beyond it.

“In racing, and in basically anything you do, experience makes the difference. Not experience in paddling or biking per se, but experience in attacking a challenge and overcoming it. That’s what I mean by ‘being prepared.’ ”

The Book is now available through and several other sites.

Yours in Scouting Service
Mark W
Assistant Scoutmaster
Troop 1616
Great Alaska COuncil
Eagle Scout OA Brotherhood Member
NSJ '05 WSJ '07 '11 Philmont AA '08

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