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Finding Your ‘Why’ In Nature: Here’s How He Did It (Mikah Meyer)

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Humans Outside Mikah Meyer

Today, LGBTQ outdoor advocate Mikah Meyer is known for his work representing his community and advocating for inclusion in nature. But that hasn’t always been the case. In fact, when Mikah set out on his journey to become the youngest person to visit the over 400 National Park units in the U.S., inclusivity advocacy wasn’t his goal at all.

MIkah’s story is not just one of growing into an advocacy role, it also is a perfect demonstration of how immersing ourselves in nature can help us discover what we really want to be doing with our lives and who we want to be doing it for. In this powerful interview Mikah reveals the steps on that journey, empowering us to find out our own whys just like he did.

Some of the good stuff:

[3:55] MIkah Meyer’s favorite outdoor space

[7:11] How MIkah became someone who likes to go outside

[9:30] The importance of the stories we tell ourselves

[10:43] Mikah’s original ‘why’

[17:20] Changing goals

[20:09] Finding his focus of advocacy

[26:05] Finding a vocation

[29:21] The role of nature in making that happen

[36:13] How that practice can help everyday life

[37:45] What’s next for Mikah

[44:07] Mikah’s favorite and most essential outdoor gear

Connect with this episode:

Visit Mikah’s website

Follow Mikah on Instagram

Follow Mikah on Facebook

Follow Mikah on Twitter

Register for our newsletter to win a decal: https://humansoutside.com/newsletter

Follow us on Instagram and share your outdoor life with the hashtag #humansoutside365.

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation on The Humans Outside Podcast.

Listen to the episode on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

Amy Bushatz 0:06

Mikah Meyer is not one to shy away from a big impossible seeming dream. A professional vocalist, he left his gig in Washington, D.C. to chase what seemed like an impossible project with a big goal: travel around the US and become the youngest person ever to visit all of the National Park units, a journey that includes not just the official national parks that you know, that have that national park in the title, but also the other locations in the park system, like National seashores battlefields and monuments. In 2019 he accomplished that goal after spending three years chasing the dream and raising money to make it happen as he went. And while his feat and the other adventures he’s accomplished since then, such as his recent adventure, biking across Oregon, are definitely impressive, I’ve invited Mikah here today to give us some insight into the important part of pursuing a life outside: finding your why. That’s because what Mikah set out to do with his parks project and the why he found along the way, as he was living and doing life,changed as he went, putting him in a unique space to now advocate for cause it’s personal and important to all outdoor users. But we’ll get to that. Today, Mikah is going to give us his insight on not just finding your why. But working with it and through it to give your life outside a richness of meaning.

Oh, Mikah, I’m so excited to welcome you to humans outside.

Mikah Meyer 2:20

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here, beaming all the way across to Alaska.

AB 2:23

Yeah, where you’ve been before as part of your parks project, and to places that I’ve definitely never been here. So that’s exciting.

MM 2:33

Yeah, it’s always a cool experience when I run across people who talk about Oh, man, like, driving to Alaska. And I’m like, yep, did it. And then they’re like, oh, we’re going to Denali is the most wild place in Alaska.

AB 2:50

Oh, man, if that’s not real life, and I can say that as someone who’s not even been to the most wild places of Alaska, boy, it gets it gets wild fast here, though.

MM 3:01

I do have to say, and this was legit. One of the things I thought after spending a summer in Alaska, and realizing its size, but just also how much of it is remote like, as a citizen of the United States, I’m so comforted that we have it because I’m like, if global warming, you know, makes the lower 48 uninhabitable, like, we could all move up to Alaska, like we have a place where we could go to so that’s very comforting to know that we have it.

AB 3:28

That’s true. And so many people here embrace that and prep as if. Alright, so we love to start our episodes imagining ourselves in our guests favorite outdoor space, hanging out chatting with you in a space that you love, as if we were all in the same spot, instead of beaming across the magic of podcasting. Okay, so if that was the reality, where are we with you today?

MM 3:55

So it’s not one specific place, but it’s an activity. It’s an activity that I discovered on my national parks journey and that I’ve recently learned many people do not seem interested in and that activity is a multi day rafting trip. And I discovered this because next month, I’m taking off on three different rafting trips as part of my work and I get to bring an assistant along for free. And so I was inviting my friends to join and thinking they’re gonna love this. This is like a $1500 trip that they can come along for for free. And I was shocked by how many people were like scared of it. They were like, Oh, I don’t know how to raft like they didn’t realize that you just get a sit along. They were afraid of sleeping, you know, in a canyon or something. I’m like, no, it’s it’s super glamorous. Like they build these trips for retirees. Like trust me, it’s nice. But I was just surprised at how many people sort of heard about multi-day rafting trips and, and we’re really afraid of embarking on them because I found them to be one of the most amazing experiences that we offer in the outdoors, particularly 2021 and beyond. Because they’re that rare opportunity that I think my parents’ generation talked about a lot of like getting out into nature and really disconnecting from it all. Because even the vast majority of our National Park Service sites, you have cell phone service now. And so to really disconnect from it all is such a rare opportunity that multi day rafting trips provide. And so that is my favorite outdoor space. Because it can happen anywhere all over the world. You can, you can take part in this space. And it’s such a unique moment that still exists that is hard to come by otherwise,.

