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Hikers take an ice cream break on the Appalachian Trail

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Of the few thousand people who try to hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia all the way to Maine each year, only about a quarter finish, so getting to the halfway point in Pennsylvania is a big deal. Rachel McDevitt from member station WITF takes us to the midpoint where hikers celebrate by eating a half-gallon of ice cream.

RACHEL MCDEVITT, BYLINE: Team on (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Boy.

MCDEVITT: Hikers are getting hyped up at the Pine Grove Furnace General Store, waiting for a fresh delivery of ice cream. So when it comes...

ALAN DWYER: Got to look at the ice cream. Look at it come by. You are the man. I'm going to hold the door for you. Hold on.

MCDEVITT: The delivery man is basically a celebrity. Inside the store, hikers jostle around the freezers.

YVETTE FURNIA: So French vanilla or regular vanilla? I'm going regular vanilla.

MCDEVITT: Alan Dwyer, who goes by Legoman on the trail, is wearing a camo bucket hat and a black kilt. He double-takes when he hears the record for the half-gallon challenge - 3 minutes and 37 seconds.

DWYER: I'll do the challenge, but I'm not killing myself.

MCDEVITT: Outside on the porch, Dwyer digs in. He's hiked 1,100 miles to get here, so this is a big moment.

DWYER: Absolutely. Probably more the symbolism than the ice cream, to be honest.

MCDEVITT: Yvette Furnia, a dark-haired woman with bright freckles whose trail name is Milkweed, is mixing up an improvised orange creamsicle.

FURNIA: You got to have a good flavor combo because it is just an exorbitant amount of food in one sitting to even attempt.

MCDEVITT: Neil "Happy Feet" Postal, a wiry 24-year-old, is already nearing success but feeling the effects.

NEIL POSTAL: I've felt better, honestly. I was feeling pretty ill after the first 1 1/2 quarts. But I just kind of sat down and smoked a couple cigarettes, and I felt fine.

MCDEVITT: It's a warm day, and Dwyer's bushy brown beard is dripping with cream. The maple-walnut flavor reminds him of growing up in New Hampshire.

DWYER: One of my wonderful childhood memories is getting sap from trees. The young me would order maple walnut.

MCDEVITT: Oh, no.

DWYER: My spoon just broke in half. There's no video of this.

MCDEVITT: He pauses, then grips his new, smaller spoon.

DWYER: I will persist.

MCDEVITT: Each hiker has their own motivation for this trek. For Furnia, it's about setting an example for her 8-year-old son.

FURNIA: And I think the biggest thing I always got from adults as a kid was not what they would tell you but the things that you saw them do - so the things that you saw them do that seemed extraordinary, like they were superheroes. Like, I'd want him to be proud of me. I want to be proud of me.

MCDEVITT: Dwyer has been writing hike the Appalachian Trail on his list of personal goals every year for the last 14. He says the hike is shifting his perception of what he really needs.

DWYER: Already this far, I wish I had taken more pictures of people and less pictures of the views. One of the trail tautologies is the views will always be there. The people won't, and so take more pictures of people.

MCDEVITT: A thousand miles lies between this ice cream in Pennsylvania and the end of the trail in Maine. But for now, there's no rush. This moment is for the hikers, not the hike. For NPR News, I'm Rachel McDevitt at the midpoint of the Appalachian Trail.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEYONCE SONG, "CUFF IT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rachel McDevitt