MEMPHIS, Tenn. — University of Memphis graduate Mikah Meyer is traveling 100,000 miles in a converted cargo van over a three-year period, taking in all 417 sites in the National Park Service system.
The journey to Meyer’s epic adventure across the United States began during his freshman year when his 58-year-old father died from cancer. Shortly after the funeral, he took trip to “kind of heal.”
“It was such a moving experience for me, I’ve done one road trip every year since his passing,” said Meyer, a Nebraska native and son of a Lutheran campus minister.
Over the decade of yearly trips, Meyer said he learned “tomorrow’s not guaranteed, tomorrow might be too late.”
“I was always told you grow up, you go to college, you meet your spouse, get a job. And when you turn 65, you’ll have about 15 to 20 years to do what you’ve been dreaming about. … I saw my dad pass away before retirement and thought, ‘That didn’t work for him,'” explained Meyer, whose ministry is named Travel Beyond Convention.
It was in his 20s he made a goal to see all national parks once he turned 30.
“I knew I wanted to do something to honor my dad’s life. … So I saved throughout my 20s. My friends would be at a bar on Friday night and while they’d be having beers, I’d have a cup of water instead because I would rather spend that money on two gallons of gas instead,” Meyer said.
On April 29, 2016 — the 11th anniversary of his father’s death — he embarked. Within 18 months, he’d traveled to nearly 250 sites. A converted cargo van — complete with mini fridge, bed and storage — serves as his home.
Meyer recently passed through his former home state to visit Fort Donelson in Nashville, Stones River National Battlefield in Murfreesboro, and the Great Smoky Mountains and Cumberland Gap in East Tennessee.
The trip hasn’t been easy. And planning it was a massive undertaking. “Luckily,” Meyer said, a neighbor who traveled to all the parks was instrumental in helping him mapping the trip and the amount of time it would take. He added in days for doing the necessities of life, travel time at the sites and speaking engagements.
On occasion, the adventures can be a little “scary” and there have been some near disasters along the way. His solar power system almost fell prey to the heat of the Texas desert. He almost backed off the edge of a cliff hidden by bushes at Olympic Park in Washington.
It isn’t cheap, either. But he has a few avenues to keep him on the road.
Pilot Flying J, a company owned by the family of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, sponsored Meyer’s fuel expenses. He also relies on the tax-deductible donations from those who visit his website, mikahmeyer.com. And he “sings for his supper,” frequently stopping in various towns to perform and speak about his journey.
You can also keep up with Meyer’s journey on his website blog as well as on Instagram (@tbcmikah) Twitter (@MikahMey) and Facebook at facebook.com/TBCMikah. In the future, he plans to pen a travel guide to the National Park Service sites.
With nearly 250 sites under his tires, Meyer has garnered some favorites along the way.
“All the sites in the U.S. Virgin Islands are incredible. It’s great to learn about my American history in a place that felt so foreign, but was so stunningly beautiful,” Meyer said.
Over the summer he traveled to some of the most famous parks, including Grand Canyon, all the Utah parks, Glacier National Park, Badlands and the Rocky Mountain. Parks in California, Arizona and Alaska are still on his list to visit.
When Meyer ends his journey on the 14th anniversary of his father’s passing, he’ll be the youngest person to experience every park, and the only one to complete the tour in one continuous trip.
He’s also expanding his mission to bring awareness to the LGBT community.
“I’m on a mission to invite people to the outdoors, be a new type of LGBT role model, and share all 417 national parks with the world,” Meyer said. “If I can go out and spend time in national parks, then there’s no reason you can’t. … I want to use this journey to impart people these national parks are there for them to come and use. There are ways national parks are accessible to them.”
Meyer has upcoming engagements in Tennessee. Grace Episcopal Church, 20 Belvoir Ave. in Chattanooga, will host Meyer at the 8 a.m. service on Dec. 3. Then at 10 a.m. Dec. 17, he’ll speak and sing some classical Christmas music at Epiphany Lutheran Church, 7887 Poplar Ave. in Memphis. Admission is free and donations are accepted.
Then at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 19 and 20, Meyer will perform Handel’s “Messiah” with the Memphis Symphony at Lindenwood Christian Church, 2400 Union Ave. in Memphis. Visit memphissymphony.org for tickets.
Information from: The Daily News Journal, http://www.dnj.com