AB 5:34

Yeah. That’s so great. I’m glad we’re going there with you. Because I’m definitely lean towards the people who are like, Oh, I don’t really know if that sounds like me. But you know, I think my fears on that are: iI sounds wet. It sounds cold. It sounds like I might have to go to the bathroom. And can do I want to do any of those things. Not really. Right. So of course, that’s all misconceptions or, you know, moving target misconceptions, maybe like part truths. and overcomable, I say. And like there are different levels of rafting trips, as you’ve indicated, right, like there’s ones made for retirees. And then there’s ones that my 25 year old brother goes on in Idaho, where I know all the things I just mentioned are true. So

MM 6:22

There’s not one category. I mean, they really do sell it well, when they say like, yeah, you know, you’re using the bathroom in a place that are on something you might not have ever expected. But I can guarantee you, it’ll be the best view you’ve ever had while you’ve done it.

AB 6:37

Yeah, yeah, not to get too in the weeds. I mean, pun intended. But yeah, but we have something of a, like a private competition here with my friends on where that might be for you, you know? Because there are a lot of great views here. So who’s done the best one? But anyway, I digress. So okay, first of all, tell us about how you became someone who likes to go outside? Like how did we even get to this point where you’re begging people to go on rafting trips with you.

MM 7:11

You know, it’s it’s funny, because I think if you look at my background, you would assume that I’m probably one of the least outdoorsy inclined people that should exist. I grew up in Nebraska, which is one of the flattest states in the country. My dad was a pastor. So he worked on the weekends. So we never went on like family camping trips. And I am a classically trained, with a master’s degree male soprano. So if you sort of looked at my background, you would assume like this is not someone who enjoys the outdoors, which I speak very openly about, because I think we do sort of get hung up on this idea of like, oh, I’m not an outdoorsy person. I don’t look the right way or I don’t have that experience. I wasn’t in the scouts. And, and oftentimes, we talk ourselves out of really amazing experiences, kind of like these rafting trips with my friends. So yeah, I, I think growing up in Nebraska is maybe actually what made me such an adventurous person, because I spent a lot of time watching the Travel Channel and realizing that there was so much more out there in the world than Nebraska could offer. And it just gave me this itch to want to experience as much of it as possible.

AB 8:26

Hmm, that’s so great. You know, I’m like, this is not the first conversation I’ve had for this season of Humans Outside where the theme seems to be pointing itself at the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, and how nature is so great at debunking those, and we just have to look in the mirror to really accept the truth.

Like for example, I, for a really long time, have characterized myself as not that outdoorsy, but I’ve spent 20 minutes outside every single day for over 1,400 days. And I live in Alaska, and I do outdoor things as a part of that. I think we can all agree that I am probably outdoorsy, but even like saying that was hard for me, right? Like, oh, like, I’m like catching my chest. So I’m not as outdoorsy as some people. You know, or I’m, you know, I don’t really love being outdoors all the time. You know? So it’s all about those things that we tell ourselves that aren’t accurate.

MM 9:30

Yeah, understandably, like the extremes are going to be the most entertaining and the most, you know, helpful to advertisers. And so Bear Grylls is going to be a lot more entertaining. And the incredibly fit, very attractive person in your outdoors gear is going to help you sell it the most. So I think we’re just sort of conditioned to viewing outdoorsy people as some sort of extreme and we just sort of need to rework that in our brains that being outdoorsy does not mean you have to be eating bugs off of the backside of a mountain, it also doesn’t mean that you have to look a certain way or have the certain type of clothes or gear. And, you know, just like we use professional athletes to inspire us to play basketball. I think we should look at outdoorsy people and those and ads in sort of the same way. These are people who are doing something to an extreme who are hopefully inspiring us to get out there and do it ourselves. But we don’t have to be like them to do that.

AB 10:29

Yeah, so true. Okay, so tell us about your parks project. How was it born? What was your reasoning, originally, for wanting to visit all the park units when you first got started?

