Attention Domino’s Pizza: Mikah Meyer, MMus’11, would be happy to be your spokesperson. The pizza chain recently announced that it will deliver to non-address locations – like a national park. Meyer just happens to be spending a lot of his time in national parks.
A lot of his time.
Meyer is in the midst of a remarkable quest, one that would have him establish two new records. He aims to become the youngest person to visit all 417 National Park Service sites in the U.S. (record number one) and the first to accomplish such a feat in one continuous trip (record number two).
And while he acknowledges that a Domino’s pizza would probably be a bit on the cool side by the time it was delivered to him on a mountaintop or deep into a forest, Meyer would welcome the chance for Domino’s or any other company to help sponsor his odyssey through America’s parklands. Currently, he is living on savings, crowd-funding donations, stipends from speaking engagements at churches and schools, and the kindness of strangers.
“Life is more interesting when you talk to strangers,” he says, adding that the phrase, which makes him think of his late father, has become his motto.
Meyer began his journey on April 29, 2016 – the 11th anniversary of his father’s death. He hopes to complete it on April 29, 2019, “because I want to turn that day from the memory of a horrible experience into something triumphant,” he says.
Reverend Larry Lee Meyer died of cancer when Mikah was 19 years old. Larry was a popular campus minister at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, winning the Campus Pastors’ Distinguished Service Award in 1998. And he loved driving across country.
“Every year, he drove my three older sisters to and from college,” Meyer remembers. “They loved those trips, spending time with our father, listening to his stories and learning from him. He was diagnosed with cancer when I was 16, and I never got to take a long road trip with him. So after I graduated high school, I took a nine-month road trip to experience life and learn the same kind of lessons I would’ve hopefully had if my dad would’ve taught me.”
Meyer even drove his father’s car, a 2001 Hyundai Elantra. He calls that trip “a deeply spiritual experience.”
For the past two years, Meyer has been living out of a 2014 Ram ProMaster cargo van, which he nicknamed “Vanny McVanface,” sleeping mainly in parking lots, bundling up during cold spells and cracking open the windows during sweltering nights. The trip can get incredibly lonely, “but I get through it by looking toward the future. I keep my eye on the prize when next year, I can take long, hot showers and sleep in climate-controlled rooms,” he says with a laugh.
There has been the occasional spot of peril, like the time he encountered a black bear and her cub while hiking in Wyoming. Mama bear didn’t see him, but the cub looked him in the eye. With his heart in his throat, Meyer slowly tiptoed backwards, then beat a hasty retreat.
On the positive side, he says, “I’m able to visit beautiful places you don’t see written about in the New York Times, like Dinosaur National Park and Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I love the feeling that I’m discovering them, then sharing them on my blog.” His Instagram page, chock-full of photos from the parks he has visited, has 54,000 followers.
Meyer’s trip is also a journey of self-discovery; as a gay man who once struggled with his identity, he now wants to empower others to be comfortable in expressing who they are.
“At first, I was scared to come out, because I’ve met so many people who were offended by gay people. But when I’ve talked to others who were in similar situations and found out how much my being gay meant to them, I realized I needed to be that first-of-a-kind role model. And for all the people that write me, I realize I can be the change I want to see in the world.
”Plus, there’s no openly gay individual in the outdoors sports,” he says. “Athletes have come out in the NBA and NFL, but there’s no role model for gay outdoorsmen.” In an opinion piece he wrote for Outside magazine last fall, he pointed a finger at the outdoor industry. “When it comes to LGBT inclusion, the outdoor industry is drastically behind the rest of corporate America.” Meyer was named a “social media warrior” by MTV for his advocacy.
Meyer did a master’s degree in vocal performance at McGill. It was one of the few universities that offered him the opportunity to study with a prominent countertenor. “It was incredible to have a mentor like [Daniel Taylor, LMus’92, now at the University of Toronto], who knew what it was like to be a countertenor,” he says. “I thank McGill for all its great educators, who instilled in me the confidence to believe in myself.”
Meyer has performed internationally, including being part of a special service at Washington National Cathedral, where he sang for both former U.S. president Bill Clinton and former vice-president Joseph Biden.
That wasn’t his only encounter with a former White House occupant. Jenna Bush Hager (one of George W.’s daughters) recently interviewed Meyer for a piece on NBC’s The Today Show.