As he and a childhood friend set out on a long-planned road trip to visit a potential college, 19-year-old Mikah Meyer could still smell his dad’s pipe in the car.
What Meyer didn’t know when he planned the trip was that the “go” date would be 10 days after his dad’s funeral. Larry Lee Meyer, whose call at the University of Nebraska’s Lutheran Center turned that campus ministry program into perhaps the ELCA’s largest, died of cancer in 2005 when he was 58 years old.
Following his dad’s death, young Meyer decided to keep his road trip plans—looking back he’s glad about the decision. It helped him re-evaluate his priorities and to pledge never to put off what he could do now rather than waiting for a retirement that might never come.
Now, 11 years later, that pledge has led to Meyer’s idea for a journey that no one has ever taken.
Meyer hopes to be the first person to visit all 400-plus units of the U.S. National Parks system in one continuous trip and to be the youngest person to visit every site, which are found throughout all 50 states.
He planned the start of his three-year expedition to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.
“I still remember making this goal in June 2014,” said Meyer, who began his trip April 29 with the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial—two spots that are close to where he was singing in the choir of the Washington National Cathedral. “Ever since then I have been planning. I estimated that the trip would cost $300,000, but when I spoke to national parks experts they told me to double that cost.”
Life on the road
Meyer said his life has changed dramatically since that trip after his father’s funeral. The son of a pastor in what he called a “conservative state,” Meyer now considers himself a “citizen of the world,” who lived in Europe with a family he’d never met, studied in Canada, and has been working toward his goal of singing with the world-renowned choir Chanticleer.
Still, Meyer couldn’t shake the idea that although his dad loved being a pastor, he never got the chance to do all of the traveling and other things he wanted to do. Meyer realized if he planned a series of big trips every five years, he could enjoy a retirement of sorts while still working.
That was the original idea—before he opted to make a trip this extensive.
To afford three years on the road, Meyer is finding sponsors. He said he has a few, including a candle company that loaned him the money for a cargo van, which he is paying off through people using a special code when they buy products.
If all goes as he hopes, Meyer will spend his journey living in the van, which will have solar panels installed on the roof to power a refrigerator and oven.
Meyer is chronicling his journey on his website, tbcmikah.com, which includes tips about each area he visits. “The website is not only for people to follow along, but it’s for 10 years from now, when someone wants to visit a national park,” he said. “They may not know about all of the parks and where they are, and they can see what I did and some of the highlights of each park.”
The proposed route, which can be seen on Meyer’s site, puts him in Northern states in the summer and Southern states in the winter, ending with Alaska.
He doesn’t yet have the funds to get through the entire trip, but he isn’t concerned. “I’m living on faith and that God has put me where I’m supposed to be,” he said. “I’m living on a prayer, like Bon Jovi said.”
Adventure of a lifetime
If Meyer completes his journey, one reason might be his fearlessness of talking to strangers.
Benjamin Straley, the associate director of music at Washington National Cathedral, said calling Meyer outgoing is an understatement.
“He will go up and talk to anyone,” Straley said. “He’s magnetic, and I’m sure that on this trip he will find people to help support him.
Making friends with most anyone is part of Meyer’s philosophy, which he has turned into an unpublished book titled “Life’s More Fun When You Talk to Strangers.”
Meyer hopes to make friends on the road, in part, by being hired to sing at congregations.
His outgoing personality and desire for building relationships also led him to form the group Queer for Christ, which he calls “an ecumenical, young-adult LGBT Christian group.”
With this trip underway, Meyer quit his two jobs (he also worked at a Jesuit boarding school), exhausted his financial resources and put his dream of singing professionally full time on hold.
“I could look for a new job today or in three years,” he said. “Either way, I’m looking for a job.”
And what if he doesn’t get to all 400-plus sites?
Meyer said he considers the trip a victory simply by starting it. “If I run out of money it still will be a goal of mine. It’ll just take longer,” he said. “If it doesn’t work out, I always tell people I’d rather try and fail than wonder what if.”
Follow Meyer’s journey
Want Mikah Meyer to sing at your church on his cross-country journey? Visit tbcmikah.com and fill out the “Contact” form. You can also view his blog and his journey map at his website.