MM 10:43

Yeah, so my dad passed away from cancer when I was 19. And he was just 58, after a three year battle with esophageal cancer, and it really set this important message to me that, oh, we’re not all guaranteed to make it to 65 where you’re able to retire and do those things that take more than two weeks vacation. And my dad loved road trips. So a few days after his funeral, I took my first ever independent road trip as a way to heal from sort of the past three years of chemo treatments and radiation and surgeries, and really found a healing experience through that and vowed to myself that I do one road trip every year for the rest of my life around the time of his passing, which when I finished that master’s degree in classical singing, all of my friends were like, Okay, it’s time to move to New York. And I thought, well, I don’t know. Like, I want to explore and see if New York is really the place for me. What if I visit Salt Lake City, and I love it. And so I lived out of my dad’s car for nine months, I sort of cranked up the dial on that annual road trip to something crazy. And did that from age 25 to 26, and try to re envision this nine to five work till 65 life. Because what I, what I figured out, I was talking to this woman, I was couch surfing with in Montana, right outside of Glacier National Park. And she said, Well, your road trip makes total sense. You just decided to retire for a year now instead of 65. And so as I was driving around the country, I started to think about that a lot. And I thought, Well, yeah, if I, if I took one year of my retirement from age 65, through 75, and I inserted it every five years of my life, 25,30, 35, 40, etc. And by the time I reach 75, I’ll be caught up with my peers. But if I die at age 50, like my dad, I won’t have lost out or retirement, or I’ve had seven years of retirement sprinkled every five years. Hmm. And so basically, this parks journey came about when I turned 28, I was like, oh, Mikah, it’s time to buck up or shut up. Like, are you gonna do this, this theory that you’ve come up with for your life? And and see if it’s, like, plausible or not? And I’m like, you can’t, you can’t tell this idea to other people if you don’t do it yourself. Right. So at 28 I was like, What do I want to do? What’s on my bucket list? And I had a campus pastor in college, who’d always talked about his life goal was to visit all the national parks. And I said, You know what, that’s what I want to do. And I’m gonna do that when I turn 30.

AB 13:22

Yeah. Oh, so cool. Okay, so along the way, like, as you went through that journey, I mean, which was not I mean, not a short trip, right. And lots of things we could talk about making it possible and the moving, you know, all of the intricacies of that. But throughout that, you developed a much bigger purpose and your, what has become your advocacy passion. So tell us about that, and how you went maybe an overview of why you went from chasing this dream to, you know, put your money where your mouth was, sort of right into something entirely different.

MM 14:00

Well, the initial goal was, was really just to share this message that I had learned the hard way, with my peers in a way that was less hard to learn it because as I traveled, and as I met people, I realized that people my age in their 20s, seem to think they were guaranteed to live forever, or at least until 80. But when I met other folks who were of retirement age and beyond, they were all like, this is so smart that you’re doing this, like I’ve had so many friends die young. And so the initial idea with this road trip was maybe I can do one of my bucket list goals to an extreme degree such that it will get media attention and social media attention, and then I can positively share this message with other people so that they sort of don’t make the same mistake right, and miss out. And sort of funnily enough, people really hated that message. I got a lot of hate mail.

AB 14:56

You mean ‘the end is near’ doesn’t play well?

MM 15:01

Well when you it like that, yeah. I just got a lot of nasty emails from people who called me a ‘trust fund kid’ And I’m like, do you, do you know how much money campus pastors make? It’s like less than public school teachers. Like, I think maybe they thought my dad was Joel Olsteen or something. Um, but it was just, people were really m mad at me. And I think a lot of it comes from this idea of like, it’s not fair that you get to do that. When I see these articles about youngest person to visit every country, that’s my first thought too I’m like, what a trust fund brat like, right? But ultimately, that comes from a place of frustration in my own life that, well, how can they get to do that? And I don’t get to do that. So. So yeah, It was, it was initially sort of tough going, trying to figure out how to get that message out. But in sort of a beautiful poetic sense, that message changed in a way that I never expected. But as I would come to learn throughout the course of the road trip was actually way more honoring my father, and honoring the lessons of his life that I even guessed when I started.

AB 16:12

Yeah, yeah. Okay. So as you’re talking about the goals, I’m remembering people’s reaction to when I say we sold our stuff and moved to Alaska, or, you know, we live in Alaska, the response is always Oh, my gosh, you’re so lucky. You know, in fact, I met somebody just at a trail the other day, who I said oh, we live here. Oh, you’re so lucky. They live in San Diego, by the way. So I mean, oh, looking at that, by the way, like it poured rain the day before this, and I’m looking at it, and I’m getting like feasted on by mosquitoes, as she says this, and I’m thinking really, because San Diego, anyway, um, but moving here was on purpose. There was no luck involved. You know, I like sold, we sold stuff, we relocated here, we made it work, because we wanted to live here. Just like if you wanted to go on a road trip for an extremely long time, you left your job, you raised money, you sing for your supper, and you made it work, right. Like there’s no magic involved. It’s just purpose and intention and doing it.

