By Tetona Dunlap (view original article)
Mikah Meyer’s road trip started out as way to remember his late father.
Along the way he’s discovered his journey connects with many others.
In 2016 — on the 11th anniversary of his father death from cancer — Meyers started his three-year journey to visit the more than 415 units of the U.S. National Park System in 2016. Upon his completion, he will become the youngest person to experience every unit and the only person to do it in one continuous trip.
“It’s not a vacation,” Meyer said. “I use the term ‘project’ because that’s what I’m doing.”
Cost of the road
The National Park Service experts estimated his trip would cost $500,000. Meyer figures he’ll spend just $150,000. When the experts made their estimate, he said, they thought he’d eat all his meals at restaurants and stay in hotels.
Instead he cooks and lives out of a van he bought for $41,000. He also installed solar panels on his van to make it more energy efficient. If you see a white windowless van going only 63 mph in an 80 mph zone, that’s just Meyer creeping along so the panels don’t fly off. Meyer, 31, started saving for his trip when he was in his 20s. While friends were drinking beers at the bar, he was opting for water. It took him four years to plan and raise funds for his trip.
Life on the road is fun but tough. Often there is little to no cellphone service or internet connection. That makes it difficult when you are trying to file taxes or make sure your insurance is paid. The van has no air conditioning and no heating.
“It’s the stuff you don’t see on Instagram,” Meyer said.
Meyer travels with his boyfriend, who goes home every few weeks. They started dating shortly before Meyer planned to leave for his journey.
“I said, ‘You can come along, if you can figure out a way to pay for yourself,” Meyer said.
A voice for others
On Monday morning, the two pulled up in their white van in the parking lot of Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument. It was No. 163 on Meyer’s stop and Minidoka National Historic Site was No. 164. They arrived in Hagerman by way of Golden Spike National Historic Site in Ogden, Utah. After visiting Hagerman they planned to drive to Minidoka National Historic Site and Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.
Idaho was their first stop in the Pacific Northwest region.
Meyer didn’t start out as an LGBT Christian advocate but it’s become an important part of his journey. At first, he didn’t tell anyone he was gay. But after meeting LGBT national park rangers and LGBT teenagers who follow his journey online — he felt he was in a position to be a voice for the LGBT community and help break stereotypes.
“It reminded me of when I was a gay kid growing up in Nebraska,” he said. “When I thought all gays people had AIDS, were drag queens or wore Speedos on floats because that’s what Fox News told me.”
To help fund his trip, he sings and speaks at churches. Many people donate to his cause once they hear his story. Only one church has declined to let him talk about LGBT issues.
He and his his boyfriend planned to head to Logan, Utah, to sing at a church after visiting Craters of the Moon. The rest of the month would include visiting Utah parks before heading south to the Grand Canyon National Park.
“My timing is determined by what’s efficient and when churches want me to sing,” he said. “The church was always a huge part of my life.”
His father was a Lutheran campus minister. He passed away from cancer at age 56 when Meyer was 19.
“I naively thought I’ll live until I’m 80,” he said. “That was the moment I learned it doesn’t work that way.”
Days after his father’s funeral in 2005, Meyer took his first road trip to honor his father’s love of traveling. Since then, he has taken one road trip a year. His 2011 through 2012 trip consisted of a 260 day, 16,400 mile “Dream Road Trip” around 46 North American states and provinces.
An honest opinion
Meyer stamped his National Parks Passport book inside the Hagerman Fossil Beds Visitor Center before watching videos about the Hagerman Valley and the internment camp at the Minidoka National Historic Site.
He ranks his visits 1 through 10 and plans to publish his final rankings at the end of his trip.
“I hope I can use this trip to give the public an honest review,” he said.
So far his favorite has been the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. It was because of the beautiful landscape in the middle of the prairie.
“It blew my mind,” he said. “It was unexpected.”
And while places like the Grand Canyon receive millions of visitors each year, Meyer likes that his journey can highlight lesser known sites that travelers may not plan a summer to visit — even though they should.
“It’s cool that I can go to them and give them this attention they don’t usually get,” Meyer said.