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Mikah Meyer

 

In Bradenton on Saturday, chatting with a Conquistador-costumed docent at De Soto National Memorial, 30-year-old Mikah Meyer crossed another park off his list. Only 301 more to go.

Meyer is on a quest to break two world records by being the youngest person ever to visit all 417 sites managed by the U.S. National Parks Service, and the first person ever to do so in one continuous trip. The U.S. N.P.S. is celebrating its Centennial this year. 

Originally from Nebraska, Meyer remembers family road trips to Silver Springs Shores, Florida, spending the long drive pouring over an atlas and wondering about all the places they passed by. His father, a pastor, died suddenly when Meyer was 19, and the young man found solace shortly thereafter when he decided to follow through on a road trip he'd already had planned. From then on, Meyer took one trip a year in honor of his dad. 

Now, after four years of planning and saving, Meyer is on his biggest trip yet. He embarked on April 29, 2016 and, with this weekend's visit to De Soto, has now been to 116 NPS sites, including 10 of Florida's 11. (Next up: Gulf Islands National Seashore in Pensacola.) According to his current plans, he'll finish some time in 2019.

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Mikah Meyer, left, at De Soto National Memorial.

 Rains on Saturday limited his De Soto experience, but Meyer is clearly committed to more than just a cursory visit. He spent time in the visitors' center talking with rangers and watching a film about the area, then encouraged an abbreviated history lesson from a docent, amid a small crowd of onlookers as storm clouds moved in. "I wish I'd studied history," he laughs. (He has a music degree.)

Meyer is well spoken, both jovial and boyishly self-effacing--traits that can quickly win over people he meets. (He's written a book called Life's More Fun When You Talk to Strangers.) A natural promoter, he zeroes in on a fun parallel: "De Soto had a three-year journey discovering America," he says, "and now I'm on a three-year journey discovering America."

In addition to honoring his father, Meyer hopes to promote the National Parks to Millennials as well as the LGBT community--two demographics the NPS has had a hard time courting. Meyer, who is openly gay, remembers having few gay role models growing up in the Midwest. He wants to show kids now that they have options. "You can't be what you can't see," he says.

But not all responses have been positive; sometimes strangers accuse Meyer of indulgently living off of family money. "I get it," he says. "If I saw something like this, I'd think, 'What a rich prick.'" Still, he points out, the only thing he inherited from his father was a car, and even four years' worth of savings won't carry him through this project. Without any major sponsorships, he relies on tax-deductible donations and arranges musical performances at churches along the way. He often sleeps in his cargo van in parking lots. "I wake up in the morning and think, 'How can I not spend money today?'" Free time is spent handling admin at local libraries--blogging, managing funds, looking for lodging and coordinating future performances and interviews.

"It's stressful, it's tough," he says, still with a boyish grin. "But look at all these places I get to see."

To follow Meyer's journey--and to contribute to it--visit tbcmikah.com.

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