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A Pioneer Passes Away
An OHV pioneer and a dear friend, Steve “Zeke” Miller, passed away recently. Zeke Miller of Twin Falls, Idaho, originated many of the strategies taken for granted by OHV organizations today that help keep trails on the ground. A long-time leader in the Magic Valley Trail Machine Association and president of the Idaho Trail Machine Association, Zeke pioneered working with land managers.
In the early 1970’s he avidly courted close associations with local land managers. At that time, managers had little interest in recreation matters, but Zeke would persist until he got their attention. He would get them “out on the ground”, demonstrate the value of a well-mapped trail system, and communicate his enthusiasm for trail motorcycling. At least one land manager even became an enthusiast as a result.
He also pioneered “show-me rides”. Land managers would be invited to join club members on rides to showcase trail motorcycling. Committed to promoting trail motorcycling as a family activity, Zeke would advise, “Always bring the women and children along,” on the sho-me rides.
He pioneered working with members of congress. As ITMA president, he ran up phone bills with calls to Washington, DC to which some of the less enlightened board members objected. All this activity becomes more remarkable when considered in its historical perspective – it mostly occurred BEFORE Nixon and Carter’s Executive Orders that mandated regulation of OHV use.
When the BlueRibbon Coalition was founded, he became one of our first members. He continued as a member and generous contributor through the years.
Zeke laid a foundation that we build on today. Yet our legacies are only as good as that which we can pass on to future generations. Here’s what Brett Madron, current president of the Treasure Valley Trail Machine Association of Boise, Idaho, remembers about Steve “Zeke” Miller:
When I was a young man of just 12 years, I had an encounter that changed my life as a camper and a dirt biker. My parents were religious campers and trail riders and I had seized every opportunity to ride that I could find over the last six years. I had “motorcycle love” bad. I wore jerseys to school, my CB handle was “AYZ kid,” my bedroom walls were plastered with pictures of Roger Decoster and Bob Hannah. I ate, drank, read, slept and lived dirt bikes (some things never change). You see, I was the proud owner of a spit-polished 1978 YZ-80, and let me tell you, I thought I was hot stuff.
My family was a member of Magic Valley Trail Machine Association and we attended state rides and rode quite often. In the club, it was almost common knowledge that the hot bike for trail riding was the Suzuki PE 250. The only thing better than a PE 250 was a PE 250 that was a “Miller special.” Steve Miller worked at the local Suzuki shop and was legendary for tuning and adjusting. I know of at least 3 or 4 Miller Specials. They are easily identified by the Supertrapp exhaust and the rack on the back that was sized for a six-pack of...well, beverages.
You see, Steve Miller was a young man’s hero. At least he was this young man’s hero. At night around the campfires people talked about “Miller Rides.” You know the ones where you run out of gas, but luckily bum some from a miner, whittle a masterlink out of a willow, spend the night under a pine tree in a rain storm, and hit town just in time to shower and head to work on Monday morning. “Miller Rides” were a right of passage. No kids went on “Miller Rides,” very few ladies ever went and very few men went twice. I remember Miller riding his bike down the road smoking a cigar with a cast on his leg propped up on the engine case of his bike. He still looked fast.
Anyway, the event happened at a club campout at Paradise Valley. We had completed a Saturday Poker run and the parents were hanging out around the campfire like parents do. Of course, us kids were still riding because there was daylight and mom and dad were paying for the fuel. I remember looking over and seeing Miller standing near the campfire facing me. I just knew this was my chance...my opportunity to show him what a polished rider I was for young man of 12. I cracked open the throttle and the YZ screamed. The dust flew, and I leaned forward for that “just left the starting gate” look. I cruised past the campers, slammed on the rear brake and slid precisely into a parking spot. I was beaming. I had just impressed the whole camp with my riding abilities and the speed of my YZ. I turned to look at the campfire, and it happened.
The crowd parted and Miller walked out of the cloud of dust that was just blowing past after my entrance. My heart raced. I knew it! Miller was so impressed that he was going to heap praise on me. He would tell me that was an amazing feat of motorcycle skill. He was going to ask me to be the first kid to go on a “Miller Ride.” I just stared as he walked toward me. What he said to me has stayed with me for the last 23 years. He approached me and I just trembled. He paused for moment, looked at my bike and then at me. Here it comes, I thought. He spoke in a low and calm tone.
He said, “you are a pretty fast rider.” I knew it...he loved me. He turned and pointed his finger out to the hillsides, and said, “You see that area out there?” I nodded, not quite sure where he was going. He continued, “There must be 100,000 acres out there to ride on.” I nodded again. He looked me square in the eye and moved a little closer to me. His finger now pointed to the trailers and he said, “You see that area there?” I again nodded. “That area there is the camping area,” he said a little more sternly. “That 100,000 acres is for going fast and skidding your tires, this area here is for camping. I don’t want to see your bike above first gear when you enter camp.” With that he walked away. If it wasn’t me telling the story, I would probably tell you that I cried a little after I ran to the trailer. However, I still idle into camp in first gear to this day.
I did end up being one of the first kids to go on a “Miller Ride,” and he and I became good friends. I miss him.
Although Zeke Miller is gone from this earth to ride trails in the great beyond, his legacy is secure.