MM 17:20

Well, that’s totally the truth. Like, I knew this was my goal throughout my 20s. And so when people are like, how’d you get to do this, I’m like, honestly, the the biggest number one reason why I was able to do this parks project was because from age 26, to 30, I lived in a high school boys boarding school, so that I didn’t have to pay rent in the Washington D.C. area, which allowed me to save like $2,000 a month that I wasn’t spending on rent. And it seems like such a simple thing. But like, my dating life was horrible those four years because people would, people would hear that I lived in a high school. And they would laugh at me and be like, that’s so you know, especially in D.C., where everyone’s trying to climb the ladder. It was a it was a joke, career. But in my mind, I’m like, no, like, I have this great setup where I don’t have to pay rent, I was singing at the National Cathedral at the time, so I still got to do something cool. But I was able to save up four years worth of rent. It was that money that I was able to put into buying a van that I would live in and, and so, you know, I talk a lot about like, I put myself through college. I was not, I’m not wealthy. And I’m not saying that, that I don’t have lots of privileges. But I think when people assume you know, this must be a rich kid whose parents paid for everything. Like, no, I spent a decade saving up for it. That’s how it happened. Yeah.

AB 18:45

So it is possible, though, I appreciate that you acknowledge, like, you and I both truly have lots of privileges to be even in a place where we can make that decision. But it’s still a decision, right? But both of those things can be true at the same time. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. And I think that that’s a really important thing to both acknowledge and to remember that this is that this is a decision point. But nonetheless, being able to be at that decision point isn’t always your choice. It’s sort of where you end up in life. And and that part, you know, call the call, call it fate, is it I mean that is out of your control to start with. So I appreciate you I appreciate you noting that.

MM 20:09

Yeah, so I was about two and a half years into this three year journey to all the National Park Service sites. And basically, the way I figured out to fun to this journey was I sang for my supper. I ended up doing a whole bunch of live performances where I use my background as a singer, then created the show that I called a national parks cabaret. And it was a two hour show that I likened to a Dolly Parton concert in the sense that I would like, come out and sing a song, and then I would tell a story about my parks trip. And then I would sing another song that was about that story, while showing like photos and videos from the trip thus far. And like literally the show evolved as the trip was going, and it changed and it and it grew. And, and the songs that I sing were the songs that I sang at churches every Sunday, because I ended up doing a lot of fundraising by singing for my supper at Sunday services all around the country. And these were the songs that the churches requested the most and so that I built those songs into the show.

And I was performing the show in South Dakota in Sioux Falls in September of 2018, so about two and a half years through my journey. And the next morning, the local Lutheran campus pastor asked if he could take me out for breakfast. And so this was the guy that basically had the same job that my dad had at the University of Nebraska, except he did it at the University of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

And we were sitting there over a pancakes and he said, you know, what I love so much about your story is that it’s exactly what I’m trying to teach my students about this idea of vocation. And a vocation is a very important word and in my Lutheran heritage, because vocation is not a career, it’s not a job. It’s a life’s calling, right. And that life’s calling is the intersection of your greatest talents and the world’s greatest needs. And they come together to form your vocation. And he basically said, You know, I try so hard to explain this concept to my students. But your trip is living proof of not only finding your vocation, but how you should find your vocation. And he said, so often people think when they’re trying to find their life’s purpose that they need to study their own navel or listen to their innermost thoughts. But what Martin Luther spoke about on the concept of vocation was that we actually find our life’s purpose by listening to the calls of the world and what they’re asking us to do with our talents, and then reacting to those. And as he described to me, he basically said, you started this parks journey with one goal, but then you discover that the outdoors industry and outdoors culture was completely lacking in any sort of LGBTQ plus representation, and stepped into that moment of be vulnerable with sharing your your own story as an openly gay man. And leaning into that, even if it wasn’t your original intention, because it’s what the world was asking you to do. Through these 1000s of messages I got on Instagram of people, explaining to me what it meant to them to see a member of the community being openly gay, and outdoorsy, something that is not very common in the culture at all.

And so basically, this parks journey sort of gave me my life’s vocation, and taught me a lesson that this Lutheran pastor, campus pastor was trying so desperately to teach his students which, as a Lutheran pastor’s kid, this is sort of this beautiful full circle moment where I started this parks journey, in honor of my dad, who at one point, ran America’s largest Lutheran campus ministry and won the award for being the best campus pastor in the country. And here, I was able to teach this lesson that he probably was also trying to teach his students.

