At a young age, Mikah Meyer learned a life lesson many of us don't learn until it's too late: You can't put off until tomorrow what you hoped to accomplish today. It was when his dad passed away when Meyer was just 19 years old that the young college freshman realized life was to be lived now. Just days after his father's funeral, Meyer hit the road for his first independent road trip, and he has spent the last decade making a conscious effort to travel, explore and live in the moment.
Now, the young traveler has embarked upon a new adventure. It's one that will help him honor his dad, and it may even earn him a spot in the record books. Meyer hopes to become the youngest person to visit all 417 national park sites, and he is making the trip in one continuous journey that will take him from Acadia National Park in Maine to War in the Pacific National Historic Park in Guam over the next three years.
If he finishes in time, Meyer will have visited all 417 national park units by the age of 33. According to Craig Bailey, a spokesperson with the National Park Traveler's Club — the organization that keeps data on these types of trips — the youngest person who currently holds this title is 39, while the average age for those who have visited all NPS sites is 62.
It's also remarkable that Meyer will be making this journey all at once without returning to home or work in between his excursions. That makes for one long road trip, but as Meyer explains, it was the only way he could afford to do it. Meyer, who is currently somewhere in the Southeastern U.S. en route to national park site #120, was kind enough to take a break in his travels to chat with us. Here's what he has to say about his journey.
MNN: What planted the seed in your head to try to see all 417 NPS sites in one continuous journey?
MM: Beyond the larger reasons of my travel (my dad’s death and learning to follow dreams now because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed), the reason I chose to do all 417 sites in one continuous journey is that it’s the most economical way to see them. If I was to try and do it on two-weeks vacation every year, I’d spend vastly more money on plane fares, rental cars and hotels than if I just live in a cargo van and drive from site to site maximizing my gas and travel costs. Basically, my goal was to see all of America’s national parks, and because I’m not independently wealthy nor do I have a career that would afford me the money or vacation time to visit the parks over years of vacations, I saw doing them in one continuous trip as the most financially feasible/realistic way I could accomplish my goal.
How long do you typically spend at each site? Do you try to hike or take in a ranger program while you are visiting?
I make sure to spend as much time as it takes to fully experience each site, whether that means two hours or two weeks. The idea being that I can put a giant bucket list check mark next to each site and be able to someday tell my grandkids, “Yep, I experienced that!”
While planning for this project, I met with Chris Calvert — a National Park Travelers Club “Platinum Member” who lived 5 miles east of me and had been to 401 sites when that was the total NPS number. We went through my spreadsheet of all the parks, and from memory he told me the ideal amount of time to spend at each site so I could fully experience them. For some historic sites that usually means taking the ranger-guided tour or partaking in a ranger program. For nature parks, I try to capture the essence of that park by either hiking or taking part in concessionaire activities (boat rides, tram tours, etc.) that allow me to fully experience sites like Biscayne National Park or Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument, which are almost entirely comprised of water.
Because I’m blogging and donating content to the Voice Of America, I’m fortunately often able to negotiate a complimentary tour in exchange for including the company in my coverage. This helps stretch my budget longer and is another way — by working as a travel writer from the road — I make my goal financially possible.
Did you visit any NPS sites or take many road trips with your dad, and if so, what were some of your favorite trips?
We didn't particularly go to NPS sites, but growing up, every family trip was based around driving there. We were too poor to fly, so that often resulted in 24-plus-hour road trips, of which my dad would drive straight through himself. He loved driving so much that he often said if he wasn’t a pastor he would’ve been a trucker!
He would drive my three older sisters to and from college for every break, as far as Nebraska to Delaware and back. They recall these road trips as some of their fondest adulthood memories with my father, and it makes sense. He once won the award for being the best Lutheran campus pastor in the nation. So he was really good with 18 to 25-year-olds. Unfortunately, by him passing away when I was age 19, I missed out on all these college road trips. So every journey I've done since is kind of my way of trying to reclaim that.
What is your favorite NPS site that you have visited so far?
Buck Island Reef National Monument. It’s a small island just north of Saint Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Not only is it a nesting sanctuary for sea turtles, but it has some incredible pure white sand beaches and also an amazing coral reef. One part of that reef is a NPS underwater “trail” which President Kennedy swam with his family before designating the site in 1961. I got to swim that same trail as my first time ever snorkeling, and it was incredible.
For someone who is terrified of the ocean due to sharks, I was snorkeling for nearly a solid hour and often ventured far from the group on my own. One of those times was to swim with a school of 500+ blue fish who passed by me. I was floating right above them as they went feeding from coral to coral, so for a brief few minutes I felt like one of them, making my way across the ocean to see what I could discover.
Where do you plan to complete your NPS journey?
I plan to end the journey at the Lincoln Memorial, just across the reflecting pool from where I began three years earlier at the Washington Monument. I figured it was a good choice not only because of the “full circle” feeling I can get by looking back at the nearby Washington Monument and knowing I traveled to every corner of America to get there, but also because while people around the world recognize the Lincoln Memorial, many may not know it’s a National Park Service site. So I could help the park service publicize this idea that they are more than just the Grand Canyon. That, and it will be like my own personal Rocky moment running up the stairs!
To find out where Meyer is in his journey, check out TBCMikah.com.