In 2016, a 30-year-old Mikah Meyer embarked on the trip of a lifetime—one that many of us would only dream of taking. He packed all his things into a van and set out for a three-year journey to visit all of the United States National Park Service Units in a single trip—that’s 417 total!
His motivation? To honor his late father’s memory and live life to his fullest. At the time of his father’s passing, Meyer was 19 and never officially got to ‘come out’ to his father who was a pastor. It wasn’t until the Nebraska native was 22 that he officially ‘came out’ and began his own internal journey of accepting being a gay man as well as a faithful Christian. He went on to form a group called “Queer for Christ” in hopes of sharing with other like-minded individuals that it was ‘okay’ to be queer and religious.
On the 11th anniversary of his father’s death in 2016, Meyer, believing that he would not receive support or funding for his trip to all of the National Park Units, made a choice to not be ‘out’ as he ventured on his way. Not knowing what the road ahead of him would look like, Meyer set out in search of clarity and closure with the mantra “Chase your dreams before it’s too late.” But nine months into his journey, Meyer received a message from a young, closeted boy who inspired him to continue the rest of his trip openly, honestly, and proudly. His travels have gained a lot of attention on Instagram because of the snapshots of the picturesque landscapes he’s visited.
When his journey is complete, Meyer will have the World Record for the youngest individual to visit all the U.S. National Park Service Units as well be the first person to visit them all in a single trip. Oh, and on top of that, he’s a trained vocalist who tours churches around the U.S. singing and sharing his inspiring story.
I got to know Meyer in more detail as he shared his story with Instinct. He's shattering stereotypes by proving to the world that there is no such thing as a gay man who doesn't like the outdoors. In fact, right now as you read this, he’s hiking Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, and I hope he gets to read it too--the first chance at WiFi he gets:
How/why did this journey to visit all the National Parks begin?
I lost my dad to cancer when I was 19. He was just 58 and was a big road trip fan. Since he was in hospice and died during my freshman year of college, I never got those long father-child road trips to college my 3 older sisters said were so formative.
So a few days after his funeral I took a road trip to heal. Have done one every year since his passing, and wanted to do something “epic” at age 30 to share this lesson that tomorrow’s not guaranteed; that everyone should pursue their dreams ASAP because we might pass away sooner than we hope.
Where did you start and where do you plan to finish?
I began this journey at the Washington National Monument on April 29, 2016, and will end on April 29, 2019 just a few hundred yards from where I started: walking from the Washington Monument to finish atop the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
How many National Parks have you visited to date and when do you expect to be done?
I’m 368 parks done as of today, will have 30 left by the start of 2019, then will end with site 417 on April 29, 2019 (the 14th anniversary of my father’s passing).
How have you been getting around from place to place? Sleeping? Eating?
I’m living in a self-converted cargo van called “Vanny McVanface.” Doing the #VanLife by sleeping in hotel parking lots, on side streets, and anywhere I can stealthily park for free overnight. I drilled five 100-watt solar panels into Vanny’s roof so I’d have enough power to charge an efficiency fridge, and I eat out of there or fast-casual restaurants where I can plop down with my laptop and get a few hours of internet access.
Are you traveling alone?
I am. It’s definitely the hardest part of this trip. As an 11 on an extrovert scale of 1 – 10, I thought meeting new people constantly on the road would help me survive. But the large amount of time required alone in libraries or behind my computer to pull this off, and the lack of time with friends I’m not just meeting or catching up with, has become way harder than I ever expected.
What’s the longest stretch of driving you’ve done on journey?
As part of 65,000 road miles thus far, I drove the Cassiar Highway from Seattle to Anchorage and the AlCan from Fairbanks to Fargo. Both took over 60 hours of driving time and 7+ days, and gave me mad respect for America’s truckers! They also allowed me to finish some dystopian future, teen-lit trilogies I’d been looking forward to checking-off my Audible playlist—suspenseful stories helping keep me alert for moose on the road!
What have you learned thus far on during your travels?
Gosh, where to start. The biggest thing has probably been that for this wanderlust--for someone who always thought the answers were “out there!”, I’ve discovered how much it means to me to have a community I’m actively part of. I’m looking forward to finishing this trip so I can cultivate the grass under my feet, rather than assume it’s greener somewhere else.
Don’t get me wrong! I still love traveling. I’ve just learned the value of having a place to land beyond where the plane’s wheels touch down.
What have been some of the biggest obstacles for you?
Funding. Funding. Funding. I started this project having only saved up 1/5 the money experts said it would take. I had a Pollyanna belief that companies would all want to sponsor this journey--to donate a RV, insurance, and other expenses--and that turned out to be the furthest thing from the truth. The people on YouTube who get sponsored receive that financial support because they have huge followings. I’ve learned it doesn’t so much matter the substance of what you’re doing (when it comes to funding projects this way) as it matters how many eyes are watching. Cue Logan Paul…
What have been some of your favorite locations?
The hidden gems. The places you don’t see plastered all over travel magazines or “Best Of” lists. Many of my favorite sites were ones I’d never heard of until I embarked on this journey to check off every single site the National Park Service manages. Sites like Dinosaur National Monument, Buck Island Reef National Monument, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore show you that sometimes the most beautiful things are the ones most people have overlooked.
“Hey Mom, this is the guy I was telling you about who lives in a van!” – Yeah, those words have not happened. I’m driving solo in Vanny’s cab.
Have you met anyone ‘special’ along the way who you might want to continue your travels with? Any friends?
I call myself an “Adventurer” because more than anything, I’m excited by the prospect of what could happen, who I could meet, what could become. So in my 20s, I chased a lot of magnetic connections made over a romantic weekend or a serendipitous meeting. After trying to date guys long-distance from as far as Memphis to Switzerland, my 30s find me more excited by the thought of meeting someone I can see on the reg and building something magnetic together.
