For his latest retirement, the 30-year-old planned 413 walks in the park.

Mikah Meyer had prepared for this. The 2004 Lincoln High grad spent two years mapping his route through all of the National Park Service's historic sites, seashores, trails, battlefields and, of course, its 59 signature parks.

He sought sponsors. He turned a cargo van into a mobile bedroom. He saved his money and quit his jobs and hit the road in June.

And somewhere in his first 10,000 miles, he discovered how much of his time this retirement required.

“It's more like a job,” he said this week from Washington, D.C., taking a short break before heading to South Carolina. “It's not like a vacation; it's nonstop work from sunup to sundown.”

More work than his first retirement, when Meyer had climbed into his late father's Hyundai for a 16,000-mile road trip. Larry Meyer died at 58, before the pastor at UNL's Lutheran Student Center could retire to the home in Florida he'd been building for years.

Mikah Meyer was 25 at the time and had made a promise to himself. He would not be cheated out of his retirement, as his father had been. He would work for five years, retire for a year or so, and repeat.

After that first trip, and after finishing graduate school, he began planning a more ambitious journey. The park service would be celebrating its centennial in 2016, and nobody as young as Meyer had ever visited all of its sites, and nobody at all had ever done it in one seamless trip.

He charted a 125,000-mile course that loops and zags around the map and would keep him on the road for three years. He searched for funding and sponsors -- maybe the use of an RV from Winnebago, or free rooms from a hotel chain -- but when the help he hoped for didn’t develop, he took his early retirement anyway.

He sleeps in the van, showers in a gym, eats sandwiches. And he keeps going.

“Fun wouldn't be the right word, but I feel very grateful,” he said. “Most people have to work for a year to see what I’ve seen just in the past two weeks.”

* * *

On Dec. 22, Meyer bagged his 100th site: President’s Park at the White House.

He's back in Washington, where he had lived and worked as a singer with the Washington National Cathedral’s professional choirs.

The break has given him a chance to regroup over Christmas, make some money performing for the Cathedral and catch up after months on the road.

“The doctor appointments and dental visits and all of the real life stuff that’s not very glamorous but needs to get done.”

It also gave him a chance to consider his trip so far.

Two parks shine the brightest, magnified by his Midwestern roots. The first: Buck Island Reef National Monument in the Virgin Islands.

“I swam with a school of fish,” he said. “It was just the most foreign experience, an amazing experience for someone who grew up surrounded by cattle.”

The second: North Dakota’s badlands. “The prairie gets a bad rap. But to come to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, where basically the ground has been carved out, you can see all of this amazing beauty that’s been hidden by all of this boring prairie.”

He won’t single out any duds. It takes so much effort -- money, organization, public and private support -- to get a site designated, he said. But he prefers nature to history, and he was ready for wilderness after touring the park service’s North Atlantic Region, where 39 of 43 sites are rooted in the past.

“After 15 historic sites in a row, I’m like, ‘I just want to go on a hike. I’m tired of doing a house tour.’”

Still, he experienced one of his most powerful moments at the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village.

Police raided the bar in June 1969, and the riot and demonstrations that followed are considered the beginning of the civil rights fight for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

In June, President Obama designated the Stonewall Inn and nearby Christopher Park a national historic monument, citing its importance in the struggle “toward securing equality and respect for LGBT people.”

Early in his trip, Meyer hadn't emphasized he was openly gay. He didn’t want that to draw attention from the intent of his trip -- to encourage other young people to visit parks -- or to provide a target for critics.

But he’s since met gay park rangers, been thanked by young LGBT people for providing a new type of role model, and half of his donations have been from people who told him they are LGBT.

And in late November, he found himself interviewing an openly gay park ranger at a national site dedicated to LGBT people for Logo TV, a channel aimed at LGBT people.

That was a culmination of everything cool about his trip, he said.

“Now I’m super open about being gay. It’s helping so many people. Better to do that and offend a few people if it means I can provide the role model I never had.”

* * *

He’ll be on the road again Jan. 11, headed south, where he hopes it will be warm enough to sleep in his van.

If he’s not touring a site or driving to one, he’s planning and organizing. Deciding the next stop, contacting the superintendent, updating his blog, talking to reporters, searching for sponsors.

It’s time-consuming, but it can pay off. Meyer had emailed every hotel on the Virgin Islands before that visit, and was rewarded with free rooms on St. John and St. Croix, saving him about $2,000, he said.

“I don’t even want to know how many emails I’ve sent or people I’ve contacted. They can always ignore it, but it only takes one to say yes.”

He needs more people to say yes, because his route will keep him on the road through May 2019. He plans to spend next Christmas in the Southwest, and he needs to raise enough money to travel to Hawaii and Alaska.

After his father died, he took his first retirement road trip for himself. He’s taking this one to encourage others -- young people and now LGBT people -- to visit at least a few of the hundreds of sites he hopes to see.

“I call it a project now rather than a trip,” he said. “But it’s enriching and fulfilling to get to see places that I’d never get to see in my lifetime otherwise.”

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter.



Peter Salter is a reporter.

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