"It is possible to die from eating. But I think to be professional means you don't die." (Takeru Kobayashi)

Friday, June 09, 2006

Moose Tracks on the Appalachian Trail

Went camping last weekend at Pine Grove Furnace State Park, about one hour from our house in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The park marks the unofficial halfway point on the 2,100 mile Appalachian Trail, and is significant in megamunching lore because of the famous “Half Gallon (Ice Cream) Challenge.”

Each year, more than 2,000 hikers attempt to “thru-hike” the trail (covering the entire trail in one four to six month attempt), starting in Georgia in early March and ending in Maine some time in August or September (or vice versa). Only about 25 percent who start end up completing the trek. Needless to say, life on the trail is anything but an eater’s dream. Lots of protein bars, beef jerky, and instant mac & cheese. And, though there is the occasional pit stop at a small town buffet, many hikers find their digestive systems are unable to cope with the sudden influx of grease, sugar, or whatever else is eaten in gorging, all-you-can-eat quantities.

That’s where the Half Gallon Challenge comes in. As hikers enter the park, they make a pit stop at the Pine Grove Furnace Store where they pay $5.49 for a half gallon of Hershey’s ice cream, grab a spoon and begin a rite-of-passage they’ve no doubt been dreaming about for the past two or three hundred miles. The challenge is pretty simple: no time limit or “finish it and it’s free” financial reward, just the satisfaction of participating and an opportunity to reflect on the 1,100 miles already hiked and the 1,070 that lie ahead.

The interior of the tiny store is very simple, just a few shelves of basic camping gear, some canned goods, and an assortment of drinks. But just inside the door is an old slide top freezer where the good stuff is kept. Not a bad selection either. There's basics like chocolate and vanilla, but there’s also cookies & cream, cherries jubilee, mint chocolate chip, peanut butter swirl, chocolate chip cookie dough and the always drool-worthy, Moose Tracks.

After eating their eight pints of frozen goodness (that’s 3,200 to 3,500 calories for those counting), hikers record their impressions in a log book kept in an old wooden box on the porch of the store (that’s it next to the newspaper stand in the picture above). Also in the picture is Mr. Don Ray, the owner of the store and, from the 15 minutes I spent chatting with him, a man with a lot of great hiker stories to tell. Don said about 400 to 500 hikers complete the challenge each year and it’s not uncommon during the peak halfway month of June to find 15 to 20 hikers sitting at the wooden picnic tables outside the store, chowing down on ice cream, playing cards and swapping trail stories.

According to Don, the most popular flavors are chocolate and vanilla and the ONE GALLON record is 33 minutes. Not long after the gallon record was set, one aspiring record holder downed a half gallon in just four-and-a-half minutes, but fell short of the record when the magnitude of his feat hit his digestive system about half-way through the second serving (he ended up finishing in just under one hour).

My own purchases at the store were two bottles of orange juice for breakfast the next morning, but when I return in August, a few friends and I will attempt the challenge as unofficial participants. While there, I managed to snap a few pictures of the log book. Below, in their own words, are the personal accounts of some of the most recent eaters. Unless you have super hawk-like vision, you'll probably need to click to enlarge and read.


Anonymous liz said...

I like "Uhhhh...so cold..."


11:16 AM

Blogger Mega Munch said...

My favorite is the one that starts "Maybe peanut butter swirl wasn't the best choice..."

When I go back in August, I'll get lots more pics, including some of us making our own attempt at ice cream semi-immortality.

8:33 PM

Blogger steakbellie said...

GREAT story!

4:59 PM

Blogger la beauheme said...

I can honestly say that I attempted this as an official thru-hiker and went with the Raspberry. I fell short of the half-gallon and haven't been able to live with myself since. I guess I'll have to start the trail over to try again.

9:42 AM


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