A Man on a Mission
Mikah Meyer was just 19 when his father, Larry, suddenly passed away at age 58. A campus minister, Mikah's father took his students, ages 18 to 25, to national parks.
Mikah was too young to join his father's trips, and by the time he was old enough to go, his father was undergoing chemotherapy. He never had a chance to go with his father before he died.
"He never got to retire. He wanted to take lots of road trips but never got to do it," Mikah told "Far & Wide."
To honor his father, Mikah began taking road trips every year. He completed his "dream road trip," visiting 46 North American states and provinces on a 16,400-mile journey, by age 25.
It wasn't enough.
So It Begins
Mikah decided he would see every national park, monument, memorial, battlefield, seashore and site operated by the National Park Service. The total number of sites on the list? 419.
All during one road trip.
And this wasn't going to be a road trip where Mikah stuck a toe in the dirt and called it a visit. He wanted to fully experience and spend meaningful time in the parks, enjoying them as they should be enjoyed.
Speaking to people who had seen every park during their lifetime, Mikah came up with the ultimate itinerary: a 3-year journey across 100,000 miles. And, he would complete it by age 30.
In Washington, D.C., where he sang for the Washington National Cathedral Choir, Mikah began carefully planning his adventure.
First up: getting a van big enough to carry himself and all of the belongings he would need. As he traveled, this van would be his home.
Mikah's 3-year road trip began with his boyfriend joining him, but after a year on the road, he'd had enough. "I give him credit for lasting as long as he did," Mikah said.
The Hardest Part
With his boyfriend gone, Mikah continued on his own, solo for 2 years.
"That was the hardest part of this trip. I didn't get to see my family regularly," Mikah explained. "I was never in a place long enough to go on a second date. I was alone."
First Stop: Washington Monument
Departing from Washington, D.C., gave Mikah an easy way to visit his very first national park site, the Washington Monument.
The obelisk stands on the National Mall, commemorating the first president of the United States, George Washington. Standing 555 feet, the tower has been part of the Washington landscape since the late 1800s.
Longest Jaunt: Grand Canyon, Arizona
Mikah's longest national parks visit was at Grand Canyon National Park, where he took an 8-day, 7-night river-rafting trip through the canyon.
The 225-mile canyon carved by the Colorado River features 73 rapids and boasts spectacular interior views.
Shortest Jaunt: Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, Pennsylvania
Mikah's shortest journey was in the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Philadelphia, where he spent just 45 minutes. "It's just a room," he said with a chuckle when referring to the short visit.
Tadeusz Kosciuszko was a Polish hero of the American Revolution, and his 1775 home is located on 301 Pine Street.
"People forget the National Park Service manages not just parks but memorials, monuments, seashores and battlefields. There are 419 sites, not just the big 60," Mikah pointed out. (There are 58 official national parks, including Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, in addition to hundreds of national park sites.)
Hardest to Get To: Aniakchak Crater, Alaska
To get to the least-visited national park in the U.S., Mikah had to take a 30-minute small-plane ride from Brooks Camp, and enjoy the good fortune of temperate-enough weather to land on Aniakchak Crater.
The 3,700-year-old volcano's crater is 6 miles wide and 2,000 feet deep, and contains Surprise Lake. The lake's location often covers it in fog, but on a clear day, you can fly into the crater, as Mikah did.
Favorite Park: Dinosaur National Monument
Parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite get the glory, but Mikah's favorite stop was actually Dinosaur National Monument in Nevada.
"There are two rivers you can raft, tons of canyons you can hike, long-green plateaus, snow-covered mountains, and for the kids', dinosaur fossils," Mikah said. "Dinosaur National Monument has all the best the National Park Service has to offer, in one location. And, only 7 percent of visits to national parks pass through Dinosaur, so you can have it all to yourself."
Mikah met a variety of people along his journey, including a ranger whose seasonal path mimicked his. "I met her in the Everglades as I did a slough-slog tour in the mud through python- and gator-infested waters. She said, 'I ain't got to fear nothing. I have God and this stick!'"
He saw her again in other parks, including Dinosaur National Monument, where a wild Canadian goose followed the group's river raft for four days. "We named him George the Goose. He couldn't fly but he followed us down the river and slept by our tents at night. Someone said it was the spirit of my father."
Ending where he began, Mikah finished with Washington, D.C., parks, inviting his blog followers to meet him to visit the final group of sites, with Lincoln Memorial serving as the grand finale.
When he ended his road trip, Mikah became the first person to see all 419 national parks on a continuous trip, and the 62nd person ever to see all of the National Park Service sites, according to the National Park Travelers Club.
"It was a relief that I could finish this impossible task that no one thought could be done," he said.
As an openly gay man, Mikah partnered with outdoor retailer and adventure company REI, working together to create "Outside with Pride" apparel for Pride month. Mikah also wrote real-time blogs about his trip for REI's website.
Throughout his journey, Mikah worked with the National Park Service to inspire more members of the LGBT community to get outside and visit the national parks, using his blog, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube to share his story. Outdoor companies such as The Sierra Club followed his adventures and shared them as well, to further promote millennial LGBT outdoor travel.
"My original message was about seeing America's most beautiful places my father didn't get to," Mikah said.
"But, what I learned is it's more important who you go with and who you meet. It truly enhances the experience of seeing these beautiful places," he added. "I've learned how important it is to focus on personal relationships. To make time to have meaningful experiences with the people in your life, not just visiting places."
During this interview, Mikah was on the road again, this time driving to Minnesota. "Minnesota is beautiful in the summer, so I figured what better place to be to write a book?"
Mikah will write his memoirs, as well as collect his photography from the parks for a coffee-table book. (He's looking for a publisher, if you happen to know anyone, he added.)
"I want to inspire and help others to see these beautiful places," he said.
The National Park Service is always working to add new parks to its collection. When Mikah set off, his goal was to hit 419 sites. The park service has since added three more to its collection: the Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park in Missouri, the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument in Mississippi and the Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument in Kentucky. All three are awaiting land acquisition before they can open.
"It takes awhile for a new park to open to the public, and I know I'll visit when they are open. A fellow park traveler told me every time I hear there is a new park, my skin will itch a little because I'll know I'll want to go. We'll see!" he laughed.
The End of the Road
Meanwhile, Mikah continues to honor his father by taking one road trip per year.
Dad would be proud.