How to Keep Adventure Alive During the Pandemic
How to Keep Adventure Alive During the Pandemic
Why one road-trip lover is running across Minnesota.
By: Mikah Meyer
“How do we keep adventure alive during a pandemic?”
It’s a question I’ve grappled with since “coronavirus” and “COVID” became part of our worldwide vernacular.
As someone whose job is traveling places, writing about them, and sharing those adventures with others, this global pandemic has changed everything for me.
But it’s done the same for all of us.
Just as I was originally scheduled to be heading north to Canada this summer, crossing The Pond to Germany, and speaking at colleges this fall, so too have foreign road trips, vacations halfway around the world, and everything from weddings to girls weekends been called off.
Except in all these cancellations, one travel option rose like a phoenix from the ashes: RVing.
The Open Road.
The Great American Road Trip.
Getting Away From It All.
All our most iconic American travel idioms have not only become part of a few safe options, but have burst in popularity.
My Introduction to the Great American Road Trip
Traveling America’s roads is something I know well after spending 2016 – 2019 visiting all 419 U.S. National Park Service sites in one continuous journey. The trip was sparked when I was 19 years old and my Lutheran pastor father died suddenly from esophageal cancer at age 58. He was a big fan of road trips and was supposed to drive me to my freshmen year of college that coming fall.
So in his absence, I took a road trip in his car a few days after his funeral. And have done one every year around the day of his passing, April 29, with the goal of completing one of my bucket list items—visiting all the national parks — to help share with my peers the need to chase their dreams sooner, in case they unexpectedly pass away as well.
On April 29, 2019, three years to the minute after I launched that journey from the Washington Monument, I completed it across the reflecting pool at The Lincoln Memorial.
Those 75,000 driving miles (plus planes, trains, and boats) took me to every U.S. state and territory: The main travel options for Americans currently during our socially distanced new normal.
Though I wasn’t traveling to them in an RV like one might expect.
I was “young, scrappy, and hungry” to quote the musical Hamilton, after only inheriting a beat-up Hyundai Elantra from my dad’s passing. So, I saw the land of our Founding Fathers from age 30 to 33 while living in a self-converted cargo van that was the definition of a “spartan lifestyle.”
Within my van, I had enough under-bed storage for three-years’ worth of clothes, the same queen-size mattress I’d slept on for years, and a solar powered fridge with a seven-gallon jug of drinking water next to it.
A bed. Storage. And a fridge.
That’s what I survived on for three years.
Now that I’m in my mid-30s, my back, knees, and general desire to sleep under 70-degrees (plus humidity) have led me to a new way of traveling.
New Inspiration During Our New Normal
When the pandemic caused national lockdowns in March of 2020, I made a giant Costco run then sequestered myself in my apartment, watching the news to await further instruction. All my work was cancelled, so I’d binge Netflix into the wee hours of the morning, wake up when the clock read PM, and eat all the things that make you feel good in the moment, but not after.
During two weeks of nearly losing my mind, local laws allowed for socially distanced outdoor exercise and I looked at my running shoes that had gathered dust over the winter.
In Minneapolis, where I live, the trails become so covered in ice that I’d decided it was worth the muscle atrophy to avoid slipping and breaking my leg during a run. I’d also been dealing with an injury for six months and decided the Minnesota winter was a great chance to give it long-term rest.
As I laced-up my shoes anew in spring, running quickly became my lifeblood. A chance to leave my apartment for 30, 60, 90, and eventually 120 minutes, as my runs grew to 15 miles in just a few weeks. With the weather improving, I created a spoke of routes from my downtown home and made a goal to run to/through all 180 Minneapolis City Parks by the end of summer.
As I was checking parks off my list, May and June brought a significant shift to my daily runs. Spring saw not just a change from brown trees to blooming flowers, but also a transformation of the streets I was running. They were now asking for justice in a way they hadn’t before.
As coronavirus shelter-at-home orders turned to city-wide curfews, I found myself completing my usual sunset runs then returning home to once again watch the news. This time, asking myself what I could do to help. How I could use my profession (that had been turned upside down), my passion (that was budding via running in ways it hadn’t before), and my platform (fortunately, I could still share adventures via social media) to help make the world a better place.
What resulted, was an idea that wraps all aspects of our national COVID new-normal into one giant project. 1) A way to keep adventure alive during a global pandemic, 2) an outlet to enjoy the road trips that have become our main source of travel, and 3) a project to help improve the world around me.
So, I planned to …
Run Across Minnesota.
Why Run Across Minnesota?
As I recalled my experience visiting all 419 National Park Service sites, and the thousands of people I met and heard from around the world, one story stood out.
A story that was both my own and that of so many others.
As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I didn’t always feel welcome in the outdoor spaces I visited.
“Nature doesn’t care if you’re gay,” I’ve heard many times.
And it’s true. Nature doesn’t.
But some people do. And unfortunately, it’s led to uncomfortable and unsafe situations for both myself and other fellow community members. Moments that have made us wonder if it’s safe to be authentically ourselves during outdoor recreation.
Recalling the “Safe Space” upside-down pink triangles of my school years, I set forth to design a symbol - and create a program - that would help the outdoor and adventure communities show their welcome of LGBTQ+ people in the outdoors:
An Outside Safe Space.
The logo, designed in a way that includes all identities of LGBTQ+ people, became my motivation to push beyond just running to Minneapolis city parks, and instead share an epic adventure in real-time during the pandemic that would help launch the program.
So I thought, “Why not Run Across Minnesota?”
Even if the situation with COVID worsens and I can’t leave my state, I can still do an adventure that also keeps me safely isolated from other travelers.
Visit mikahmeyer.com/runacrossmn to see a detailed Google Map of my route.
Upgrading My Travel Style
Given all our new COVID safety precautions, and quite simply, the lack of hotels in rural areas where I’d be running, I knew there was only one way I could pull-off this journey:
Living in an RV.
So I reached out to the folks at Winnebago, whose headquarters in Winnebago County, IA, shares a border with Minnesota, and asked if they could help me find an RV to live in during a time when the rest of the country is either using or already renting out their RV!
On August 31, I picked up the new 2021 Solis 59PX Class B gas camper van, affectionately named “Soren” for this run across a state with a history of Scandinavian immigrants. Then, on September 4, I began a 200-mile journey across the state I chose to move to after my national parks journey.
I’m excited to live in a professionally built RV for the first time – this Solis being created from the same Ram Promaster frame that my self-built #VanLife home was. And experience what it’s like to have running water, an expertly designed interior, and my greatest desire after my last journey: climate control!
I’m also thrilled to share an adventure with you during this time where social media is one of our main entertainment options. Each day during my Sep. 4 to Oct. 11 run, I’ll be sharing pictures of my explorations around Minnesota, chronicling daily what it’s like to complete an endurance run while living in a Class B RV, and showcasing the stories of other diverse outdoorsy people I’ve come across during my years working in the outdoor industry.
Follow Along with the Adventure
I also need your help!
I am a complete newbie to RVing, having never lived in one before! So if you’re reading this, please send me your tips via any of the above social media. This is going to be an adventure for me in so many ways, so I’ll need your expertise to help make my first RV experience the best it can be (instead of just fumbling my way through draining the waste tank)!
See my detailed route, learn more about the Outside Safe Space initiative, or send me a note at my Run Across Minnesota website.
I look forward to seeing you from behind the wheel of “Soren the Solis” as we Run Across Minnesota!
Standing on the North Shore eastern border of Minnesota, where my Run Across Minnesota will finish on October 11th, National Coming Out Day.