AB 24:04

Yeah, yeah. So Oh, my goodness, I that is such a beautiful, beautiful story and just sort of like sitting here, taking it in.

Yeah, man, it’s so easy to get to pigeonhole yourself into thinking that you have to do one thing or another. And it’s so hard to be open to that feedback that you gain by being alive. It’s the hubris of youth right like that. We think that we have to have everything figured out.

MM 24:38

Yeah. Well, and people talk about my, my parks journey now. And I think, you know, thank God, I was such a Pollyanna and just like believed, I totally like I had only saved up 1/5 the amount of money it would take to pull off this journey. And I just looked at YouTube and Instagram and saw these people like getting sponsorships and crowdfunding to travel the world. And I was just like, okay, I’ll do that too. And then nine months into my trip, like, all I got was hate mail from people calling me a trust fund kid and I was like, Oh shit, like, this isn’t working. And, and, and then sort of discovering a way to stay alive on the road and through that discovering this this vocation and in some senses like my naivete was what gave me the spark, I needed to jump on the road. And then I guess tenacity to keep going? Who knows?

AB 25:35

Yeah. Okay, so I’m wondering if you can talk about how if, if at all, nature and spending time outside gives you a willingness or the ability to see that, to see that you could change your why, to an openness to shifting your perspective and finding that vocation?

MM 26:05

Well, it’s one of the things I love the most about travel, there’s a quote, and I don’t know if it’s incorrectly attributed or not, but I’ve seen it all over social media. And it’s about, you know, travel being sort of the anecdote for prejudice. And basically, the more we travel, the more we meet other people, the more we realize how similar we are. And it makes us less afraid. And I’m totally butchering the quote. But it’s, it’s that concept. And I think of something really similar when it comes to traveling, in the sense that like, my first road trip days after my dad’s funeral, there’s a big power in putting ourselves into different physical spaces, and that it helps us open spaces in our hearts and minds that we might not be able to, in our typical surroundings. And, and for me, I think I’ve discovered that in myriad ways. My first big road trip that nine month, one that I took after grad school was really pivotal in me sort of accepting myself as a gay man and coming out of the closet and being comfortable with that. And what I realized was, it’s because I was traveling, non stop. So if I met somebody, and they were offended that I was gay, I was like, I don’t care. I’m leaving town tomorrow. You know, and so, but of all these feelings of judgment, and expectations that come with living in one place, growing up somewhere going to school, I was completely void of that for nine months. Because, there, if somebody judged me, I didn’t care because I was leaving town. And so that was a lesson I took from that trip. And I think whenever we travel, whether it’s to a different part of our own state or around the world, it gives us that ability to learn something new about ourselves, by being in new physical spaces. And so, like, what better place to do that than the most beautiful places in America?

AB 27:58

Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So the other thing I’m wondering is like, there’s leaving, like having peace out is one thing, right? So I don’t have time for negativity, because I’m literally leaving, and I don’t care. But then there’s also, when you put yourself in wild spaces, there’s naturally a lack of humans, that’s the point. And so there’s just less potential for negative feedback. There’s less incoming feedback at all. And you what you have is an openness in a space, literal, physical space, but also the mental space to process and let your brain move through emotions and how you’re feeling about things and be like, even without knowing you’re deciding how you feel about things. You decide how you feel about things. It’s like it’s a process space. It’s, I think, a recreational therapist, we had on the show a long time ago, talked about it as being outdoors as a container. So it gives you a container for that process. And I’m wondering if, if you find that to be true as you’ve visited all of these, I mean, there’s National Park wild spaces, and then there’s the unit wild spaces, which are legit like, there’s no infrastructure there goodbye.

MM 29:21

Yeah. Well, I think, um, you know, people joke about like, I had this thought while taking a shower, and they’re like, Oh, God, a shower thought, but I love shower thoughts. Because, you know, we are so bombarded with noise in our life nowadays, whether that’s the TV, the physical noise of the city surrounding us, or our neighbors mowing the lawn or whatever, or just the noise of constantly being connected that at any moment, anybody you know, can contact you through your cell phone, and now we’re just so inundated with stimulus, that I love shower thoughts because you’re basically doing one thing your body is sort of going In Motion, and it allows your brain to explore in a way that I don’t think we can normally. And you know whether it’s Cheryl Strayed hiking the PCT or going out for a walk in your neighborhood. I think nature sort of gives us that same experience. And that it gives us a moment where we’re focused just on putting one foot in front of the other, and your body sort of goes into autopilot. And then it allows your brain to open up in ways that it can’t when you’re trying to manage your email and your kids and your homework and your job. And so I think that’s sort of the greatest power that these wide open spaces have, and particularly like you mentioned, those that are further off the beaten path, because I remember being in Yosemite and having the most incredible sunset ever at glacier point, and looking at Half Dome, and it was right after the fires of that season. So it was only like three days after they even let visitors in. And at twilight right after the sun went behind the mountains, like 90% of the crowd left. And there were only like 30 people left at one of the most popular sunset spots in the whole national park service site. And everyone was quiet except for these like four teenagers. And I turned around and I said, I said, hey, I’ve been traveling the parts for the past two and a half years, you have no idea how rare this moment is. Would you guys mind just being quiet for like 60 seconds. So we can all have this experience of like, total, quiet and just nature sounds while we have this view? And right away one of them screen back? No. And they all laughed. And it was frustrating, because I had been to those other places where I’d had these amazing views. And because they were less popular parks, there was no screaming child, there was no car or radio or whatever. And, you know, those are the moments that take your breath away. And whether it’s whether it’s those or just strolling along on a path, like, I think putting ourselves in those physical spaces allows spaces, our hearts and minds to do things that they wouldn’t otherwise,

