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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?

“We get the catalog,” one of them snaps when I ask her why she isn’t shopping.

I consider giving them the Code 4 tip. But they’re not worthy. And I will cede no sympathy when I’m this close to the finish.
Another hour passes. I watch a white-bearded gentleman purchase a few red chamois shirts and witness a longtime customer successfully return a 15-year-old container of mink oil. I fake an interview with the shoe department manager, who notices I’m not even taking notes. “Sorry,” I say.

“No problem,” he smiles. “We know you’re doing something crazy.”

No, I’m not. Crazy is searching for secret codes on incense. Crazy is selling the wee-wee of an ungulate. Crazy is a store where you can buy two kayaks before sunrise.

I’m not crazy. Crazy is all around me.

HERE ARE SOME THINGS that make my Christmas list: canoe, chocolate lobster. Here are some things that don’t: chamois shirts, big-butt stretch jeans. I already have a bright orange down vest, reversible to silver. Wouldn’t mind a nice parka. Then again…maybe not. Never mind that Bean gear is good enough to go up Everest (it has). When I’m deep in the Utah backcountry, I don’t want a parka for which monogramming is an option.

The crowds are swelling. I notice a couple that looks out of place. They are both beautiful: fashionably dressed, all in black. I introduce myself, and think: Don’t you know Prada is, like, six million blocks from here? Turns out they are from Mexico City, and have heard of this magical place, and–as if Old Man Bean were the Virgin of Guadalupe–have made a pilgrimage. They introduce themselves in English, elegant, filled with flourish: “I am Benito Leal Cueva,” he says, “and this is Maria Elena de la Puente.” So lovely that I wonder if they’ll find anything to buy. There’s little in the way of D&G eyewear or Hermès scarves amidst the chowder and shotgun shells. Not to worry: There’s a hand-crank radio in their basket. Preparedness is universal.
Now it’s time I join the hordes. I need gifts, too. Lip balm. Flip-flops. I look for one of my favorite Bean items–quick-dry travel boxers–but the store no longer carries undies.

My girlfriend will arrive at 1 p.m. She has agreed to accompany me through the final hour, but without the tuna melt–or wheelchair–I’m craving. I stand by the door and wait for a solid hour and twenty minutes. I’m as unmoving as the dead moose above me.

At 12:50, she enters. At 10 past one, I start rationalizing. “If we add the time we spent finding a parking space, I’ve already done 24 hours! It won’t be cheating to leave now!”

“If you don’t stay, you’ll regret it. How about a tour of the store?” she asks, sweetly taking my hand.

It is hard, sometimes, to make sense of everything Bean sells–and why it seems to sell everything. But after a full day, I think I understand: What Bean represents is the future that people like you and me–people who live and love the outdoors–really dream about. A place where our pursuits become effortless, seamlessly integrated into mainstream consumer culture. A place where Gore-Tex and high-thread-count sheets, crampons and moccasins, polo shirts and mountain bikes, all merge. Where a family day at the shore really does complement high-altitude mountaineering.

I’m glad Bean is always stocked and always open. But I can’t wait to leave. At 2:01 p.m., July 4, I step into the daylight. I am free.

And from this day forward–Code 4s be damned–I’m strictly catalog-only.

Dan Koeppel is the author, most recently, of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World.

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