MOSCA — “The older I get the more I realize how lucky he was to have a job that he loved going to every day and he was so passionate about,” said Mikah Meyer about his late father Larry, a Lutheran pastor. “I think one of the only times I ever saw him cry in my life was when he had to resign from the ministry because he had cancer.”
Meyer, 31, was 19 years old when his father passed away. After his freshmen year at University of Memphis pursuing a vocal performance degree, Meyer wanted to go on a road trip like the ones his family would do from Nebraska to Florida. He had his route planned and permission to use his father’s car. However, Larry died 10 days before the trip’s start.
“It really turned into a healing road trip, a chance to escape a city that had been nothing but death and cancer for three years,” Meyer said.
Now, 12 years later he is roughly halfway through a trip of a lifetime.
Meyer wanted to do something different than the annual road trips of his 20s when he turned 30. He decided that he would take in all the beauties that America has to offer. Instead of seeing just the 59 parks like marathoner Bill Sycalik, Meyer wants to visit all 417 National Park Service sites. The two have yet to cross paths yet, but Meyer hopes they do soon.
If all goes to plan Meyer will be the first person to visit all sites in one continuous trip and the youngest. If one is added between now and his projected finish date then he’ll visit it, too.
The next youngest is Alan Hogenauer, who finished the tour in 1980 when he was 39 and there were roughly 100 fewer sites. The third youngest is Shigenori Hiraoka, who saw them all at age 45 in 2012.
After two years of planning, the start of Meyer’s trip was the 11th anniversary of his father’s passing on April 29, 2016. “I did it on that day because I wanted to repurpose a day that had just been really crappy for 11 years and try to turn it into something triumphant.”
Coincidentally, it turned out to be the National Park Service’s centennial and start of the Find Your Park movement. Meyer has become the epitome of the slogan, visiting forests in the Pacific Northwest, rafting the Grand Canyon and going to territories like Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“This is my country,” said Meyer. “This is part of America and it’s just what the movement is trying to share with people. We have this amazing diversity of places, including Caribbean beaches.”
Since that first trip Larry’s car has been replaced by a white, windowless cargo van equipped with solar panels to power a fridge, phone and laptop. Meyer sleeps in parking lots and uses places like public libraries for wifi and comforting air conditioning. Van life isn’t as glamorous as it appears on Instagram, but Meyer remains positive.
“It’s been a struggle, but at the same time it’s allowing me to see these National Park Service sites in a way that I would never see otherwise. What I lose in regular conveniences like running water, I make up for in creeks of water babbling down mountains.”
On Thursday Meyer crossed off site number 218 with Bent’s Old Fort in La Junta. Reconstructed in 1976, the fort acts as a gateway to the past.
“It looks like something straight out of the HBO show ‘Westworld.’ Compared to a lot of historic sites I’ve been to it’s got a lot of artifacts and props inside that make it come alive in a way the more barren sites don’t.”
On Friday morning, roughly 35,000 miles into his trip, Meyer arrived at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. He stayed there until about 5 p.m., climbing the dunes and exploring the preserve on the Mosca Pass Trail. Like all of his park trips Meyer went to the visitor’s center first to scope out the area. Then he began his trek and used photo opportunities as rest breaks as much as possible.
“I stopped with my tripod a bunch to take pictures because it’s way harder to hike in sand,” said Meyer. “Your legs aren’t used to it. It was way more tiring than I expected.
“Unlike White Sands National monument where the dunes are low and rolling, this was really vertical... The one commonality between both these sites is that I poured a lot of sand out of my shoes.”
Meyer was also amazed at the geological variety of the area. Instead of pure white gypsum he saw all of the “browns, purples, blues and greens.”
Though he enjoyed the dunes, Meyer still has Dinosaur National Monument at the top of his favorites list. “It’s completely overlooked. When I think of the site, it has a river, canyons, twisted rock formations, plateaus, rolling hills, snow capped mountains. It has almost everything you can ask for in any natural National Park Service site all wrapped into one. “
Meyer is now resting in Denver after a Saturday trip to Florissant Fossil Beds in Teller County. His last Colorado stop will be Rocky Mountain National Park. However, he is waiting until the fall foliage is at its peak.
When he is done with the trip Meyer isn’t entirely sure what he’ll do, but it may involve singing. With a music teacher for a mother, having a passion for vocal performance was like second nature. In between parks Meyer uses his talents to sing at churches.
Right now, though, Meyer is focused on being a role model for the LGBTQ community. As an openly gay Christian, he hopes to change people’s preconceived notions on what it means to be religious, gay and outdoorsy while inspiring people to experience the sites in their own backyard.
“I’m literally a classical music major and I’m devoting three years of my life driving around the country visiting parks,” said Meyer. “That doesn’t fit the stereotype.
“I love that I can break stereotypes and show that no matter who you are you can find your park at any of these park service sites. You don’t have to be just one thing like a champion trail runner to enjoy them.”
People can follow his journey on social media or donate to his trip at www.tbcmikah.com
Photos courtesy of Mikah Meyer.