A Guide to the 24 X 24 X 24 Challenge

What 2000-mile test of physical endurance would be complete without additional challenges to make it harder? Many of you have heard of the four state challenge, where hikers make the 45-mile trek from Virginia to Maryland. There is also the half-gallon challenge, where hikers test their lactose tolerance against a half-gallon of fat and sugar. And who could forget about the Deli-a-Day challenge in New Jersey?

But I’m here to talk to you about what is arguably the most difficult and damage inducing of challenges – the 24 X 24 X 24.

Twenty-four beers. Twenty-four miles. Twenty-four hours.

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I know, I know. After the debauchery of Trail Days, you probably don’t even want to think about beer for a while. Or at least you probably want to throw a drum off a cliff (how do those drummers stay up all night? Are they robots?) But after a week or two, some of you might find yourself ready to put your liver to the test again.

I mean, you are thru-hiking the AT, so you’re already kind of a masochist.

I had the privilege on my thru-hike of personally escorting someone on their 24 cubed. It was a magical day. We hiked 27 miles through a 90 degree heat wave and, at the hour of 8 PM, with 12 hours left to go, we watched our friend start drinking. He put in a valiant effort, tragically passing out on the Doyle’s balcony at 3 AM after 19 beers (which, in retrospect, is probably not a unique experience at the Doyle).

I have always wondered if I couldn’t have helped him finish the challenge by staying up later (instead of passing out myself after two beers at about 9:30). Clearly I am not a candidate for the challenge. I guess I’ll just have to live with that failure.

But, in an effort to help future generations of thru hikers, I am offering up what I learned from this experience as a caveat.

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Now that that’s out of the way, this is how you one could theoretically do it:

1.  Know your tolerance and don’t push it.

Ever since the days when Romans believed that the liver revealed the future, people have been testing the premonitions of this foreboding organ. And in that way, the liver prophesy is self-fulfilling. I’m no Haruspex, but I can look at your liver right now and tell you whether or not you’ll be able to finish the 24 challenge. If it’s pink and healthy as a piglet, then probably not. The reality is that if you can’t handle 24 drinks on a normal day (which most people honestly can’t), then you can’t handle 24 drinks while hiking uphill in the heat. So don’t get yourself killed – know your tolerance!

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2.  Hydrate

This should be obvious, but you are going to need to hydrate a lot in order to hike and drink that much in one day. And you’ll probably still feel terrible the next morning. So make sure you have a water buddy – a friend who ensures you always have water with you. Especially at the end of the day, when you probably won’t be aware of how much water you’re drinking. Or where you are. Or whether or not you have pants on.

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3.  Three things: Planning, planning, and planning.

The hardest part of the 24 challenge (aside from the miles and beers, that is) is the preparation you’ll need to do. Things to keep in mind about the section of trail you choose that might sound obvious but sometimes aren’t:

  • Don’t pick a hot day. Sweating is not your friend here.
  • Make sure you are hiking a fairly flat, easy section (Ignore the topographic profile in Pennsylvania. That state wants to crush you in a rockslide – Don’t do it drunk.)
  • Slackpack if you can, or if you are a purist make sure your bag is as empty as possible (think one day’s food or less).  Just don’t sacrifice on water weight!  You’ll need it.
  • You also probably want to pick a place without a lot of families (i.e. not a section which intersects with a popular hiking trail during memorial day weekend). I mean, thru hikers can be scary enough to kids already – we smell, we have a hairiness factor that falls somewhere between Santa and a grizzly bear, we always seem to look hungry – so you don’t need to add crushing beer cans to that equation.
  • And last but not least: plan around a town.  Unless you have a support team, you’re going to want to begin and/or end near a town so that you can A. get your beer and B. be able to resupply/get to your bag if you slack packed.  That’s one thing that makes the challenge extra hard – the resources required.

4.  Pick a low alcohol per volume beer.

Light beer has a time and a place, and it’s now and here. Fun fact: Yuengling Lager is only 4.4% ABV.

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Where was dehydrated beer when I did my thru-hike??

5.  Eat so much food (also, eat the right food)

More food = less drunk. It’s that simple. But to make it more complicated, make sure you’re eating a lot of protein, which helps absorb alcohol (you will probably be doing OK in the carbohydrate department with what is basically 288 ounces of fermented liquid bread). And also make sure to get plenty of electrolytes in you, since you’ll be totally flushing out your body between the diuretics in beer and the large amount of water you should be drinking. Which means that you might want to either carry those fancy gummy chews or drink sport drinks in addition to water or at the very least, bring salty food and banana chips.

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6.  Wake up early

Your biggest enemy in this game is the siren call of sleep. You want to trick yourself into staying awake longer by keeping as much daylight in your day as possible. I recommend waking up an hour or two before sunrise to hit the trail. This way, by the time the sun is setting you should be well on your way. If you set yourself up to be drinking throughout the night, you’ll be way too tempted to fall asleep by eleven. But if you plan right, you can be nearly finished with the challenge by then.

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THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT IT WILL BE LIKE!! WAKING UP EARLY IS AWESOME!!  …said no one ever.