I’ve definitely met people who provided that initial spark, whether of friendship or potential romantic relationship, and am open to them or a future someone being the person I share upcoming amazing places with; or at least making the long drives less teen-lit dependent ;)
Part of your mission in your travels is to tour churches around the nation and share your experiences as an out gay Christian, how has this process been?
It’s been amazing actually. I started singing at churches because I was running out of money and was going to have to quit this project, but took the advice of a friend that suggested I “sing for my supper” using my professional singing background to fund the journey. After struggling horribly at fundraising while getting messages from people who called me a “lazy millennial” and told me to “get a job,” I found there was a large segment of Christians really energized by someone willing to share their existence as an openly gay Christian and reflect their belief that God loves all people—especially LGBT people.
Quite simply, I would not be here today was it not for the financial support of the 100s of churches I’ve sung/spoken/preached for across the country. So whether they were super excited to have a guest presenter who was gay, or were leery but still willing to give me the chance, I owe a huge word of thanks to the churches who’ve allowed me to share this message with their congregations, and in turn an LGBT-inclusive message with the outdoors, travel, and adventure communities.
Do you have an official ‘coming out’ story?
Oh Lawd do I have a coming out story. On National Coming Out day I posted some of it through this segment from my National Parks Cabaret, the rest will have to wait for the book:
Have you encountered any push back or negativity from these church visits?
I have had hecklers in person--who’ve come from outside the church I was visiting--telling me they were sent there to correct what I was doing. And especially on the internet, people feel more free to come for me (can someone please help anti-gay people learn how to turn off the CAPS LOCK key? I can predict the words of a message solely based on its ALL CAPS AND LACK OF PUNCTUATION).
But the churches who’ve invited me to present have been amazing. Some are already affirming of LGBT people, though my favorite are those who invite me because they want to start a conversation that hasn’t yet been presented in their church. Those are the ones where people especially pour out stories of their LGBT loved ones, because I think it’s the first time they’ve felt allowed to in that space.
Regrettably, I’ve yet to figure out a way to visit those churches that have already staunchly formed their stance against LGBT people. I’ve been turned down by a number who say they “welcome, but do not affirm LGBT,” which didn’t feel very welcoming…
My dream is to speak at Liberty University’s weekly convocation, because it’s essentially the ultimate current gathering of those who follow a theology that calls LGBT people flawed. I think of the 10% of their students, and those at so many Christian colleges, who’ve never seen an example of a faithful LGBT Christian, and would love to show them a person they’ve been told doesn’t exist. I know the school(s) will likely call me Satan or say I was there as a false prophet, but I just want to do whatever I can to help people not spend their lives hating who God made them, or marrying someone of the opposite gender in an attempt to cure themselves, as I for so long believed would be the solution to my “problem.”
What might you say to a member of the LGBTQ community who thinks it’s not possible to be queer and still have faith in a higher power?
The original followers of Jesus were as queer as they came. Hello, a group of 12 men traveling around together in the desert with a leader who can turn water into wine! Sounds like Palm Springs #SquadGoals
Honestly, the first Christ followers were radicals. These Jews who would come to be called Christians were ridiculed by society, jailed, and murdered because they preached a message of love and acceptance over arcane laws and hypocrites.
Pretty “queer,” both in being outside the norm and in the lived experiences of many present-day queer people, if you ask me.
Jesus’ message and actions are consistently about acceptance and love for the outcasts of popular society. It’s people carrying on his message--often times those claiming to be the most holy of all--who have warped God into being about wealth, power, and shame. Very little has changed since Jesus preached that the Pharisees (the religious leaders of Jesus’ times) were misrepresenting God.
If you compare the love and acceptance of a pride parade to the churches who preach that God hates all of us and wants to send us to hell if we don’t adhere to their church’s specific interpretation of scripture, it seems pretty obvious that LGBTQ people are a lot closer to the original followers of Jesus than anyone else.
What happens when you are done with this travel adventure?
I can finally go on a second date!
Aside from returning to more normal things like sleeping in a climate-controlled room or knowing where I’m showering every day, I am very much looking forward to focusing on my personal life again after 3 years of total dedication to this project.
However, to build on this national parks journey, I will continue performing my “National Parks Cabaret” that has helped fund the project, and I’m really excited to have signed with both a literary and speaking agent as ways to help others live vicariously through this road trip so many have said “is my travel dream!”
My ultimate goal though, is to create a sort of “Queer Eye” follow-up, with a travel show that goes beyond the genre’s safe, typically straight white hosts. Utilizing diverse queers (myself and my African-American best friend from Memphis—who’s the most brilliant comic I’ve encountered) to showcase the world from not only a queer perspective (in all aspects of the word), but through the different lenses of someone who’s traveled the world, and his best friend who’s hardly made it out of the most forgotten parts of Memphis.
Netflix, if you’re reading, Torris and I are packed and ready.
Anything you’d like to add?
I’d love to come speak or sing for readers’ colleges, companies, churches, Gay Men’s Chorus or LGBT Center. Reach out at www.mikahmeyer.com/contact and we’ll find a pit stop down the road!
If you want to come say “Yass Queen!” at one of my current stops, I keep everything up-to-date on the Events tab of my “MIKAH” Facebook.com/mikahmey Page.
We’re with you every step of the way, Mikah!
Keep up with Mikah Meyer on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube as he conquers this voyage of a lifetime.
If you have travel ideas, places we should visit, or work for a PR company and are looking for writers to visit, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org and address your comments to the Managing Editor.