By Laura Latzko, April 2018 Web Exclusive.
For the past two year, Mikah Meyer has been on a mission to visit the 417 National Parks, in hopes of being the youngest person ever to accomplish this feat in one consecutive road trip, which he’s projected to complete by this time next year.
This month, however, Meyer will be passing back through Arizona. And, as part of his visit, he will be singing and delivering an LGBTQ-inclusive message at Foothills Christian Church’s Easter services April 1
Along with singing five gospel songs, Meyer will give a sermon and talk about his adventures, his father, what life is like living in a van and his experiences as a gay Christian.
Meyer’s travels have been inspired by his father, a preacher who loved to take long trips. Meyer took his first solo road trip in 2005, the year his father passed away, and embarked on a two-year trip to 46 states and provinces in 2011 and 2012.
During his early travels, the adventurer gained followers and contributed to such publications as Huffington Post and Roadtrippers. He’s also written for Outside Magazine, REI’s Hiking Project, SBNation Outsports and Buzzfeed, and been featured by NPR, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Guardian, MTV and Logo TV.
Before starting on his journey, Meyer worked 10 years as a professional singer for the Washington National Cathedral choirs, the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, NYC’s Rebel Baroque ensemble and Canada’s L’Orchestre Symphonique de Longueuil. During his nonstop journey, Meyer has been singing at churches to help fund his travels.
Echo caught up with Meyer while he was visiting American Samoa and here’s what he had to say.
Echo: I know your dad was a big part of your road trip inspiration. Were there places he really wanted to visit that were first on your list?
Meyer: We had built a house together in Florida together as a family. Much like the snowbirds do in Arizona, he wanted to live there during the winters up north because he hated the cold. He just really loved road trips and loved driving. Less so [any] specific place, but more when I’m driving – and especially when I’m preaching at churches – [I’m reminded] of him and what he loved in life.
Echo: When was the moment you decided to visit all of the parks?
Meyer: It was when I turned 28 because I had been talking and saving up to do something when I turned 30, as a way to honor this idea of if I didn’t make it to retirement, I want to do something now, in case like my dad I die earlier than retirement.
Echo: Did it take a lot of planning to get ready?
Meyer: I spent two years planning as a full-time job. I would go to work during the day and then at night, I would be working on logistics, making plans and laying everything out … I think people probably just imagine a hippie in a van, going where the wind takes me. I basically had three years planned out to the day.
Echo: Was it hard to walk away from your career as a professional singer to do this trip?
Meyer: It was tough. I actually had a job opportunity with a professional choir that came up while I was halfway through this thing…I’ve had to make big sacrifices as far as setting my singing career to the side for a little bit. I wanted to do something to help share this lesson to people, that tomorrow’s not guaranteed, that we need to chase our dreams while we are alive.
Echo: You seem like a very down-to-earth person, have you always been that way?
Meyer: I grew up lower middle class in Nebraska. My parents said, ‘If you want to go to college, you have to figure out a way to pay for it yourself.’ So, I’ve always been a survivor, and I think that just played well into this journey. I had to figure out how to survive on my limited savings and donations.
Echo: Of the parks you’ve visited so far, do you have a favorite?
Meyer: I do. Some of my favorites so far have been Dinosaur National Monument, rafting the Grand Canyon and the Virgin Islands National Park. I’ll actually be coming out with a book at the end, where I rank all the parks … I want it to be a guide that other people can pull from … It’s going to be ratings, best things to do … pictures from my journey, but it is there to help the reader.
Echo: Have you always had a love of the outdoors, or way this journey a new experience altogether?
Meyer: I had always enjoyed the outdoors and enjoyed going on adventures. So, this was second nature to me at this point, but I’m not living out of a backpack in the backwoods. I live out of my van, so it’s a little less rugged than it sounds.
Echo: It sounds like it could be rough sometimes. I’m sure there are times where you miss your bed.
Meyer: Oh, it’s true. I need to jump in the shower after we talk because I’ve got mud all over my legs. I was in a lake hunting tilapia with a machete …Usually, wherever I go, I try to dive in and do whatever that place is known for.
Echo: What have been some of the more memorable activities you’ve experienced on your journey?
Meyer: Rafting the Grand Canyon was amazing. I spent eight days rafting through it with no cell service, no contact to the outside world … I’ve gotten to snorkel on the same trail that President John F. Kennedy took his family on before he designated a National Park Service site out of that coral reef. I’ve gotten to hike the end of the Appalachian Trail with people who had done it all the way from Georgia over the past four months.
Echo: Do you feel as though the nature community has embraced you since you’ve come out?
Meyer: It depends on who it is. The nonprofit community, they are the ones that really asked me to be open and honest about this because they realized that LGBT[Q] people are not represented in the outdoors. Unfortunately, the for-profit community still has never had a Pride month ad in the history of the industry … It is really surprising to learn that the outdoor industry, that touts itself as being very progressive, has never marketed to LGBT[Q] people or put any openly LGBT[Q] people in their ads.
Echo: Do you feel as though you’re helping to change some people’s perceptions by what you’re doing?
Meyer: I was at the largest outdoor retail convention in America … in January, and I went around to all of the companies … I had so many conversations with brands and every single brand said, ‘We’ve never even thought of that.’ Quite literally, I was having conversations with their heads of marketing that they’ve never had before. I think the only reason I was able to get those, and they took me seriously, was because of this big world record project I’m doing … This journey has given me a platform to be able to speak up for vulnerable communities that maybe didn’t have a voice before.
Echo: Wow, I’me sure you’ve met a lot of interesting people throughout your travels.
Meyer: I’ve been so encouraged by all the people I’ve met who are excited about this project and believe in me, and they donate or they take me out to dinner, or they’ll help me fix a part on my van. I’ve just been really heartened by the kindness of strangers, how much this project has excited people and how they wanted to feel like they are a part of it.
Echo: Do you have criteria when choosing churches to sing at during your journey?
Meyer: Usually, it’s either churches that are already affirming of LGBT[Q] people, or it’s churches where maybe the pastor wants them to talk about it. My visit was an openly gay pastor’s son is a way for them to start a conversation.
Echo: What can Phoenix audiences expect? Are you going to be singing traditional church music or something a little different?
Meyer: I can guarantee it will be like nothing they’ve ever heard before. I’m a male soprano, which means I’ll be singing higher than they’ve heard before, and my specialty is gospel music. Usually, male sopranos just do classical music, but I specialize in gospel.
Mikah Meyer’s Phoenix Visit
9 and 11 a.m. services April 1
Foothills Christian Church
3951 W. Happy Valley Road, Glendale.
Free (any donations will go toward Meyer’s trip)