AB 32:09

So I’m thinking about the fact that it’s possible to find those sort of quiet wild moments in spaces that are closer to home. You know, what I love talking about the national parks and I’m like legitimately obsessed with collecting park cancellation stamps, let no one deceive you, this is a thing. But at the same time, I want to remember that I don’t have to go there. And legitimately will not get my stamp if I don’t, but it’s okay. I don’t have to go there to find that even in city spaces, you can find a corner of a park where you can either tune out those noises or be further away from some of those noises and have that moment, it may not be it it will definitely not be that view. If somebody’s like, okay, let’s acknowledge that right. But it’ll be what’s available and it is available. I’m thinking you know, I used to live in Washington D.C. and so you know, it’s just like you right so it’s very very chaotic there right? Lots of people. Everyone seems like they’re in it’s not just like city hurry. It’s like world is burning hurry. If people feel they’re right, everyone feels this tremendous responsibility to change things right now. Like literally not right now. Five minutes ago. Yeah. And, and even there, there are spaces that you can go to that are have that quiet moment I’m thinking about a corner of the National Arboretum or the part of Kenilworth gardens.

These these are even the garden right next to that I’m totally blanking on the name that it’s a greenhouse, Botanical Gardens, maybe right next to the Capitol Building, right? Like it’s pretty quiet in there. And if it’s not, they’ve got like the misty thing going on. So there’s some white noise. Yeah, so like, my friends and I used to work out of the D.C. City Council building. And there is a little park area right off right outside the Reagan building with this like a cavernous waterfall like you walk down into it, okay. And my friend called it the Oasis, a fancy name, but like there would never even in the middle of the workday, there were very few people down there. And it was almost like this hidden enclave right next to the White House area, you know, so like these paces, places exist, you just have to be purposeful about finding them. And that can be really hard. And then the other thing you said that I really resonated with was this idea of having your shower moment outside. I find that when I’m running literally putting one foot in front of the other and that might just be because that is the longest period I spend outside right is when I’m going on a long run but I also find it sitting in front of a fire stock still, right or watching water, just move. And your brain sort of like goes into this place, like somewhere else, where it’s just like moving through this process of stuff. And it is the most magical feeling. I cannot tell you how many, like hard problems I’ve figured out in those moments, without even knowing that I was trying to figure them out. It just happens. It’s great. It’s everything. I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s like, sounds like an amazing multi-day rafting trip to me. All right, all right. Every friend that said no. Oh, man. Okay.

So do you think that this ability to learn to find that calling and to have that purpose and to shift your focus while doing these journeys, that practicing that outside made it easier for you to do on a micro level inside? Is that like a growth skill set that that you can now take home?

MM 36:13

I mean, I think it’s, it’s this idea of just shifting your perspective, that what I like the most is, it’s so easy to get caught up in this idea of I mean, like, the American dream is to go into K-12. School, and then go to college and meet your spouse while you’re in college, and then get a job and then do that job and climb the corporate ladder and buy the mortgage and get a nicer car and get a bigger house. And then next thing, you know, you’ve retired and Oh, sorry, you got cancer and died. It’s like, we take so, so few times, I think, understandably, because life is hard. And this is sort of the way that our society is figured out to like, pay the bills and pay your health insurance, co-pays and all that. But I think any opportunity to sort of shift your perspective and just take a moment and pause and say, this race that I’m running, is this is this the race I want to be running? Is this the way I want to be running, it can help so much to make sure that you’re on the right path that you really want to be on.

AB 37:20

Oh, that’s so, so smart. Okay, so before we finished, finished, I want to know, I want you to update us on what you’re doing now. Because it’s, I mean, you got a rafting trip coming up, you’re working on other campaigns. You are a man in motion. So okay, you cycle across Oregon. You’re working on a safe spaces campaign, like, tell us about all these things? What are you doing?

