By Lidia Soto-Harmon
Chief Executive Officer,
Girl Scouts Nation’s Capital
“Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller
This summer, I thought it important to get outside my comfort zone and experience adventure like our Girl Scouts at camp. I’ve grown tired of hearing that Girl Scouts don’t have opportunities to experience high adventure, or do daring things. I wanted to debunk that gender stereotype once and for all. Because in Girl Scouts, we ask girls to try new things, conquer their fears and live to the fullest. I decided to lead by example, even if I was shaking in my sneakers, so that I could tell the real Girl Scout story!
My journey took me to two of our Girl Scout high adventure camps. I climbed 30 feet in the air to the highest point at our high adventure ropes course at Camp White Rock in West Virginia, and then took the plunge into a dark, muddy, cave near Camp May Flather in Virginia.
Yes, both activities required wearing a helmet and safety gear. I took a leap of faith, and was astonished by how much these outdoor adventures taught me. Here are the top ten things I learned doing high adventure activities at Girl Scout Camps this summer.
- Nothing is worth doing unless there is singing involved. I was blown away listening to girls sing Girl Scout songs as they descended into a dark, unfamiliar, cold cave. Yet singing helped ease my apprehension, as I slithered deeper into a murky hole in the earth. Even with my eyes wide open I could not see my hand in front of my face. After two hours exploring the cave, as we exited, the Girl Scouts all sang Taps and I felt a deep peacefulness come over me.
- When you are up in the air, just keep looking forward not down. When I climbed up 30 feet in the air and was shoulder to shoulder with the amazing tree canopy, I felt a pang of fear as I looked down. Could I make it across the tight rope? I kept reminding myself to keep moving and focus forward, repeating to myself. “Lidia, you’ll accomplish great things. When you look down and worry, you lose sight of the big picture.” Girl Scouts on the high ropes course were fearless. Going back and forth across challenge elements, I was reminded how practice makes things easier, and that when trying new things, even if at first we don’t succeed, the experience is worth it! I realized how I must continually focus on how to make experiences better for girls, by looking forward not down.
- Always ask for help, there are people around willing to lend a literal hand. The amazing spotters on the high ropes course would encourage each girl climber to try again or take a different approach on the course. Inside the cave, Girl Scouts would reach out and give a hand as we were spelunking deeper. They’d warn if there was an obstacle ahead, (like a big muddy patch). So many times when faced with challenges we believe we are all alone, but the truth is that a sisterhood that supports your growth is key to success. Luckily, we have each other to help make it across the zip line, or out of the cave.
- Visualize success. At one point during my high ropes experience, I thought, “I don’t know if I can make it to the next tree platform.” I stopped and envisioned myself succeeding. That helped tamp down my fear. The same with the cave experience, at one point we had been in the cave for over an hour and I started to feel a little anxious, but I visualized successfully getting out, and that kept me in a positive frame of mind. As I think of the many issues girls face, from cyber bullying, and unrealistic standards of beauty, visualizing positive conclusions can help us overcome those obstacles.
- Live in the moment. I was reminded in both of these experiences that we spend too much time with digital gadgets. I had to live in the moment as my safety and those around me depended on it. We are living in a society where screens are eating up all our free time. Going caving and doing the high ropes course taught me to stay present and to enjoy the experience. I was surrounded by Girl Scouts laughing, and I was in awe of their own ability to take on the challenge. I needed to do the same. Clearly when you are outdoors and connectivity is nonexistent, you have to live in the moment.
- Never stop breathing. As hard as it is sometimes to address our fears, if we remember to breathe we can remain calm and be open to life changing experiences. Stop and take a moment to listen to your own breathing. When I was up in the tree tops in nature, breathing the clean fresh air, I felt on top of the world. I was surrounded by birds, Girl Scouts and a sturdy harness to keep me safe.
- Use creativity to problem solve your way out of a tight spot. One of my favorite moves I learned caving was the “squeeze.” It is defined as a small opening that is passible with effort. I was lucky that I was with Girl Scouts who used their creativity to problem solve the best way to get through the “squeeze”. I felt the same when I was doing the high ropes course. At every juncture there are two challenges, and you choose which of the two best suits your ability. Each girl used her own creativity to attack the situation differently. It is clear that there is never just one way to solve a problem. Creativity can help stimulate new outcomes and new ways to solve problems, something Girl Scouts do so well.
- STEM is everywhere, embrace it. It was exciting to see how everything I experienced involved science, technology, engineering and math. I loved the science behind stalactites and stalagmites. The technology involved with the pulley and harness used on the high adventure ropes course. The engineering feat of building a course 30 feet in the air. Even in the most basic actions, we used math to count down as we entered a new chamber in the cave. There were 18 of us and the countdown ensured that we were all present. I was happily number 16.
- Beautiful means being courageous and strong. Like Claire Shipman writes in her book, “Confidence Code for Girls,” the paradox is that girls worry constantly about how they look and what people think, which consumes them with doubt. Every one of the girls who participated was beautiful. They all possessed courage, and mental and physical strength to succeed. Not one girl thought about her hair or how sweaty or dirty they were getting. Beauty shines from the inside out and these Girl Scouts proved it.
- High Adventure is in Girl Scouts’ DNA! Now when I hear folks telling me that Girl Scouts just do cookies and crafts, I can point to my own summer experience. I can encourage more of our troop leaders to embolden their girls to explore high adventure. It’s safe when done with all the precautions Girl Scouts requires. It is fun to be outdoors and not think about your Instagram posts. Truly, if we are giving girls a leadership experience, we must help them push boundaries and explore the outdoors and the world. That is how they will MAKE the world a better place for all of us.
I end with my favorite quote from our founder Juliette Gordon Low: “Scouting rises within you and inspires you to put forth your best.” Yes, I climbed above the tree tops, and went spelunking in a cave. I made it out stronger. I am a Girl Scout and I love high adventure!