Monday, September 21, 2015

Day 80: The Half Gallon Challenge

May 26: I woke up and was first to leave the shelter—not an uncommon occurrence. I passed another sign on the trail marking the halfway point. This is the sign I recognized from my first thru-hike which was located a couple of miles further north on the trail back in 2003. It was in the wrong place then and it’s in the wrong place this year. It doesn’t move very often even though the trail has reroutes every year that change the halfway point. Presumably, its current position was correct at some point between 2003 and 2015 when it was last moved.


Yet another halfway marker for the trail! This one is not at the correct location, however. It probably used to be the halfway point in another year, though, when the marker was first moved here.


I stopped briefly to sign the register then continued onwards to Pine Grove Furnace State Park and the home of the half-gallon challenge. In case you don’t know about, in honor of reaching the halfway point on the Appalachian Trail, there’s a hiker tradition to eat a half gallon of ice cream at the general store at Pine Grove Furnace. I skipped it during my 2003 thru-hike, but I wanted to do it this year to shake things up and try something new.


When I arrived at the store, it had just opened. Things had changed since I hiked the trail in 2003, though. For instance, they no longer had half-gallon containers of ice cream anymore. Apparently, they stopped making them. To keep the half-gallon challenge alive, they now sell 1.5 quart containers of ice cream, then when you finish with that, you go back and buy a pint more of ice cream which comes out to a half gallon.


I flipped through the register there reading about previous hikers who had attempted the half-gallon challenge. My favorite entry was written by Bostrich a week earlier: “I think I’m lactose intolerant. I just ate a half gallon of ice cream and feel like $#!^!” A couple of other hikers had written that they didn’t want to do the whole half gallon, but ate 1.5 quarts in solidarity. Another hiker behind them wrote ‘blue blazers’ next to their name. (It’s funny, because “blue-blazing” is a hiker term for taking shortcuts on the trail that are often marked with blue blazes.)


I perused the ice cream flavors while chatting with the woman working at the store who explained all of this to me. I couldn’t remember if there was a time limit to win the challenge—I was thinking it was something like 40 minutes and I really expected to fail the challenge, but I was going to give it a try anyhow. Turns out, there is no limit. The best time so far this season was something like 18 minutes, but there was one person who took 3 1/2 hours to finish the challenge. She also suggested that I avoid a flavor with “chunks” in it like the cookie dough. Apparently bad things happen to hikers to try to eat a half-gallon of ice cream with chunks, but I was too scared to ask for details.




I selected to start the challenge with Neapolitan ice cream, a mix of three different flavors (strawberry, vanilla and chocolate) figuring when I got tired of one flavor, I could move on to another one and come back to the one I got tired of later. I paid for the 1.5 quarts and headed outside to the patio where I sat down, opened the container and started eating.


At first, it was rather hard. The ice cream was hard and my plastic spoon had trouble scooping out lumps of ice cream from it. As the ice cream softened, it got easier to scoop out. Especially along the edges of the container.


I was about 20 minutes into my challenge when others started showing up. In quick succession, Superman, Heavyweight and Peter Pan arrived. Heavyweight, despite his name, decided to get a breakfast sandwich and sit out the half-gallon challenge. Superman and Peter Pan, however, were all in.


Superman doing the half-gallon challenge was something of a surprise because he’s not just lactose intolerant, but actually allergic to milk as well. He told us a story about when he learned he was allergic to milk. The doctor had said he’s allergic to milk and he didn’t believe it at first, so the doctor told him to describe what he feels when he drinks milk. Superman described some sort of burning or tingling sensation or something and his throat swells up, but wrote it off as something “everyone” feels when they drink milk, and his mom shook her head telling him, “No… that’s not normal!”




But despite his allergy, he wanted to give the half-gallon challenge a try anyhow. He decided to start with the Neapolitan flavor as well thinking I had a good strategy. Peter Pan got something with chunks, but I don’t remember exactly what it was. Maybe the cookie dough? I remember harassing him about it, though, telling him bad things happen to hikers who eat a half-gallon of ice cream with chunks.


