Sore and sweaty, Mike Posner decided it was time to take a break. He had been up since 3 a.m. and had already trekked 16 miles along a thin two-lane highway in eastern Colorado. But, just as Mike looked up to take in the beauty of the Rocky Mountains, he felt a sudden, sharp pain in his leg. When an ominous rattling sound followed, Mike knew he was in danger.
At 31 years old, the I Took a Pill in Ibiza singer already had a hit music career under his belt. However, his father’s death and the vapid Hollywood music scene left him yearning for a more meaningful life. So Mike did the unthinkable and embarked on a six-month solo trek across America.
This is his story.
All Mike can remember from that day was asking the 911 dispatcher if he was going to die. This dispatcher didn’t hide her uncertainty and immediately answered him with, “I don’t know.” It was mid-August on a hot and sunny day, and Mike was roughly 1,800 miles into a 2,851-mile trek that spanned 13 different states.
Inspired by one of his earliest influences, Bruce Springsteen, Mike started in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and hoped to finish in Venice Beach, California. For most long-distance hikers, a rattlesnake bite would have been a low point in their journey, but not for Mike. This was nothing compared to the darkest corners of his mind, and now he was just thrilled to ride in a helicopter and finally feel air-conditioning.
After walking on blistered feet through 90 percent humidity, Mike’s five-day ICU stay at a Colorado hospital felt like a luxury vacation. But it wasn’t just the hospital stay that gave Mike a sense of relief. No, it was that after almost 1,800 miles, the singer finally found the struggle he was desperately looking for.
The rattlesnake bite gave him a sense of validation that his trek across America was, in fact, real. So real that it could kill him. This may seem a bit sadistic to anyone else, but the discomfort was exactly what Mike wanted. He knew that if he could become accustomed to the pain that came with walking across the country, he would come out the other side a tougher and better person.
After he was admitted to the hospital, Mike posted an Instagram picture with a caption that read, “Shout-outs to this rattlesnake that bit me—he only made me that much harder.” Mike made sure to keep his Instagram followers in the loop throughout his journey and recovery.
Although the singer was recovering from a rattlesnake bite, he’s smiling from ear to ear in almost every Instagram photo. It didn’t matter to Mike that he would spend the next three weeks in intense pain and relearning how to walk. “This experience put me in the hospital, but I was proud because I was living my life, maybe for the first time,” Mike said with a chuckle.
Mike came up with the idea of walking across America five years ago. He was hanging out in a friend’s jewelry shop in Los Angeles when he overheard someone talking about trekking across the States. “You can do that?” Mike interrupted. The man explained that his friend had just completed the journey and told him crazy stories about the trip.
Mike knew right then and there that he would complete that journey too someday, he just didn’t know when. “We all have a thousand of those moments,” the singer said. And he’s right. We all have a list of things we want to do in the far-off future. Just to daydream or tell people about our distant goals gives us a dopamine-rush.
But while we all remember what inspired us to set a crazy goal, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is what made us commit. After five years of playing with the idea of walking across America, Mike’s decision to actually go through with it was pretty last minute.
The Grammy-nominated singer was in the middle of a press tour for his third album, A Real Good Kid when he felt it was finally time to shake things up. “I had an inkling that there was more inside of me than I was letting out,” Mike said in an interview with Time magazine. “When somebody says, who’s your hero? Who inspires you? I wanted to be able to look them in the eye and say, “Me.”
By the time he came to this decision, Mike was a multiplatinum singer-songwriter with two major radio hits to his name. However, like many newcomers to fame, Mike soon realized that success is hard to sustain. When Mike was 20 years old, he recorded his 2010 debut song Cooler Than Me, which reached the number six spot on the Billboard Top 100.
Then, two years later, he released his first album, 31 Minutes to Takeoff, which was produced by RCA records. He was asked to perform at the Vans Warped Tour, Bonnaroo, and even open for Drake. But just as Mike started to feel on top of the world, his recording career began to stall.
Years went by before he produced a song that reached the commercial success of Cooler Than Me. RCA records then shelved two albums’ worth of songs between 2012 and 2015. When Mike reflects on that time in his life, he describes it as a form of “artist purgatory.” Mike had always viewed success as a ladder, but he started to see it as a hamster wheel as the years went by.
“I always thought as soon as I got a record deal, I would be happy. But I sure wasn’t,” Mike said in a 2014 YouTube video. “I was still fighting my depression, and the world felt too big, too scary, and I wasn’t comfortable with everyone liking me so much.”
Although Mike didn’t release any music during this time, he did write a few hit songs for other artists. Mike co-wrote Justin Bieber’s hit song Boyfriend, which made it to the top position on the US iTunes Store just hours after its release. Mike also co-wrote Sugar for Maroon 5, which peaked at the number one spot on the US Billboard Hot 100 and spent 21 weeks in the top ten.
