Running Across Minnesota

Aug 31, 2021Events

Mikah Meyer calls himself a “full-time adventurer”. He moved to Minneapolis in 2019, right after finishing the mammoth task of visiting all 419 National Parks sites in one, long, four-year trip. But he didn’t rest long before tackling another mission. Running, he said, helped him lose weight, deal with the COVID pandemic and inspired him to launch the Outside Safe Space (OSS) Program, which aims to make the outdoors safer and more welcoming to members of the LGBTQ+ community. To promote OSS, he decided to run across Minnesota, starting at the Minnesota-South Dakota border on September 4, 2020, finishing at the Stillwater lift bridge 40 days later. I had a chance to ask him some questions about his Minnesota trip and his next adventure.

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Why take on this challenge?

I do what I call “Adventure Advocacy,” where I combine exciting travels with important causes. During a global pandemic where so many normal travel rules are rewritten, running across Minnesota was something I could do safely, at a distance from others, and even if every state went into lockdown and closed their borders, my months of planning ahead of time wouldn’t have been for naught. So, the Run Across Minnesota was to launch the Outside Safe Space program, designed to help foster welcoming spaces for LGBTQ people in rural areas and the Great Outdoors. Participants can wear or display branded OSS items like pins, stickers and patches to nonverbally indicate their allyship as a safe person, outside the places LGBTQ people typically feel welcome.

Why did you move to MN?

After traveling to every US state and territory for three years nonstop, I had a pretty good idea of what America had to offer. After three years of solitude and nature, I also wanted cities and gay people. [Minneapolis is] the best of America, all packaged in one city. The Twin Cities consistently ranks as having one of the best city park systems in America. It has a vibrant urban life with all the amenities of a big city, without the high costs. It’s a mix of pro-LGBTQ statewide protections common to states on the coasts, but with the culture and pace of the Midwest. And based on my travels around the USA and speaking to LGBTQ people in every place, Minneapolis is the only city in North America with a large gay population where one can easily rent in the gayborhood for under $1,000 a month.

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Your run took you east along Highway 212, then onto the Luce Line Trail toward the Twin Cities and, finally, through downtown Minneapolis and on the Gateway and Brown’s Creek State Trails into Stillwater. Why did you choose this route and why in September?

Knowing I wanted to show off the state during its most beautiful season, I had to fit a statewide crossing into the dates of fall foliage changing. So, running across Minnesota’s skinniest portion—that would also cross the state’s largest media market made the most sense. It also helped that the Luce Line Trail provided a clear route to follow for almost half the route, and one that was less dangerous than the highways I had been running on.

Now that you’ve seen a lot of Minnesota up close at the pace of a few miles an hour, what are your impressions of the state?

Corn and soybeans. Legit, my first 90 miles were corn and soybeans. That being said, one of the coolest parts of this journey was getting the same adventure-feels I’ve gotten when traveling to foreign countries or far-flung states.I was seeing parts of my state and having conversations with people that are very different than the urban bubble I have in Minneapolis, yet that was the most beautiful part.

A small-town Dairy Queen employee asked what my Outside Safe Space symbol meant and after I told her she said, “I don’t understand all the politics of the people in the Twin Cities and their Black Lives Matter and whatnot. But my daughter has special needs and whenever we leave the house people make fun of her. So I know what it feels like to be you, and I hope people listen to your story.”

Since I ran in September and October during election campaign season, I watched the percentage of signs for each political party swing from one direction to the other as I went from rural to urban Minnesota. But my heart was warmed to learn that all my Minnesotans share so many similar values. Even if we’ve been told we have to pick one polarizing side to hitch our identity to. That gives me hope, at a time I think many of us need it.

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Did you have days when you didn’t feel like running? What did you do to get motivated?

It was very cold and rainy the first week I was often running in the high 40s and low 50s, even in the afternoon during the hottest part of the day, and dodging rainstorms. Since Minnesota had had a blizzard the previous year on October 11, this was not a good omen for the weather I’d be running in the following five weeks, so I was asking myself what I’d signed up for.

