MOUNTAINAIR – Mikah Meyer looks right at home in the ruins of a 17th century church.
A Lutheran minister’s son and professional singer, Meyer quit his job a year ago at the Washington National Cathedral and hit the road to visit all 417 National Park Service sites, which brought him to New Mexico this month.
“This church has good acoustics, even without a roof,” said Meyer, 31, during his visit to the Quarai ruins, one of three sites that make up the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. The visit marked his 141st Park Service site, each validated by an official stamp in his log book.
On April 9, Meyer hustled to White Sands National Monument, arriving in his Dodge Ram 250 van in time to catch a sunset.
“That was my goal,” he said. “I wanted that epic sunset.” The next day, he hiked the five-mile Alkali Flat Trail at White Sands, which he rates among his favorite park visits so far.
Meyer will remain in New Mexico until April 25, visiting the state’s 15 national park sites.
In case you think that Meyer is indulging in an extended, carefree vacation, consider this: If he completes his journey by May 2019 as planned, he will have spent three years living and sleeping in a van.
He never eats in “sit-down restaurants.” Instead, he eats store-bought food that he stores in a dorm-size refrigerator powered by five solar panels on the roof of his van.
“I sleep in parking lots,” he said. “I live in a van. I eat simple food. There is no extravagance.” And he constantly thinks about how to pay for the trip.
“I started the trip without the money to finish it,” he said. National park experts estimated his trip would cost $500,000. “I think I can pull it off for $150,000.”
Before he set off in April 2016, Meyer imagined that sponsors would line up. He reached out to hundreds of companies but got just one bite. Only recently, Pilot Flying J Travel Centers agreed to pay for his gasoline.
“As I tell everybody, health insurance costs more than gas for this journey,” he said. He has also raised about $7,000 in donations through his website, www.tbcmikah.com. TBC stands for “travel beyond convention,” his travel motto.
“I was very naive,” he said. “I think you have to have some wide-eyed optimism even to attempt something like this.”
In February, he launched a new fundraising strategy. Meyer, who has a master’s degree in vocal performance at McGill University in Montreal, put his skills to work and began lining up singing dates at churches.
Meyer is happy to sing Bach or Handel, but audiences typically request spirituals, he said.
He also speaks with any willing listeners about his journey, and his life as an openly gay man who grew up in a religious community intolerant of gays in his hometown of Lincoln, Neb.
“It’s fulfilling for me that I can use this journey to share who I am, so some kid in New Mexico won’t have to feel as alone as I did when I was their age,” said Meyer, who didn’t meet an openly gay Christian until he was in his 20s.
Meyer has no simple answer for those who ask why he is making this trip. He lists a stew of reasons. He was only 19 when his beloved father died. Meyer began his journey on April 29, the anniversary of his father’s death.
“The idea was to take a day that had been horrible for 11 years and re-purpose it into something triumphant,” he said.
Then, there are bragging rights. If he succeeds, Meyer will be the youngest person ever to visit every national park and monument.
But above all, Meyer said he has dreamed for years of making this trip, and he wants to do it while he is young and energetic. “Tomorrow is not guaranteed,” he said. Meyer’s father, who loved road trips, died at age 58.
“We can’t assume we are going to live until retirement,” he said. “That’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way through my dad’s death. What’s the point of living for 65 if you don’t make it?”