The Big Chill On The Appalachian Trail

Every year, adventuresome hikers set off from Georgia and trek all the way to Maine on the Appalachian Trial. WBGO's Eugene Sonn says that to mark the mid-way point, many take part in what's known as the half-gallon challenge – they down an entire half-gallon of ice-cream.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This time of year, hikers on the Appalachian Trail are passing the midpoint of their Georgia to Maine trek. In Pine Grove Furnace, Pennsylvania they celebrate the halfway point with the half-gallon challenge. That's eating a half-gallon of ice cream in under an hour. Eugene Sonn has more.

EUGENE SONN: Hikers drop their packs on the porch of the Pine Grove Furnace General Store. They look like castaways with bushy beards, overgrown leg muscles and packs mended with duct tape. Will Hathaway of Florida goes by the trail name Waka-Waka(ph). He says you don't talk about food like ice cream on the trail.

Mr. WILL HATHAWAY (Appalachian Hiker): Once someone starts talking about it, everyone is thinking about it and then you got to go back to eating, you know, your ramen or your tuna mac, and you're just kind of like, yeah, I wish I had a nice, big, fat cheeseburger right now.

SONN: Those rules are out the window as a dozen through-hikers try the challenge on a hot Friday. Each walks into the store, plunks down five-fifty for a half-gallon of ice cream, rips open the cover and begins. Mike Breck(ph) of Australia digs into a block of vanilla, his favorite. Soon the monotony sets in.

Mr. MIKE BRECK(ph) (Appalachian Hiker): It's a - It's not tasting good anymore. It's tasting the same as my last bite.

SONN: Across the picnic table, Tyler Anderson(ph) of Colorado, trail name Worm, feels the 2,500 calories of ice cream in his head, not his belly.

Mr. TYLER ANDERSON (Appalachian Hiker): My brain and my eyes are like - they went pretty weird right now.

SONN: Your eyes, like your vision?

Mr. ANDERSON: Yeah. Everything's like kind of soft and pixilated.

SONN: Anderson flies through a carton of Peanut Butter Cup in 28 minutes. Store clerk Jennifer Hoffman says it's not even close to a record.

Ms. JENNIFER HOFFMAN (Store Clerk): Well, all-time record for the half-gallon is under five minutes. It's at four minutes and some odd seconds. And for the gallon it's 33 minutes.

SONN: That's right. Eating a half-gallon isn't enough for some through-hikers. Hoffman says remarkably few people get sick.

Ms. HOFFMAN: I've had one throw up so far this year. He was trying to eat green mint chip and it was a mess. It was not pretty.

SONN: Back outside, Mike Breck reaches the bottom of the carton and a new understanding of the term "empty calories."

Mr. BECH: I don't feel like I've been nourished at all. I feel like I'm kind of full, but not nourished at all. I could just tell that there's nothing worthwhile in that.

SONN: Most hikers walk another 10 miles before the day is done. Will Hathaway doesn't expect to get that far.

Mr. HATHAWAY: I'm planning on hiking at least over the beach, by the lake, and floating around like a fat whale out in the small sea.

SONN: Over 200 through-hikers have completed the half-gallon challenge this season so far. If you go, they have this advice: bring a strong spoon, pick a flavor without lots of candy in it, and don't try to do it on Friday morning. The weekly delivery isn't until 1:00 p.m., and you could be left with the flavors no one wanted. For NPR News, I'm Eugene Sonn.

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