American explorer Mikah Meyer said the once-secret aspect of his quest to visit more than 400 national park sites — the fact he’s a gay Christian — may make it possible for the Nebraska native to be the youngest person to complete the ambitious odyssey.
He nearly quit the road trip of a lifetime last November when a former boss at Washington National Cathedral suggested he share his singing talents and faith insights with congregations across the country. It’s a reciprocal arrangement that helps him raise money to keep going.
On most Sundays these days, Meyer can be found at a church talking about a pilgrimage that began in April 2016.
“In a country that says how divided we are, how different we all are, this gay man is having his world record made possible by Christians all around America,” he said. “Which the foreign news outlets never believe, because the idea, you know, is we’re conservative Christian hicks or that gays and Christians don’t align.”
Meyer, 31, said the sojourn of U.S. National Park Service sites had multiple purposes. It honors his late father, Larry, who was a pastor at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. Another objective is to serve as a role model in the lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender community, he said. And, finally, he’s working to support the National Park Foundation’s program “Find Your Park,” which encourages the next generation to learn about experiences available in national parks.
On Thursday, he said a tour of the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site was the 225th locale on a three-year schedule carrying him to all 417 parks, monuments and protected lands.
The first stop was the Washington Monument and the last would be the Lincoln Memorial, he said. He’s been to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, but has yet to visit Guam and American Somoa. He’s driven through New England, the East Coast, Gulf Coast, the West Coast and upper Midwest.
The idea is to be the youngest person to visit all existing sites and to be the first person to do so on a continuous trip.
Meyer said about 40 people had ventured to all U.S. national park sites scattered among the states and territories. The youngest on record was 39 years old, and that person accomplished the feat in the 1980s when there were approximately 100 fewer sites on the list.
After more than 37,000 miles and 950 hours driving in a white cargo van, Meyer said he’d learned where people could draw strength.
“It sounds cheesy and cliche, but your unique aspects are what make you strong,” Meyer said.
Initially, his instinct was to conceal his homosexuality because attempts to connect with potential sponsors revealed no openly LGBT executives in the U.S. outdoors industry.
“They act like we don’t exist and don’t like the outdoors,” he said. “I thought, ‘I need to hide this, because Joe Schmo won’t want to follow my parks journey if he finds out I’m gay.’”
He was encouraged to be open about his life by Jonathan Jarvis, who was director of the National Park Service until January.
The trek began April 29, 2016. It was the 11-year anniversary of the death of his Lutheran pastor father, who used to tell him “tomorrow’s not guaranteed.”
“He was a big fan of road trips. He always said if he hadn’t been a pastor he probably would have been a trucker. Ten days after his funeral, I took my first road trip in his car. Every year since then, in his car, I’ve done one road trip.”
Meyer’s most treasured park halfway through the epic expedition? Dinosaur National Monument in Dinosaur, Colo.