MM 37:45

Yeah, so I’m really excited about the the big project I’m working on now, which is sort of an extension of that parks journey. And it’s because given the media attention of that national parks journey, everything from NPR, to the BBC, to the Today Show etc, I got lots of messages from people. And so many of those messages, were page-long emails of people that just wanted to share their story with someone who they thought could relate. And one of the things I heard so often from people, is that sort of, as you talked about, like nature is the space where they really love to be. And they, they love to be out there because they feel like, you know, nature doesn’t judge them. And unfortunately, in many of our natural spaces, there are lots of other people who do judge them. And specifically, a lot of the messages I got word from members of the LGBTQ+ community, who shared traumatic experiences of everything from hate crimes to microaggressions, of just feeling like they had to expend so much energy in these outdoor spaces just to defend who they were from other humans. And they wish that there was a way that they didn’t have to do that.

And for anyone who doesn’t understand what I’m talking about, I want you to imagine, you know, going into a room where you’re the only person of your gender, and there’s 1,000 other people the opposite gender, or you’re the only person of your race, and there’s 1,000 people the other race, or you’re the only person of your religion, and everybody else is a different religion or, or anything where basically you are sort of feeling like a fish out of water when it comes to being somebody who’s not the dominant culture. And that’s what so many people were expressing, and it sort of feeling like a weight on their shoulders that made it harder to be who they were, as we talked about with my parks road trip, when I didn’t have the judgment of my teachers and my parents and my peers. I felt so much more free to be myself and learn who I was. So basically people sort of yearning for that experience.

And as I thought about what I could do with my experience and my platform to help those people, I came up with this concept called the outside safe space. And it’s inspired by the upside down pink triangle safe space symbols that some teachers put on their doors to indicate that that teacher is a welcoming and accepting person for LGBTQ+ youth. And it takes that same idea that from being on doors indoors, to being outdoors to being outside, and it’s a symbol that I made that is a tree that’s completely made out of triangles to honor that original symbol. And it’s got the rainbow flag in it, the bi-flag, the trans flag and a tree trunk of all different skin tones to show that people of the LGBTQ+ community come from all these backgrounds.

And basically, what I do is I ask allies to wear that pin on their backpack, or wear that sticker on their water bottle or their outdoor gear so that if you are one of those people that comes across somebody in the outdoors, and assumes, traditionally, you know, this is somebody who probably won’t be accepting of me that you’ll be able to see that symbol and instantly know, this is somebody who welcomes me as I am, I can feel more comfortable being myself around them. And so to promote this outside safe space program, and hopefully get people to buy in and wear these pins and stickers, I’m doing what I learned from my national parks journey, and that is doing epic adventures that get media and social media attention, and then using those to share a message.

And so whether it’s running across Minnesota, or running across Mississippi, as I did this past winter after my followers voted in the most homophobic state in America, biking across Oregon this this past spring, or these these rafting trips that are that I’m leading next month that are only for non straight people. So the idea is to take a queer space and insert it into a culture and that’s almost exclusively heteronormative space and see, that allows people to open up but basically everything I’m doing that whole long rant was in promotion of this program and helping make our great outdoors, the great outdoors for everyone, even if they aren’t traditionally part of the culture.

AB 42:04

Yeah, yeah, thank you for sharing that with us. And I this isn’t going to air in time for anyone listening to jump on that soonest rafting rafting trip.

MM
Oh they’re all sold out.

AB

Okay, well, then. Nevermind. Sorry, guys. But you know, post trip FOMO.

MM 42:28

We hopefully will do more if people you know, find my Instagram or Facebook and follow along. Like, the idea is that these were sort of a test to see how they work. And we sold out really fast. So hopefully that means that we’ll be providing a lot more of these in the future.

AB 42:42

Yeah, yeah. And for those listening, you can find all of Mikah’s Instagram and social media stuff in the show notes. As always, we’ve got links to our guests details there so that you can connect with him or her in whatever way is your is your preference. But those will be in the show notes.

So okay, Mikah, thank you so much for sharing what you’re doing now with us. And thank you so, so much for sharing your journey to finding your why and just the advice for doing that. It’s this is definitely something I’m going to be chewing on myself for a long time. I actually have a long run while I’m training for a very long race, which by the people time people here this will be over. And hopefully I will have actually done it. But I’ve got lots of long runs in the next several days. So this is definitely something I’m going to be thinking about while I’m doing those runs.

