Meet the Man Traveling to Every National Monument in His Van
Mikah Meyers knows time isn't infinite; there's a limit to how much we get to spend with the people we love and doing what we want. He learned the lesson at age 19, when his father passed away at 58. Like all good protestant boys from Lincoln, Nebraska, he'd already opened a retirement account and was set up for living "responsibly," but realizing time is precious, he swore by the time he was 30 he would do something crazy instead. That crazy thing turned out to be a monumental road trip across the country to visit all 415-plus National Park Service (NPS) sites--a journey he began April 29, 2016. Now 31 years old and a year into the trip, he's visited 159 sites and is on his way to be the youngest person ever to do so and the only one to have done it in one continuous trip.
The original inspiration for the adventure was, of course, Meyers's father. A big fan of road trips, he had always joked that if he wasn't a pastor, he would have been a trucker. As a tribute to his father, Meyers took a road trip every year after his passing, though most of those were just a week or two. His current undertaking may have started for personal reasons, but it's quickly evolved. Meyers is now an advocate for the Find Your Park Movement, a campaign focused on getting a more diverse crowd to visit our treasured national parks and monuments. Blessed with relatively easy access to some of the most magnificent parks the country has to offer, Utahns may not always appreciate how lucky we are. Visiting NPS sites is not something that's super common. "The average visitor is white and in their 60s," says Meyers. "As an openly gay millennial, I'm hoping to reach out to communities who aren't typically seen in these areas." Although he still has two years of his trip left, Meyers is already thinking ahead, hoping to break into the travel industry by becoming the first mainstream gay travel host so he can continue to advocate for the LGBTQ community.
Under normal circumstances the NPS estimates that visiting all of their sites would cost roughly $500,000, yet Meyers aims to complete the feat at a fraction. Before he set out, he was working three part-time jobs in Washington D.C. and consciously saving as much as he could. Yet all told, Meyers won't spend more than a fraction of that amount; he's aiming for $150,000 in three years (he's spent $50,000 this past year). Of course, the NPS probably isn't factoring van life into their calculations. Meyers is traveling and living in a converted 2014 RAM ProMaster Cargo Van specifically outfitted for the trip. Admittedly, Meyers thinks getting the van ready to live in would have been better done over the period of a year, but he managed to do it in two months with a little help from a local architect and the maintenance staff of the school where he was working ("If laughing at me before correcting my mistakes counts as help," Meyers says.) The purchase and conversion of the van cost him roughly $25,000.
What's in his van/home you may ask? There's a queen size bed (with the same mattress he had used in the years before his trip) and five 100-watt solar panels to provide power for his small high efficiency fridge and charge his electronics. It's a modest set-up, but one that works well enough. As for hygiene, Meyers has a membership to a regional gym and has become an expert at locating public restrooms open 24-hours (i.e. Walmart) and recycling Gatorade bottles when necessary. If you follow the #vanlife movement on Instagram, frequently filled with pictures of cozy set-ups, van travel may look glamorous. But there are downsides. Meyers doesn't have any climate control (no heating and no A/C) for the vehicle and no Internet. His boyfriend is also along for the trip, meaning space is tight and there's little to no room for privacy or different sleeping schedules. Meyers openly admits to crying in more than one corner booth at Panera because it's a lot of work without very many comforts. That being said, the lows are what make the highs so great. "It's been amazing to see all the places that I've read about in textbooks or seen on postcards in real life," says Meyers, reminiscing about a recent visit to Carlsbad Caverns. "You can't capture it in a photo or video, the only way to know what it feels like to be there is to be there physically." To date, Meyers has checked 159 NPS sites off his list. His favorite so far? The Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.
One last thing you may be wondering, how will Meyers reach Hawaii's NPS sites? He's saved those for last, hoping an airline or travel site like Expedia might catch wind of his incredible journey and decide to comp him some tickets. We think there's a pretty good chance.
*If you want to catch up with Meyers in person, he'll be singing/speaking at two events in the area: in Ogden on May 7 and Logan on May 14. You can follow along with his adventures via his website and social media channels.