As I came out of the woods and off the trail, I saw my friends and family cheering for me. After 224 days, I was completing the last of my one-mile runs at all 121 Pennsylvania State Parks.

But before I reached the parking lot at Little Buffalo State Park, I had time to think about the journey I began more than seven months earlier. I thought about the miles I ran and the beauty I’d seen.

If you had asked me to name two state parks prior to 2021, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. Despite living in Pennsylvania for more than a decade, I knew virtually nothing about the park system. That all changed when I found Little Buffalo State Park in late 2020.

The yellow, orange and red trees. The mirror-still lake. The peace. The quiet. The absolute splendor. I could not believe I had such beauty less than 30 minutes from my home in Enola. The park looked like an amazing place to go for a run, an activity I rediscovered in 2020.

To my astonishment, I found out there were 121. As my wife Abby and I left the park, the new knowledge swirled in my head. Over the coming days, I kept thinking about the sheer number of parks. Then a question popped in my head: How long would it take to run one mile at every state park? 

As I considered the idea, my grandfather Robert Sauer passed away from COVID-19. His death was all the motivation I needed to go live.

I left my home in the early hours of January 2 to begin what I dubbed the 121 In 21 Challenge. My footfalls and struggling breath served as my soundtrack as I ran in knee-deep snow at Joseph E. Ibberson, over moss-covered trails and rocky paths at Kings Gap and through storms at Colonel Denning.

In the spring, I began increasing my park visits. Running alone, I saw some of the most beautiful scenery in my life. Waterfalls at Ricketts Glen, rock formations at Trough Creek, rushing streams at Reeds Gap and too much wildlife to count.

For as much beauty as I encountered, I ran into a lot of ridiculous situations. Running laps around the monument at Buchanan’s Birthplace. Running sprints across the tiny Upper Pine Bottom. People looked at me confused. I tried to explain and they left looking even more confused.

Christian and wife, Abby, high five at Little Buffalo State Park

(Christian and his wife, Abby, at Little Buffalo State Park. PC: James Robinson)

My wife and friends joined me on more runs as the weather warmed up. By this time, I had run a mile at every state park within a 2 hours drive of my house. Overnight trips were required.

Adam Bricker, of Lancaster, joined me for 25 parks. We ran the rocky Delaware Canal, braved the precarious cliff trail at Tuscarora and he helped me get to the undeveloped, nearly un-runnable Allegheny Islands in a kayak.

Abby took the weight of driving off my back in the summer by carting me from the beaches of Presque Isle to the mushroom-covered trails of Gouldsboro. Her support helped when times were tough.

As I finished my final run, I was flooded with memories from my 32 hours of running. The encouragement of friends, family and strangers. The waterfalls and mountains. The meadows and beaches. My grandfather.

Over 224 days, I had run 125 miles in 121 Pennsylvania State Parks. I had driven 7,545 miles across Pennsylvania. And yet, I only saw a fraction of what these amazing parks have to offer. Luckily, I have the rest of my life to explore them. I hope you’ll do the same.

(Click HERE to read more about Christian’s mud-filled adventure at Allegheny Islands State Park and stay tuned for more posts about the trials and tribulations along his “121 in 21” journey.)

Christian Alexandersen running across the bridge at Little Buffalo State Park

(Christian running at Little Buffalo State Park. Photo credit: James Robinson)

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121 in 21 by Christian Alexandersen