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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?

Earlier during my visit, I’d picked up a brochure about the hunting outlet’s newest addition: a virtual bow-hunting room. I hope that slaying electronic turkeys will restore my alertness, but this Down East Tomb Raider variation only keeps daytime hours. I try a few duck calls–no luck–and wander outside. It’s raining hard.

I walk past the row of demo tents. I peek in. Just for a second. No sleeping bags or Therm-a-Rests. The ground beneath the tent floor is cold and bumpy. With so much discomfort below me, it’s safe to recline–for just a minute. There’s no way could I fall asleep. It’s 4:30 in the morning.

Suddenly, I open my eyes. It is now 4:40. I realize I’ve hit the crux of my Bean expedition, when I must abandon the familiar confines of a tent in order to complete my mission.

I step into the cold rain and move slowly back to the main store. The frigid downpour brings me fully awake. I see just one customer: a college student who is returning five jackets. He tells me that he received them as graduation gifts–and hates them. “I had to do this early,” he says, “so the gifters wouldn’t catch me.” What is he going to exchange them for? “Socks,” he says. “Or maybe PowerBars.”

At 5:30 a.m., July 4, the big transaction of the night goes down: A mystery paddler engages in two hours of discussion with philosopher Laverdiere, followed by a credit card swipe for a pair of kayaks. I have a headache. I walk over to the camping department and pick up a first-aid kit for $25.95. Two Tylenols later, I feel better. I’m also prepared for a snakebite. I wander past the front desk, where a clerk is unplugging the coffee. He stares at the doors; there’s an orange glow out there. “Today,” he says, “is going to be crazy.”

At 8 a.m., I position myself by the main door. At a safe distance. A person standing in the doorway could easily get overrun by the incoming stampede. Families and couples. Solo shoppers and groups. The parking lot has turned into a bus terminal. Load upon load of slow-moving seniors tumble by and scatter in different directions.

One group, however, doesn’t move into the store. Instead, a dozen of them quickly sit on benches near the entrance. These are the only surly people I’ll encounter during my entire stay. They’re on a pre-packaged bus tour with the rest of Maine and Nova Scotia to go. They have no time for Bean. They are angry, angry at everything, even angry at the little yellow nametags they wear, which say “HARRY’S MOTOR COACH TOURS.” They’re certainly angry at my questions.

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