Although Mike’s songs were a great success, he was conflicted. On the one hand, he felt like a failure for not being able to record these songs himself. But, on the other hand, songwriting gave him a chance to take a much-needed break from the spotlight.
Mike moved to Island Records in 2015 and released his second album, At Night, Alone, the next year. This album also included his smash hit, I Took a Pill in Ibiza, which was originally released as an acoustic single. But, two months after the single’s release, Seeb, a Norwegian EDM production duo, released a remixed version.
The remixed single outperformed Cooler Than Me on the charts and eventually earned Mike a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year in 2017. Although Mike’s career began taking off again, it was against the backdrop of a crumbling personal life. Mike’s father, Jon, had been diagnosed with brain cancer a year before, and Mike left Los Angeles to spend ten months by his side. Sadly, Jon passed away in January 2017.
The following year, Swedish DJ and Mike’s close friend, Avicii, committed suicide. Then, in 2018, rapper Mac Miller died from an apparent overdose. Although Mac and Mike weren’t close friends, his death was a stark reminder of what can happen when stardom gets the best of you. These feelings of sadness and dealing with mortality were the main focus of Mike’s third album, A Real Good Kid, which was released in January 2019.
The album is interlaced with recordings of bedside conversations he shared with his dad before he died. It was well-received by critics, who liked Mike’s newfound maturity and raspy sound. For Mike, however, the album left him feeling disillusioned with his life and career.
Although A Real Good Kid was undoubtedly Mike’s best work, he had a hard time recording the album. “I had to go to the studio every day, and I was trying to just show up and record all the songs and do a good job, and I was sad,” Mike told NPR. During a trip to Alaska, Mike confided in a friend that he didn’t want to promote the album.
Because of everything going on in his personal life, the idea of doing a press tour to maximize his income and fame felt vapid. “I had nothing inside me that wanted to go to a radio station and try to convince them to play my song more than Ariana Grande,” Mike said. “I didn’t have it in me to do it again.”
During that trip to Alaska, Mike knew it was time to walk away. He told his band that they weren’t going to perform across America because he would walk across it instead. Mike knew that if he didn’t decide to commit to his goal right then and there, he might never commit. “If I didn’t do it now,” Mike said. “I realized I was always going to be the guy who only talked about doing it.”
Mike was always a competitive guy. During his senior year at Groves High School right outside of Detroit, Mike took AP Literature, while the rest of his classmates were goofing off in less challenging classes. While most of his peers went to the University of Michigan, Mike one-upped them and went to Duke.
Today, Mike has turned this competitive attitude inwards and uses it to become the best possible version of himself. As Mike puts it, he wants to find meaning in his life, rather than become a vapid pop star who only cares about money and fame. Mike admits that he quit smoking almost a decade ago and hasn’t touched alcohol in seven years.
He dabbles in psychedelics from time to time, but only when he has a problem he wants to overcome. During a series of long stays at a Colorado monastery, Mike learned patience and self-control. Walking across America, which Mike says is much more mental than physical, was his chance to put these newly acquired skills to the test.
As Mike puts it, some of the most tedious things in life, like raising a child or learning a new skill, are actually the most rewarding. “You can be someone who celebrates and finds glory in the tedium, or you can be somehow who abhors tedium and lives in opposition to life,” Mike said. “You get to pick every day.”
Walking on blistered feet, getting bit by a rattlesnake, and actually dealing with his father’s death, Mike learned to deal with life’s more uncomfortable moments. Mike said that his journey across America and the solitude that came with it forced him to visit and clean out his mind’s darkest corners. This experience shaped him into a better, more authentic version of himself.
Mike would start his day at 4 a.m. with a twenty-minute meditation. He would then stretch, eat a quick breakfast, and start walking as soon as possible. He would usually begin walking by 5:10 a.m. and walk eight miles in silence. For Mike, these eight miles were a continuation of his morning meditation and gave him a chance to really look inwards.
Mike wants to make it clear that he was not backpacking. He walked supported, meaning that his friend drove an RV that carried his supplies and food. His friend always made sure to drive a few miles ahead so Mike could walk in solitude. “I always like to make that clear, because there are many who do walk across America that way, and they’re more badass than me,” Mike told Time magazine.
After his morning eight miles, Mike would take a break and eat some more. He would then walk another 16 miles, breaking every five miles or so. He usually walked around 26 miles a day, but Mike averaged around 30 miles a day towards the end of his trip. He liked to finish hiking for the day at around 5 p.m., giving him time to stretch, meditate, and eat before crawling into bed at 7:30 p.m.
Mike kept to this rigid schedule six days a week, with Thursdays being his rest day. Although it’s amazing how quickly the body adjusts, Mike says that “it’s more amazing to see how much people are willing to suffer to make that adjustment happen. It never gets easy. The whole way, it hurts,” Mike said. “But your mind gets better at dealing with things that aren’t easy. That’s a superpower.”