But before I let you go, you know one of the things I love asking our guests is to share their most essential and favorite outdoor gear with us. I have personally found so many fabulous gear recommendations this way, things that I now use every day and love and also just some great advice like “do not forget your snacks, Amy.” So tell us what is your most essential and favorite outdoor gear? What comes to mind?

MM 44:07

Oh, well essential is going to be my 32 ounce Nalgene bottles. And people call them my babies, my Nalgene babies

AB 44:17

I call them my security blankets. So I’m picking it up.

MM 44:20

Yeah, well and it’s I’m like I’m gonna say this and I want to sound humble when I say this, but I’m, I’m 35 and a lot of people ask if I’m 26 or 27. And, and they say like how do you not look? 35 ?What’s your what’s your skin regimen? What cream do you use? And I was like, honestly, I drink 150 ounces of water at least a day. Yeah. And they’re like, okay, yeah, but like what facial routine knows like, just keep your body hydrated. And this all goes back to my days as a singer because there was a joke that was well an adage that was pee pale, sing clear. So if your pee is clear or not, not yellow, then it means you’re hydrated and you’ll probably sing better because your vocal cords are hydrated. Yeah. So it’s the same concept just with your skin and your organs and your whole body. Like, the more you stay hydrated, the better. And what I love about the Nalgene bottles is the smaller mouth ones. The cap goes over the mouthpiece.

So as we’ve learned about more than ever during COVID, like you want to be careful what you’re putting on your face and your mouth. And so many water bottles, I’m shocked that their design like if the water bottle falls on the dirt, like the dirt gets all over the mouthpiece. Or, you know, if people grab it and hand it to you, they put their hand all over the thing you’re about to put your mouth on. And so these Nalgene bottles are awesome because they’re 32 ounces. And they they have mouthpieces that are covered and Nalgene did not pay me to say any of this.

You can you can get a Nalgene bottle with an outside safespace symbol on it, or put it outside safespace sticker on it. But yeah, I literally have like 15 of these bottles in my apartment. And just whenever I travel or wherever I go, like I always got one or two.

AB

All right, what’s your favorite?

MM

Um, well, this is his sort of personal to me. But I traveled with the rainbow flag during the national parks journey. And once I started about a year into my journey to really share about about being gay, I found that it was the easiest way to communicate in a photo like that I’m not straight. And I’m out here in this heteronormative space the outdoors. By taking a photo with a rainbow flag in front of Delicate Arch or Half Dome or whatever, iconic, recognizable outdoor sight there. Well. It’s my favorite because every time I did it, it always sparked a conversation. Either it was somebody who was angry that I was unfurling it or was confused. Or people would be like, Oh my god, can I borrow your flag, like my lesbian cousin would love this if I sent a photo. So it was always an amazing conversation piece. Which, my favorite part of traveling is the interesting people you meet. So for me, that’s, that’s my favorite. And the cool thing now is the outside safe space pin is sort of a condensed rainbow flag that can provide the same conversation spark.

AB 47:20

Hmm, beautiful. I love it. Thanks for sharing those things with us. Final question, okay, love to walk out of these conversations, just sort of hearing about an outer space that is important to you. That is something that when you close your eyes, that’s and you think I’m outside in my brain, like where are you in this moment? And that means just maybe it’s your happy place? Maybe it’s just something that gives you a sense of calm? Can you describe that moment to us?

MM 47:55

So you mentioned you’re a runner, and I totally connected with everything you said, because especially during the pandemic, I got really into running. And I’ve got this one path that runs along the Mississippi National River and recreation area. Fun fact, there is actually a national park service site that runs the entire length through the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, one of the largest urban centers in America. And that’s like my favorite daily run path is to go and run along that that National River. And I just made this video with some friends of like sort of my favorite route, and I put it on my Instagram. And it was so cool. To have people from all over the world be like, Oh my gosh, I lived in Minneapolis and I love that path. Or people share like, oh, I’ve got the same thing here where I live in, you know, whatever corner of the globe. And so it was fun, just to see how like, as we talked about, like people have these spaces, that means so much to them. And literally in the center of a downtown can be your happy nature place.

AB 48:59

Yeah. Oh, that’s, that’s so beautiful. One of my favorite places is also a path that I run and I just I get it’s just such a sense of calm that I get by closing my eyes and envisioning myself there. And moving through that. So thank you for sharing that with us. I appreciate it.

Mikah, thank you also for coming on Humans Outside today. I really appreciate you sharing your story with us.

MM 49:24

It’s a pleasure. And if you’re hearing this and you you want to share your story with somebody send me a DM because I love hearing people’s experiences and the outdoors and whether whether it was some tragedy that sparked them to do something epic. Or they remember the queer community and they connect to that way, or they just love epic road trips. Like I love hearing people’s stories and sort of your listeners. Why? Just like we talked about in this podcast.

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