CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas— Mikah Meyer carefully pulled out one of his two National Park Service passports, flipped through the pages in search of Padre Island National Seashore and firmly stamped the date and location to mark his visit to the Malaquite Visitors Center.
The Corpus Christi Caller-Times reports as the ink dried, he talked about his plans to donate the stamped book to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History at the request of the curator in charge of LGBT artifacts.
At 30 years old, Meyer is traveling throughout the United States to become the youngest person to visit all 417 National Park Service sites. If successful, Meyer would shatter the current record created by Alan Hogenauer, who was 39 when he finished his adventure in 1980 when there were only 320 sites.
"When people hear about this, they might assume that I'm a marathoner or an experienced hiker. But that's not the case. I'm just a normal guy. Both my degrees are in music and singing," the Nebraska native said. "(The curator) said we'll put your stuff here next to Duke Ellington, and I was shocked. But he said, 'This is not just part of the LGBT exhibit; your journey is part of the American story."
Meyer walked toward the cool, crashing waves that collided with the sands of the Padre Island National Seashore, which was his 127th location and fifth national seashore to visit. The openly gay wanderer will celebrate his next birthday on the road bringing awareness to the LGBT community and the beauty of the national parks.
"When I drive around the country and do interviews I've made it a goal to be as open as possible about my sexuality. Growing up in Nebraska, I thought gay people could be drag queens and wear Speedos on floats because that's what I saw on TV," Meyer said. "I want people to be able to see something beyond the stereotypes, showing younger people that no matter who you are or what makes you different, you don't have to let that hold you back."
Meyer's wanderlust did not begin overnight. It is a trait that was passed down by a father who loved God and loved the road. Meyer's dad was a Lutheran pastor who purchased a house that the family would travel to each year to visit and restore. As the children grew, each of Meyer's three older sisters took a road trip with their dad to and from college, but Meyer was robbed of those memories. During finals week of Meyer's freshman year of college, his father lost a years-long battle to esophageal cancer just 10 days before the two were supposed to take their own road trip together.
"It taught me that you really need to take advantage of time as you have it," Meyer said.
Since his father's death, Meyer has funded two major trips that have aided him in grieving his father's death and finding his own identity. But the longest of those two was 10 months, which now pales in comparison to what he calls his "grand odyssey."
"Every day I'm on the road now is officially part of my longest trip ever. It's taught me a lot about endurance, tenacity and adulthood," said Meyer, who had to plan out the next time he would stay at a friend's house where he could print out and file his taxes.
Though Meyer has saved and budgeted for his trip for the past four years, his greatest test of faith and endurance comes when confronted with the thought of paying for the trip, which National Park experts estimated would cost from $400,000-$600,000 before he set out. He has been able to cut that cost down to a third of the original estimate because of a handful of sponsorships and travel insights he has gained from previous adventurers who have made the trip, but he still raises funds by singing at various churches on his course.
Despite the stresses, Meyer has been able to use this as an opportunity to see old friends and share those experiences with his boyfriend, who has been able to support him by traveling with him about 60 percent of the way.
"One of the biggest things I've learned is that there are beautiful places wherever you go, but it matters who you go with and who you meet when you get there."