One of the places that made the most significant impact on Mike was walking across the Navajo Nation. He walked 189 miles through their land over the course of ten days. Mike says that if those ten days were his entire trip, it would have been worth it. Before his journey across America, many people warned him that the reservation wasn’t safe and that he should avoid it.
But Mike’s experience paints a different picture. It was the most support he received throughout his entire 2,851-mile trip. Every other car would stop to give him a gift, take his photo, or pray for him. He met a man named Al Largo, whose stepson actually guided Mike through the reservation.
While Mike is no way an expert on the Navajo nation, he did have some important takeaways from the ten days he spent with them. It seemed to Mike that they have a strong tradition of honoring their elders in a way that is fundamentally different than traditional American culture. “When Al speaks, everybody listens. And when you don’t interrupt, you learn a lot,” Mike told Time magazine. “It’s a small tweak that has huge manifestations, reverberations.”
Mike also noted that the Navajo nation’s belief in public property is a stark contrast to our belief in a private property. “There’s a reason our land is ending up so polluted and the water is poisoned in places like Flint,” the singer said. “On a lot of these reservations, though, the land is perfect.”
Throughout the trip, Mike’s mantra was that he was going to “keep going, no matter what.” When things fall apart (the harder the journey, the greater chance that they will), Mike says it’s important to make a contract with yourself. You will get through this next obstacle because there is no other option.
Mike says that although he was in the ICU for five days and couldn’t go to the bathroom by himself, he never once debated whether he was going to finish his trek or not. He was going to keep going no matter what. Mike now tries to apply new ways of thinking to his everyday life. He learned that this frame of mind is the only way to get things done.
While Mike loves all of his New Age friends back in Los Angeles, he disagrees with how they deal with life’s obstacles. Like many people nowadays, when things get hard, their mantra is, “It wasn’t meant to be.” But according to Mike, what we’re really saying is, “I’m giving up.” If his walk across America taught him anything, it’s that you have to keep going.
“That’s where the person you want to be is, on the other side of that suffering, the other side of that hardship,” Mike told Time magazine. According to Mike, his soft and somewhat sheltered upbringing was the main motivation behind his search for suffering. He believes that we can’t be strong or resilient unless we put ourselves in a position to learn those skills.
It was entirely unexpected, but Mike says that he experienced an overwhelming amount of kindness and support throughout his journey. Mike had quite the following on social media before setting out on his trek across America, mainly because of his music career. He is grateful for his fans’ support, but what surprised him more was the kindness shown to him by people who had no idea who he was.
It didn’t matter that he looked like a crazy guy with a beard walking on the side of a highway in the middle of nowhere. People would stop their cars and offer him a ride or water. Although Mike almost got hit by a few cars, he never remembers feeling unsafe because of the ill will of another person.
While getting bit by a rattlesnake was Mike’s most challenging day physically, the day he crossed into Kansas was more challenging mentally. Before he arrived in Kansas, Mike had been walking through Missouri, which had been flooded that summer. The road he was supposed to walk along wasn’t there, so he was forced to walk back east for a day or two.
All Mike kept thinking about was getting to Kansas. Everything will be better once he gets to Kansas. But once he crossed the border into Kansas, which Mike says was very emotional for him, he now had to cross Kansas. “I had made a huge mistake in creating a false finish line,” Mike said. “And so my body, my mind, my spirit — all thought I was done. I had nothing left.”
Mike talks a lot about pushing through suffering and dealing with the most challenging parts of yourself in order to become a better person. While these lessons were huge motivators in getting Mike to fully commit to his walk across America, he learned another valuable lesson along the way: connection with the land.
Mike says that this connection with our planet makes people live differently. They don’t want to trash or destroy the Earth. Like many Americans who grew up in the city, Mike assumed that the entire country was a city or at least a suburb. Through his walk, however, he learned that this is simply not the case. This realization completely changed how Mike thinks about the country spatially.
For Mike, his walk across America was just the beginning. He wants to use this experience as a baseline for every goal he sets from here on out. As for recommending this experience to others, Mike says, “This journey itself is not something I’m trying to get other people to do unless they in their hearts are called to do it.”
However, he does recommend that people take a hard look at the far-distant goals they’ve set for themselves and actually make a commitment to accomplish them. These goals don’t have to be something as dangerous as walking across America. They can be as simple as starting a new habit or learning a new skill. All that matters is that you’re working towards bettering yourself.
Mike made sure to over-prepare for his trip across America. He had a support vehicle, food, water, and was in almost constant contact with his social media followers. But not everyone who decides to go on a journey to find themselves stays so connected to the outside world.
Back in 1992, a man by the name of Chris McCandless went off the grid entirely during a trip to the Alaskan wilderness. He never came out. This is his story.