Gay People Making History
Many gay travelers have a reasonably sound bucket list: Scuba diving in Tahiti, temple hopping in Japan, partying in Rio de Janeiro for Carnival. But Chris Calvert, a legal assistant in Washington D.C., had more ambitious aspirations: visit all registered National Parks in the United States. Incredibly, his goal was reached in October 2013, which first began with his initial visit to Olympic National Park in June 1980 with his family. It took him 33 years, 33 months, and 28 days to make his dream come to fruition, and he’s now the first known gay man in the world to have made such an accomplishment. “Ever since I was 17, ever since falling in love with national parks and deciding to try to visit them all, there has never been a moment when I wasn’t planning my next trip to a park, plotting out the next vacation to take in some new park, or revisit some that I’d been to before,” he says. “It’s not so much that the national parks have transformed my life. Rather, for the past 35 years, they’ve been my life!”
Don’t call it an obsession; Chris’ love for national parks has been a passion for as long as he can remember. “Ever since I was a child I’ve loved nature, being outside, plants and animals, and this, I sup- pose, is what led me to the national parks. As I grew older and developed an interest in history, I also found this aspect of our National Park System compelling. But whether it was rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon or kayaking in the Everglades or climbing Mount Rainier, my visits to the national parks have always been personal achievements.”
Chris has even brought partners to national parks, experiencing nature as a couple, often in rare, yet exciting situations, like being dropped off for days in the Alaskan bush. “My current partner had no interest in visiting national parks when we first met, simply because he was raised by a family that didn’t value nature and the outdoors. Over time, he fell in love with national parks to the point where they are now his preferred travel destinations.”
It didn’t take long for Chris to find his place in national parks, especially as a gay American. “To experience the National Park System is to experience America; in a very real sense they are one in the same. That’s why it’s important for gay Americans, for all Americans, to engage in national parks. The national parks are who we are, who I am, and collectively experiencing the national parks makes us all under- stand ourselves and our fellows that much better.”
Chris isn’t the only one who feels a connection with America’s national parks. Mikah Meyer, a singer/writer also based in Washington D.C. (pure coincidence) is planning a centennial-to-centennial, double world-record road trip to all 400+ US National Park Units from April 29, 2016 to May 19, 2019 (the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Conservation Association).
“At age 19, I took my first independent road trip a week after losing my 58-year-old father to cancer,” says Mikah. “It became a heal- ing experience that taught me the power of road trips and led me to create an annual road trip to honor the experience. At age 25, just after finishing grad school, that trek became a 260-day, 16,400-mile “dream road trip” around North America. That journey inspired me to attempt an epic road trip every five years as a way to guarantee I’d get to experience some of my “retirement” even if I passed away before age 65 like my father.”
With Mikah’s 30th birthday approaching in 2016, he recalled his favorite experiences from that “dream road trip” and decided to try and visit all of America’s national parks. This year is incidentally the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, and his journey would make him the youngest person (by nearly 20 years) to visit all 400+ parks.
An epic three-year road trip isn’t the easiest to plan, but Mikah couldn’t imagine putting time and effort into anything else. “One of the coolest parts of planning this journey has been connecting with LGBT people who break so many of the gay-travel stereotypes. The national parks, for all people, regardless of orientation, are such a special opportunity (“America’s Best Idea” as documentarian Ken Burns calls them) that everyone should take the chance to experience one.