When I decided to run one mile in all 121 Pennsylvania state parks in 2021, I knew I was going to encounter tough trails, lonely miles and sore muscles. But what I didn’t plan on was so many strange moments that would highlight the weirdness of taking on a challenge like this.

From unusual interactions to odd state parks, I experienced a gamut of strange things as I worked to complete my 121 In 21 Challenge.

Here’s a sampling of funny, bizarre and peculiar tales from the trails:

Allegheny Islands State Park: Life-jacket required

christian alexandersen in the mud allegheny islands 2

Everything about Allegheny Islands State Park is strange in my book. First of all, it’s two small islands that are not accessible by land. Second, you need a boat to get there. Third, it is completely undeveloped.

In order for me to “run” my one mile on the islands, I had to bring my kayak from home, paddle for 15 minutes and find a running surface. After a grueling 45-minute march on a muddy beach I had completed my objective. It was both the hardest and most time consuming park to “run” in.

Greenwood Furnace State Park: Compliment?

Greenwood Furnace State Park was the last of six parks I was running on a warm April day.

Christian Alexandersen in woodsNotes I took from that day indicate that I was tired and my legs felt beaten up. I had taken my shirt and pants off to finish the last run in just my shorts and shoes.

As I was completing an older guy that had just finished, commented “I wish I had a camera” to me as I passed. To this day I don’t know what he meant. Was he insulting me? Had he never seen a fat man in running shorts? I don’t know. But it was perplexing.

Colonel Denning State Park: Not alone anymore

One of the coolest experiences I had during my 121 In 21 Challenge was in Colonel Denning State Park. It was late February and it was my fourth park run of the day. There was still snow on the ground and it was cold. But a good cold. One that is mitigated by your body getting up to temperature on a run.

It was lightly drizzling, making it one of the few times I had to run in the rain. The run was perfect. The Double Nature Trail was well marked and a little rocky and root-y. The sound of the trail through the trees was perfectly pleasant. I was alone. Or was I? 

On the back half of my run a man was running toward me. Had this lunatic decided to run in a cold forest in the rain, like me? As we closed in on one another, we connected eyes and smiled.

“I thought I was going to be the only one running here today.” I responded with, “Me too.” In sync we both yelled back “Have a good run!” It was a short, simple exchange but one that was meaningful.

As a big runner, I tend not to think of myself as part of the running community. There’s a lot of reasons why I feel that way, but that’s for another blog. Seeing this very fit guy doing the EXACT same thing as me brought a sense of fellowship that I don’t feel when I run.

Upper Pine Bottom State Park: Done fishing so soon?

When I arrived at Upper Pine Bottom State Park, I thought I had stopped at the wrong place. There was no way THIS place could be a state park. But, a glimpse of the signage indicated that I was indeed at Upper Pine Bottom State Park.

This tiny 5 acre park – which can be described as a rest area – has a small stream running along the back of it. As I began stretching and getting to run laps around the parking lots or sprints along the stream, I noticed an older man fishing. He seemed to have been there for a while and quite comfortable.

But he got uncomfortable real quick. I finished stretching, took my shirt off and began running my one mile. He looked at me like I was crazy. Who is this big, shirtless man running laps around a 5-space parking lot? He hurriedly packed up his chair, fishing supplies and meal then proceeded to skid out of the parking lot.

Vibe check: Failed.

Patterson State Park: Chased by a bear, but not really

Leading up to my runs in the Pennsylvania Wilds, I wanted to prepare for the various creatures I might encounter, especially bears. I have enough commonsense and have seen enough YouTube videos to know that bears are no joke.

So I took precautions as best as I could. I purchased bear spray, learned about making noise to scare away any encounters and what to do in an attack. I was extra nervous as I began my sixth run of the day. As I stretched in Patterson State Park I rolled over the new information in my head.

I started off on the trail and it just didn’t feel right. Something was following me. Every tree looked like an animal. Every branch snapping was a charging bear. My heavy breaths masked hidden dangers. I’d stop every couple yards to see if I could hear this blood-thirsty beast on my heels.

It wasn’t until I was halfway into a darkening, lonely forest that I realized I had forgotten my bear spray. Oh boy. So what did I do? I ran the entire half-mile back clapping and yelling “hey bear” in an effort to protect myself. Was there really a bear? No. Was I letting my imagination get away from me? Yes.

Christian AlexandersenChristian Alexandersen ran one mile in each of Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks in 2021 and has been sharing with us stories and tips from his journey!  To read more blog posts from Christian and other PPFF guest bloggers, visit our News page.

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Weird Moments I Encountered While Running in All 121 PA State Parks