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24 Hours of L.L. Bean

It's the gear world's ultimate endurance event: a full day and night roaming the aisles at Bean's flagship store in Freeport, Maine. Will our man survive?

The rain is cold–a typical Maine summer storm. A front from the north has spun down the Atlantic coast. I’m shivering in my tent. This is not what I expected. Conditions have kept me awake for nearly 24 hours, and I’m struggling. I don’t have a sleeping bag, though there are dozens just a few feet away. I am underdressed, though there are mountains of fleece pullovers and wool socks just beyond my rainfly–which is now whipping back and forth like a banner.

I close my eyes. A little shuteye–just a bit–is all I want.

No. Must. Stay. Awake.

My only option is to leave the tent. I emerge into the squall and begin to walk. I can see a light–10 feet ahead, electric. Beyond it lies heat and food and comfortable chairs, books and beds and barbecues. It’s all the gear I’d ever need.
I step into the shelter of L.L.Bean’s flagship store and breathe a sigh of relief.

Twelve hours to go.

SINCE 1912, when Leon Leonwood Bean began selling his famous rubber-bottomed hunting boots, the L.L.Bean store in Freeport, Maine, has offered anytime service. The system has evolved slightly: L.L. used to scurry downstairs when sportsmen, hoping for a predawn start, came knocking. Today, the store simply doesn’t close; there aren’t even locks on the six sets of double doors. Need a tent stake at two in the morning? An opposite-zipper fleece-lined cotton sleeping bag to cozy up with a trailhead hottie? No problem. Bean is awake.

For the next 24 hours, I would be, too. In recent years, I’ve spent the Fourth of July camping in the Rockies, descending into a remote Mexican canyon, cycling through Tuscany. This time, I chose a different kind of endurance event: For an entire rotation of the earth, I would not leave the Bean store. The only place I could go outside? The walkway leading from the main building to the hunting and fishing shop–about 40 feet. I couldn’t use my cell phone. I wasn’t allowed to bring food–no energy bars, no Domino’s. If I wanted to eat, I’d have to rely on my survival training, consuming only what I could find in the habitat surrounding me. No books from the outside. No iPods, no teddy bears, no Red Bulls, no support crew. Sleeping? Forbidden. It was a self-imposed challenge. I wanted to spend 24 hours in the store that supplies outdoor gear 24/7 to answer a few simple questions: Is this necessary? What does it say about our wants, our needs? And do Polartec Windbloc jackets really belong next to wicker rocking chairs?
And at 2:00 p.m., July 3, my girlfriend and I stand in front of the store that is Double L’s sprawling legacy: 160,000 square feet of gear, clothing, housewares, and New England quaintness–the same stuff you (and everyone you know) peruse in the 250-million-plus catalogs Bean mails each year. She kisses me goodbye. I watch her disappear. I’m already thinking that the pizza rule is stupid.

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