Superman’s strategy, if you can call it that, was to eat the ice cream as quickly as possible so as to finish before his allergy caused his throat to swell up so much or make him feel so bad that he’d have to stop before finishing. I’m not sure Peter Pan had a strategy—he was more excited about his new backpack that he had shipped there.


It didn’t take long before my eating slowed to a crawl. I laid back in my chair to give my stomach room to expand and ate small bites of ice cream at a time. Superman hovered over his container shoveling it into his mouth at a remarkable speed. Heavyweight gave us words of encouragement.


Superman described his symptoms as he ate, and about 20 minutes into the challenge said it felt like the roof of his mouth was bleeding. He opened his mouth wide so we could get a view in to confirm if this was the case, but we saw no blood and encourage him to continue eating. =) The roof of his mouth might not have been bleeding, but his tongue had swelled up to a gigantic size and looked pretty disgusting.


At about this time, a ridgerunner and a section hiker had arrived to watch the ‘festivities’ and seemed equally enthralled and horrified by Superman’s allergy asking him if he had an EpiPen ready. (He did, in fact, carry an EpiPen.) And they idly wondered if maybe there should have been a doctor or a nurse on standby to help if something went terribly wrong.


That’s one small bite for man, and one giant bite for mankind!
I’ve started in on the half gallon challenge!


While this was going on, the woman working the general store came out and asked us if we’d be interested in some chocolate milk. She had five or six half-gallon containers of chocolate milk that had expired so she couldn’t sell them anymore, but she’d give them to us for free. The only person who seemed interested was Heavyweight, but that’s because he wasn’t trying to stuff a half gallon of ice cream down his throat! The rest of us were already heavy with ice cream and the thought of adding chocolate milk didn’t appeal to us at all. Anyhow, Superman was allergic to milk and he’d already gotten more than his fill for the day! She brought out the chocolate milk for everyone, though, and Heavyweight started his own version of the half-gallon challenge—one that used chocolate milk instead of ice cream.


Despite my head start on the 1.5-quarts of ice cream, Superman finished it before I did and returned to the store to pick up another pint to complete the challenge. He came back out with blackberry ice cream and continued eating, eventually finishing it off 38 minutes after he had started. He won the challenge, but he’d be feeling its affects for days afterwards!


I finished my 1.5 quarts after about an hour and went into the store to get another pint settling on blackberry as well. I took another 20 minutes to go that down, finishing the challenge after 1 hour and 20 minutes. Peter Pan finished shortly after I did, but I didn’t catch his time.


For our efforts, we won a stupid little wooden spoon that said we had conquered the half-gallon challenge.


Superman (right) is deep into the half-gallon challenge. Peter Pan (left) is just getting started.


As you might well imagine, none of us were particularly inclined to do much hiking in the immediate aftermath of the half-gallon challenge. We lounged around a bit chatting, and I eventually got up to check out the Appalachian Trail museum in a nearby building. It’s the only Appalachian Trail museum in the world and it wasn’t there during my 2003 hike so it was all new to me. I figured it would give my stomach time to process some of that ice cream while I wandered around checking out the museum.


It was a nice little museum, but the thing that really caught my attention were the number of hikers finishing the trail every decade. Half the people who had ever hiked the entire trail did so after my 2003 thru-hike, and in the first 5 years of the 2010 decade, as many people had already hiked the trail as everyone who did it in the 2000 decade. The numbers were staggering. We talked about what the numbers would be like next year after A Walk In the Woods movie had been released. It would make 2015 look like a small blip.


They also had a large monitor up that scrolled through the hiker photos from last year of those who made it to Harpers Ferry and I asked the woman working there if they had other years… like 2003. I figured Heavyweight and Superman (who followed me into the museum) might enjoy seeing my snapshot from that first thru-hike. My hair was a lot longer then since I hadn’t shaved it bald when I started like I did this year, and I had lost a lot more weight the first time around. They did have the hiker photos from 2003 and we found my photo in the bunch. Yep, there I was. Proof of my 2003 hike in the Appalachian Trail museum. =)


Heavyweight decided to do the “Mountain Dew and breakfast sandwich” challenge, and amuse himself by watching the rest of us eat a half gallon. He didn’t know it yet, but he’d wind up doing the chocolate milk half-gallon challenge himself! (He did finish one container of the chocolate milk.)