At the same time, on my very first day of running, just four miles in, three teenage males drove past me and yelled “Faggot!” out the window as I trotted along, wearing my shirt covered in the Outside Safe Space rainbow tree logo. Four miles into a 210-mile run across the state. After 30 minutes of shock I had another realization; one that stayed in my mind the rest of the run: “This is why what I’m doing is important. I need to complete this run even if it just makes one other LGBTQ person’s life the slightest easier. So watch this “faggot” run across the whole state! Thanks for the fuel.” I remembered that moment any time I wanted to quit running. And ended up fulfilling my goal of never stopping a day’s run to walk even one step of the Run Across Minnesota. Thank you, homophobes.

Your impressions of the trails you took.

I loved the Luce Line Trail, the one that covered almost half of my entire run. Parts of it were grass, some crushed limestone, some crushed granite, and some pavement. But all of it was surrounded by trees, and away from noisy roads. I reached the trail just as trees started turning yellow, orange, and red, and at that point very much appreciated the first week of freezing temps that helped speed up the color change.

The Gateway Trail that runs from the Minnesota State Capitol-more or less-to Stillwater was also wonderful. By the time I reached it on October 7, the trees were dark yellow, burnt orange, and deep red. It was magical.

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How long did it take you to plan this?

The idea came to me in May 2020, and I started planning in earnest during mid-June. So much of the prep work was reaching out to companies in search of sponsorship money to pull it off. For every company who said yes fifty others said no.  So, a lot-a lot-of emails. I didn’t even get final confirmation I got the Winnebago loaner [recreational vehicle] until a week before the run was supposed to start. Aside from deskwork, the majority of the planning, I went biking around the Twin Cities to scout the best route to cross my new hometown. Because I needed to understand how the Luce Line State Trail transitioned to the Luce Line Regional Trail and others that took me through the Twin Cities via different connected trail names.

What were some of the interactions with people in the communities along the way?

Getting to meet people is my favorite parts of adventures. But due to COVID, I was very careful about how often I did that. Both for my own health but also because I didn’t want to contribute to endangering anyone in the communities I traveled through. Of the people I did interact with, with the exception of a few joyless restaurant waiters, most were so warm and welcoming.

The Chamber of Commerce of Montevideo was super helpful with arranging local media and finding a park with a free, warm shower. The City of Hutchinson helped with a free campsite right next to the Luce Line Trail. And when I was in the westernmost part of the state, where there were no campgrounds, but Lutheran churches every few miles, I emailed the local Lutheran church asking to park overnight in their lot. I’m Lutheran and my dad was a Lutheran pastor, and within an hour, the church administrator and pastor had both written me and said, “Feel free to go inside and use the bathrooms, kitchen, Internet, whatever you need. Make yourself at home.”

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A man crosses finish line running with his arms raised while people look on

What challenges did this run pose to you? How did you overcome them?

Never enough time. Handling the logistics of a project like this, where to eat, sleep, when to run, and taking care of one’s physical and mental health, is enough to take all day. Throw in trying to share it all live on social media with a brand new post of beautiful photos every night? That was exhausting. I’d often be up until 2am or 3am finishing each day’s post, I didn’t go to bed before midnight even once the entire first week, and realized over the course of the 38-day run I looked at over 100,000 photos to narrow them down to the best seven each day.

I overcame those challenges by having an amazing Support Team. They’d be driving to our campsite while I planned the next day’s run, and put up with me constantly being on my phone crafting captions and replying to messages. No man is and island. And I couldn’t have done this project without the help of those support people, Hunter, Maddie, Tom, Scott, Jill, Mike, Noah, Dan, David, Chandler, Lindsey, Neil and Adam.

That does sound like a lot of hard work. Did it come with rewards?

At 34, my legs were in the best shape of their life. Especially in a gay culture that rewards youth and beauty, being post-30 is what I joke equals “Gay Death.”

What’s next for you? What are you working on?

This September and October I’ll be running across my home state of Nebraska. But-my big goal for post-COVID is to take the Outside Safe Space international, hopefully in 2022. Because of my Lutheran roots, I’ve chosen to hike across Norway via the St. Olav Way, the world’s northernmost pilgrimage. I’m also hoping to run across Switzerland in the fall of 2022. It would be so beautiful to share with my social media fans, so I’m hoping I can figure out a way to make it happen.

After completing a run across Mississippi in February and a bike ride across Oregon in May of this year, Mikah is looking forward to his next adventure. If you have an idea where he should go next, you can contact him through his website www.mikahmeyer.com.

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I’m Jan, the publisher of Minnesota Trails Magazine. I’m looking for that one trail, the next ride, a new discovery and other reasons never to sit still in Minnesota.

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