Q&A with National Park Road Tripper Mikah Meyer
The National Park Service Centennial has inspired a lot of park lovers to plan epic trips in celebration of this historic milestone. Many have even shared their goal of visiting the 59 designated as “national parks.” Though certainly a laudable accomplishment, one park lover has upped the ante.
Mikah Meyer has set out to become the youngest person to experience all of America’s national parks – each of the over 400 national parks across our country.
The unconventional and extraordinary national park road trip will take Mikah beyond the traditional “national park” designations, to the battlefields, lakeshores, preserves, recreations areas, and so much more. And as if the monumental ambition wasn’t inspiring enough, the motivation behind the trip is universally moving.
Mikah learned the healing power of travel when his father passed from cancer. He’s hoping his journey will not only encourage other young and diverse people to visit national parks, but that it’ll inspire everyone to get out and live their dreams, now. Because life is too short to wait.
We sat down with Mikah to learn all about his impressive expedition. Check out the Q&A and be inspired to find your park.
What makes this road trip so unique?
I'm a 30-year-old from the Midwest who put myself through college and likes watching football on the weekends. I'm not an award-winning nature photographer or insanely wealthy, and I like to Netflix and chill like the best of 'em.
I'm just a regular guy who's decided the national parks are special enough to warrant some "Travel Beyond Convention" if I actually want to experience them all in my lifetime.
I hope my trip shows that no matter who you are – LGBT, Black, a city dweller, or whatever your special characteristic might be – your story is one that's told by our National Park System.
Even though I'm taking a unique trip by living out of a van for three years while trying to become the first person to see all the parks in one continuous trip, you don't have to do something extraordinary to find your park at any one of America's 400+ locations.
They are accessible to all, so you don't have to be a champion trail runner to make the national parks a special part of your life.
How did you prepare your itinerary?
When I first started planning my trip in June 2014, I imagined I'd be driving around in a large Airstream with a corporate logo on the side. Now I'm hoping my trip will survive off crowd-funding and I've got cuts all over my hand from renovating a van formerly owned by a local candle company! (It’s actually a pretty incredible story that almost makes up for the lack of corporate sponsorship).
Aside from my mode of transport, I've worked hard to make sure my park visits aren't just "touch and go." I was infinitely fortunate that Chris Calvert, the current youngest person to visit all 400+ units, just so happened to live 5 miles east of my base while planning this journey. He and I met regularly to craft a flexible itinerary that allows me to really experience all 400+ units. So I can feel like I really know the park.
Aside from the "summers up north, winters down south" strategy I outline in my Journey Maps, Chris and I budgeted 4-5 days per week to experience parks, 1 to focus on blogging, and a Sabbath Day where I can go to church, wash my laundry, etc.
Of all of the things you’re packing, what’s the one thing you had to bring along?
My iPod! I am that guy you'll see singing/dancing in his car with the windows down, oblivious to any stares. I've had the same iPod Touch since 2008 and it's accompanied me on every trip. I love being able to pop on a song and instantly be transported to the location I was when I first heard it.
Lee Cabrera's "I Watch You" takes me straight back to strolling the streets of London on my first trip abroad, Mint Royale's "Something New" sends me to China where "something new" really epitomized my only visit to Asia, and the ethereal sounds of Explosions In The Sky's "Your Hand In Mine" put me right back in the driver's seat while winding through the painted deserts of Arizona.
I can't wait to see what songs I'll associate with each of the national parks!
Where did you first find your park?
I was six months into my 260-day "Dream Road Trip" when I was 25-26, and my childhood best friend flew to the Grand Canyon to meet me for his spring break. He and I don't get to see each other much since I moved away from our hometown at age 19, but every year we take one road trip together to make sure we stay in touch, and honor the first independent road trip I ever took after my dad's funeral.
After not seeing each other for a year, it was incredible to spend a week together hiking into the Grand Canyon, camping, swimming in rivers, jumping off waterfalls, playing cards, and all of it surrounded by some of the earth's most amazing scenery.
The fact that there was no cell service made it especially easy to disconnect from the "real world" and enter a special existence that allowed my best friend and I to reconnect in ways that might not have been possible at any "tourist trap."
Spending that time amongst the majestic beauty of this national park made me yearn for similar experiences, so I decided I wanted to see them all!
If you had two sentences to entice somebody who’s never been to a national park to visit, what would you say?
My visits to only a handful of the 400+ national parks were so great that they inspired me to commit four years of savings, a move into a cargo van, and three years of my early 30s to seeing them all. If the national parks did that for me, imagine what you're missing if you never visit even one.