By the time we finished looking through the museum, we felt good enough to keep hiking. Before leaving, I bought a Coke at the general store (strangely, ice cream doesn’t really help eliminate thirst!) and an 8-pound bag of ice. It was a hot day and I wanted a bunch of ice to play with. =) I put some in a handkerchief under my hat to keep my head cool, and the rest I threw on my back for later. It would melt and drip down my back and pants, but I was okay with that because it felt nice. My biggest challenge was just getting the bag of ice to stay on my back. It didn’t fit inside my pack, and there wasn’t anywhere outside of the pack readily available to store it. I managed to tuck it in between my pack and my back, but it would fall out every 15 minutes or so and I’d have to wiggle it back in there.


The ice lasted for four or so hours before the last of it melted away. I drank a lot of cold ice water and kept ice under my hat the whole time. I also offered it to any other hikers that wanted some. (A couple of them took me up on the offer and put ice cubes under their hats.)


I was generally doing pretty well throughout the day despite having eaten that half gallon of ice cream, but as soon as the last of the ice melted, the trail became very hot and difficult. I struggled to get up the hills and started overheating almost the minute the last of the ice melted. Those last couple of hours into the Alec Kennedy Shelter were the toughest of the day for me, and I blame that on running out of ice. Until then, I’d been doing great!


Memorial Day weekend had finally come to an end (today was Tuesday) so we expected the number of hikers in the shelter to fall dramatically, but at the end of the day, it was just three of us at the shelter: Heavyweight, Superman and myself. Nobody else ever showed up that night, which we all agreed seemed pretty weird. Where did all of the other thru-hikers go?!


Superman is apparently losing his hand-eye coordination as well. He missed his mouth with the last bite!


I continue making progress, slow but steady wins the race!


Peter Pan enjoys a bit of expired chocolate milk.


The ice cream is wearing me down! Actually, I have to admit, this photo was somewhat staged. I had been leaning back in my chair taking small bites at a time and the ridgerunner said I didn’t look like I was hurting at all. Just relaxing and playing it cool. I felt like crap, though, so I hunched over my ice cream with my head in my hand to make it look like I actually felt. =)


After I finished the 1.5 quarts of ice cream, I still had one more pint left to get down!


And I’ve finally won! Half-gallon challenge victory!


My reward for winning the challenge? This stupid little wooden ice cream spoon—but I’ll treasure it forever! I worked for that spoon, man! I earned it!


The world’s only Appalachian Trail museum resides in this building.


Inside, they had this sign from Katahdin. It’s actually the same sign that was on Katahdin when I finished my first thru-hike in 2003. The sign (clearly) wears out over time and has to be replaced periodically. When this one was replaced, it went into the museum.


See? It’s the exact same sign—back at the end of my 2003 thru-hike. It was in much better condition then! If I recall, the sign got replaced in 2010.


Pine Grove Furnace State Park is named such because they used to use these cold-blast furnaces to make iron.


The only thing I need now on this very hot day is an 8-pound bag of ice and a Coke. =)


I never did find a good way to carry the bag of ice, but you can see me trying to carry it here!




The camo on these toads is amazing! I wouldn’t see them unless they jumped!








This section is called the “Rock Maze” because the trail runs through these rocks.


Yep, up and over those rocks!




Unknown said...

I don't think I could have finished that ice cream challenge.. even though I adore ice cream and hardly ever get to eat it... I hope Superman didn't have to use his epi-pen - but I'm the same way about pecans.. if i just eat a few.. they won't affect me (wrong) and i do adore pecan pie also..

Karolina said...

I am wondering whether you hurt as much as me afte the epic pigging out in Vizzavona and Ajaccio! ;p