Mikah Meyer is the first person to experience all 419 U.S. National Park Service sites in a single journey. He also made a different kind of history along the way, becoming the first openly gay man featured in an outdoors recreation campaign, for REI. Now he advocates for greater inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community in the outdoor space. His documentary short film, Echoes in the Canyon, will have its world premiere later this month.

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The impetus for Mikah’s journey was his father’s premature death at the age of 58. “I’ve always had this big Carpe Diem ethos ever since because I don’t assume I’m going to live to retirement age,” he says. “So whatever I want to do with my life, like visiting all the national parks, I’ve tried to figure out how I could do that before I hit 65. I realized most of my peers still thought they were guaranteed to live to 80. And so I decided at age 30, I was going to do some crazy big road trip to try to get their attention and share this lesson I learned in a hard way in a way that was more positive.”

Much of what he found along the way was indeed positive. It was “insanely lonely” at times, but hearing from people who would tell him what the journey meant to them, and how it was inspiring them, kept him going. However, along with the thanks, he also received a considerable amount of vitriol. Given his experiences with the outdoors recreation industry, it didn’t come as a surprise.

At the time that he began his journey, he explains, “There had never been a Pride Month ad. There had never been an openly LGBTQ+ person who was sponsored by a company and there had never even been an openly LGBTQ+ person in any ad. And so the outdoors recreation industry essentially was super homophobic. And as I dug more into that and talked to companies about all the economic benefits of marketing to this community, they straight up told me, ‘We would offend too many of our customers if we did that.’ 

“So that meant that outdoors’ culture and outdoors’ users and park visitors must feel this way too. And that totally panned out when I started doing this world record journey and journalists would write about me and so many hateful comments about, ‘Why do you have to know this guy’s gay?,’ et cetera. And so really what I learned from that was there was this huge need for even just one openly LGBTQ+ person in an outdoors ad.”

Increasing the visibility of the LGBTQ+ community in the outdoors space became his focus, not because he chose it, but because he saw it as his vocation. His father was a Lutheran pastor, and in the church’s tradition, a vocation is where your greatest talents come together to meet the world’s greatest needs. That’s how you find your life’s calling, and Mikah realized that his was to open the door for others.

“There were no openly LGBTQ+ people on posters. There were no role models. There was no representation for people to look up to and say, ‘Oh, when I grow up, I can be outdoorsy or a runner’ or involved in this activity or this job. And so really what that park journey showed me was that I needed to lean into this and sort of be that openly gay role model outdoorsman that I never saw growing up.”

His personal background also helped to convince Mikah of his calling.  “I am white. I am male. I’m from a Midwestern state. My father was an award-winning Lutheran campus minister. I am so close to that apex of privilege that when I walk into those rooms, oftentimes before I reveal that I’m gay in my speeches, these people think I’m just one of the good old boys. And I went to school in the South, and I know what the good old boys club is, and I can appear that way.

“And so to have that privilege to be so close and then say, ‘Hey, I’m just like you except for this one tiny thing,’ I think in a lot of ways allows me to reach people who could not make the leap to somebody on the far end of the queer spectrum. My hope is that by being that close to them, I can be their gateway drug.” 

He started attending conferences and expositions, which underscored the need for what he was doing. In 2021 he went to TRE (The Running Event), North America’s largest run and outdoor retail conference and trade show, visited every booth in the expo hall, and asked them what they were doing for LGBTQ+ marketing. “The blank looks on people’s faces told me everything I needed to know. It hadn’t even been considered. To somebody hearing this who isn’t queer, imagine being the only woman in a room full of men, or the only Black person in a room full of white people, or the only tennis player in a room full of golfers, or the only Packers fan in a room full of Bears fans.”

The following year, he says, there were still no LGBTQ+ speakers or topics at TRE. “I went through their entire 70+ page event guide and the words ‘sexual orientation,’ ‘gender identity,’ ‘gay,’ ‘ LGBTQ+,’ didn’t even appear in their program. So queer people did not exist, according to The Running Event.”

Not that it was only TRE. At the Running USA conference, there were happy hours for women’s diversity and BIPOC diversity, but when Mikah and some of his friends suggested that they have an LGBTQ+ happy hour, “They straight up said, ‘No’. We kept offering them free advice and free Zoom sessions and they kept being actively anti what we were trying to offer them for free. And so we hosted our own guerrilla LGBTQ+ happy hour. And we got so many attendees that that’s what encouraged us to start the Queer Running Society.

Among other things, the QRS campaigns for queer representation, which Mikah had paved the way for with his personal outreach. When he questioned the TRE exhibitors about what they were doing to reach the LGBTQ+ community, the best response, he says, came from the Executive Director of the Roadrunners Club of America, who honestly answered, “Nothing.” Mikah told her that he could help them, to which she replied, “Yes, please, help us.” A couple of months later, they had him as the keynote speaker at their conference, and the next year they brought in Mikah’s colleague at the QRS, Jake Fedorowski, author of the Guide to Non-Binary Inclusion in Running.

What began as a way to honor his father has evolved into something greater than Mikah could have imagined at the time. He encourages others to follow their dreams and see where they lead. “Whatever you want to do with your life, whether it’s getting in a van and visiting all the national parks, whether it’s running some hundred miler or some insane race, or whether it’s opening your own business or working your family farm or being a mom, or whatever life dream you have, don’t assume that you can kick the can down the road to 65 or to 80. Please pursue that goal now. And if I’m living proof of anything, I did not have the money when I launched my dream to finish it. I did not know what was going to happen, but it has provided so many amazing aspects that I never would have guessed going into it. So whatever your dream is, just show up to the starting line and take the first step.”


Mikah’s website

Mikah’s Instagram

Mikah’s Facebook

Mikah’s X (Twitter)

Mikah’s YouTube

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inclusion, inclusivity, LGBTQIA

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