Appalachian Trail hiker Wyatt "Mouth" McGuire stood in the Pine Grove Furnace General Store in Cumberland County, just north of the halfway point of the Trail's 2,175 miles from Georgia to Maine.
He was preparing for the half-gallon ice cream challenge last month - as if there's a good way to prepare for gulping down a half gallon of Hershey's ice cream before it melts away.
McGuire, of Brogue, did his best. He worked up an appetite, eating only nutrition bars, cereal bars and beef jerky during a 17-mile hike.
He thought about ice cream. He dreamed of it.
All he had to do was decide which $5 flavor to buy.
He flipped the coin.
"The hell with cherry," he said, smiling. "I heard some people say, 'Don't do peanut butter.' But if you're going to do something stupid, you might as well do it right.
"Of course, this may kill me."
The half-gallon challenge began about 25 years ago at Pine Grove Furnace State Park. The former store manager realized that thru-hikers - those trying to hike the entire Trail in one long push - were craving ice cream by the time they were halfway through.
So he came up with the "challenge" - which is good for camp store business and great for hiker laughs. It happens over and over again each summer, whenever a hiker reaches the store, which is right along the Trail.
Some hikers, such as Dover triathlete Joe McMaster, bypass it. Quite the disciplined, health-conscious eater, McMaster wanted no part of devouring so much fat and sugar in one sitting.
But McGuire, of course, would try. He wants to experience every quirky bit of this journey that the Daily Record is following - from Georgia's Springer Mountain in March to whenever it is he or McMaster finish at Mount Katahdin in Maine.
Just hang out on the front porch of the store, where all of the eating takes place. Or check out the store log, where the gloriously stuffed and the nauseated tell their tales.
Success! 30:24. Cookies 'n Cream. Let the record show that I don't even like ice cream. I just pretended it was a huge plate of (really cold) pad Thai and it went down no problem. - Dr. Nick.
At 3:45 p.m., McGuire dug into his peanut butter twist.
At 3:46, he broke a tine on his plastic spork.
Hiker friends watched and busted up laughing, nearly falling off their chairs.
"Man, I need a knife."
At 3:47, he took a heavy-duty knife out of his backpack and began cutting his ice cream into sections. He began eating, slowly, soon enough realizing how sickening this ordeal would become.
You could see it on his face. The grimaces. The smirks. The I-can't-eat-another-bite looks.
Twenty minutes in he stopped and got a soda.
I'm not sure you will let me in your club, but I finished the whole ½ gallon in 59 minutes. The one catch, with only three bites left I had to make a dash to the ladies bathroom to unload my belly. The men's room was just too far. But those last three bites went down (quickly). Ladies, I'm sorry if I made a mess in your room. - Lobster
McGuire's struggle intensified soon enough as his ice cream box began leaking melted peanut butter twist all over the table. Then he began burping to try and make more room in his stomach.
"My body wants more food, but it wants a cheeseburger," he said, almost helpless.
His spoonfuls came slower and slower about 30 minutes in.
Already, he had taken nearly twice as long as the Red Rover, a young lady from Minnesota who downed her half gallon in 16:55 - and looked perfectly ready to start hiking again right away. A female friend, though, was curled up in ice cream agony on a nearby bench.
And McGuire was nowhere near the record of the year. Hopeful Hiker somehow devoured a half gallon of Breyer's extra creamy chocolate in just 4:41 (the store had run out of Hershey's). Several "witnesses" even signed their names to his log entry from July 9.
But the all-time Pine Grove ice cream eating record fell three years ago. A 60-year-old man made his vanish in 4:20. He did let it melt some before starting, which is perfectly legal by "half-gallon challenge rules."
The man told store owner Don Ray: "I was raised in an orphanage. I learned to eat in a hurry or I didn't eat."
Like a freshman at a kegger I charged ahead and attacked it. Ate it like it was my job. Was this a moral victory or just a sad, sad display of gluttony? Only time will tell. Vanilla. 25 minutes. - Porter
Slowly, McGuire's peanut butter twist disappeared. In the meantime, two other thru-hikers on the porch were about ready to give up, neither completing the "challenge."
"Those last three bites are going to be the hardest three," McGuire said.
No wonder. A half gallon of peanut butter twist contains 16 servings, each loaded with 200 calories, 13 grams of fat and 13 grams of sugar.
Shame on whoever came up with this God-forsaken challenge. You've taken the only purely enjoyable indulgence I had on the Trail and turned it into misery. - Teach
As McGuire attempted to lift the final few bites to his mouth, an amazing story was developing next to him. A hiking friend, Stuart "Buttah" Miles, was tearing into his second - Second! - half gallon of the afternoon.
Miles, 25, of Greenwood, S.C., wore a Confederate flag draped over his bare back as he furiously dug into the vanilla like there was a fortune buried at the bottom. Like he hadn't eaten anything in days.
Like his life depended on it.
"Lord have mercy," Ray said, as he stepped out onto the porch to look over the scene.
McGuire finally finished and leaned back on his chair, looking as if he might make a quick bathroom run.
But he settled. He smiled. And he got his commemorative wooden half-gallon club spoon.
A few minutes later Miles became one of only a few hikers in the past five years to eat a gallon in one sitting. Twenty-three minutes for the first half-gallon. Twenty-five minutes for the second.
The grim statistics for Miles: 4,800 calories, 288 grams of fat, 160 grams of saturated fat.
McGuire was just happy to keep down his portion.
So he sat and rested, satisfied at another Trail experience conquered.
There would be no more hiking on this day.
Mouth was fed a lot! ½ gallon in 1:06, not the fastest, but who says I'm fast except for my ex-girlfriends! - Mouth
Reach Frank Bodani at 771-2104 or email@example.com.