7.  Pace yourself

If you choose to drink all of the beers in one go, pace yourself. It’s better to be drinking two to three beers an hour and realize at 2AM that you simply can’t finish them than to complete the challenge and end up with alcohol poisoning or a body flushed of its electrolytes. When the choice between kidneys and pride comes, you should pick kidneys.

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Three schedules that might work:

Plan 1 One beer per hour while you hike at your normal pace, the rest once you’ve broken camp that night.

Plan1

Pros:  You can spread out your drinking, and sweat some of the beer out.

Cons: You won’t hike as quickly and by mile 20, you’re really going to be feeling it.  Also, dehydration.

Plan 2 Begin drinking one beer per hour half way through your hike, and finish the beers that night.

Plan2

Pros:  You’ll have a head start on both hiking and the drinking, and will be able to crush the early miles faster.  Drinking at the end might give you that final push and it won’t be as exhausting as beginning your day with beer and 24 miles ahead of you.

Cons:  You might risk losing some motivation at the end of your hike (depending on who you are), and you’ll have to drink more beer at camp/town.

Plan 3 Hike 24 miles as fast as you can and start drinking immediately.

Plan3

Pros:  You’ll probably be able to finish the hike pretty quickly (Ff you chose the right section. See: planning, planning, and more planning), maybe in only 8 to 9 hours if you push yourself (giving you at least 13 to 14 hours to finish those beers before you inevitably fall asleep).  The most important pro?  Safety.  No worries about taking any chances because you’re tired, dehydrated, and full of ethanol while you navigate a ridge line.

Cons:  Drinking 24 beers in one sitting.  Ouch.

So, like an economics major on a Friday night, go get your logistics out of the way and start drinking. The Irish side of me, from my liver to my heart, believes in you wholly. I know you can do this. (Unless you can’t – that’s OK, too.)

But why not give it the old college try?

John Belushi publicity portrait for the film 'Animal House', 1978. (Photo by Universal/Getty Images)

John Belushi publicity portrait for the film ‘Animal House’, 1978. (Photo by Universal/Getty Images)

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Comments 8

  • Dave Michel (Pitchit) : Feb 1st

    Section hiking we met up w fraternity doing this in tuxedos. Don’t think they made it. They were farther into the beers than they were the miles and hours. I’m doing a supported thru hike NOBO 2016 as an early retiree. Don’t think I can do this challenge!

    Reply
  • Christine Lauriello : Feb 1st

    As President of one of the local maintaining clubs this is completely irresponsible! First of all the volunteers that take care of this trail don’t want to clean up your messes. Second it’s a safety issue. Over 8 people have died at Poles Steeple because they were drunk. That’s just one area I’m sure there are more. Third any pictures that go online are there forever and peoples bosses will fire them for drunk pictures. Forth it’s stupid!

    Reply
  • Andrew Downs : Feb 1st

    This is a great way to increase the number of Alcohol bans on the AT! As someone who LOVES beer, the reason they say “drink responsibly” is because if you don’t, responsibility will be provided for you.

    McAfee knob – now with an alcohol ban! Thanks in no small part to the drunks who almost fell off doing a hand stand, the broken beer bottles, the loud annoying drunks, the piles of bush light cans…..

    How about this challenge Thru Hikers! Act like it’s a privilege and an honor. Act like we are lucky to have the AT. Act like it’s your choices that will dictate what the AT looks like in the future. Act like someone who can enjoy (a few) beers without ruining it for everyone else. Act like it’s a footpath for those who seek fellowship with the wilderness.

    MORE FOOLS MORE RULES!

    Digger
    GA->ME 2002

    Reply
  • Laura Flynn : Feb 1st

    Really, Maggie? As a mom interested in getting my kids out on the A.T. I’m appalled at your blog post. It’s hikers like you that will drive other families away from the Trail. So far we have only had wonderful experiences, but I admit that I’m always a little nervous about having an encounter with drunken fools on the Trail. I’m pretty sure my kids could contribute a more mature blog post than you offered here! Time to grow up little Maggie.

    Reply
  • Silvia C : Feb 9th

    I’d like to echo Andrew’s comment. Hiking the AT is a privilege. It takes ALOT of work to keep it what it is, protect it’s corridor, and keep it conserved. How about you don’t mess it up, ruin other people’s experiences, and save your liver, and just hike and have a beer when you get to town ? This is just fueling party culture on the trail. What would Grandma Gatewood do?

    Reply
  • Silvia C : Feb 9th

    PS: The AT is a TRAIL, not a party. If you want to go to a party, you should do that at home.

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  • Therese : Jun 4th

    I am sad and dismayed with your post, Maggie. It is disrespectful of those who hike for the love of the AT as well as their fellow compatriots. You are classier than this………

    Reply
  • andy Morningstar : Jul 5th

    I think it’s awesome Maggie I’m trying this on my next outing. I don’t appreciate everyone’s comments on here though. 1st not everyone who hikes leaves trash just because they’re drinking. 2nd hike your own hike, don’t worry about how others get to their destination. 3rd it is not a privilege to be on the trail. I have a right to take a hike in those public woods as anyone else.

    Thank you for this article Maggie Im going out next month for a couple weeks. This is the first challenge on the list.

    Reply

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