Before 2020, I would not have described myself as an "outdoors guy." I love air conditioning, TV and all the creature comforts the indoors provides. But that changed on a visit to Little Buffalo State Park in 2020.
The fall colors looked stunning as the bright yellows, oranges and reds reflected across the lake. I wondered how many state parks were in Pennsylvania. What other beautiful places was I missing? A quick search told me that there were (then) 121 state parks.
My mind, for whatever reason, immediately thought, "I wonder how long it would take to run a mile in every one of them." As an extremely mediocre runner that loves challenges, it piqued my interest. But the thought of the hours or planning, driving and running needed to accomplish such a task made me forget about it.
Then in late 2020, my grandfather Robert Sauer died from COVID-19. He wasn’t a runner. He wasn’t an outdoor enthusiast. He didn’t live in Pennsylvania. But he liked good stories. He liked adventures. He liked supporting his family. And I think he would’ve liked knowing his grandson was driving and running all over the state to complete a challenge he made up.
Just for the story. Just for the adventure.
So in 2021, I set a goal of running one mile in each of Pennsylvania's 121 State Parks. During my so-called 121 In 21 Challenge, I encountered everything this commonwealth has to offer. I ran on moss-covered trails, through old-growth forests and along picturesque streams. I ran around monuments, over dams, and through tunnels. Through blizzards, rainstorms and heat waves, I ran.
I was fortunate to have been accompanied by friends and family members over the course of my 121 in 21 Challenge. These people broke up the miles and countless hours of driving with laughter and support.
On Aug. 14, 2021 - after 224 days - I had run one mile in each of Pennsylvania's 121 state parks. I ended the journey where it began, at Little Buffalo State Park.
I had driven 7,545 miles across Pennsylvania. And yet, I only saw a fraction of what these amazing parks have to offer. Since the completion of the 121 in 21 Challenge, I've spent much of my free time exploring Pennsylvania's parks and forests. With this podcast, I hope to inspire others - no matter their age or ability - to spend time in Pennsylvania's public lands.