All is quiet at the Walt Disney Hollywood Studios in the early morning hours, except for a few people lined up at the gate. Kenny White, known as Kenny the Pirate, is one of them: he is anxiously waiting for his turn to ride the Slinky Dog Dash. No, he is not an impatient 5-year-old kid; in fact, he is a 50-year-old diehard fan attempting an impossible feat of riding all 49 rides in one day. Mr. White is not alone as there is an elite group of superfans who frequently try to complete the so-called Parkeology Challenge. After several unsuccessful attempts, Kenny the Pirate finished the challenge in December and joined a dozen elite finishers. His only prize was bragging rights on social media pages frequented by other fans.

Finishing all rides in one day requires months of planning, including mapping out running routes, figuring out scheduled maintenance of rides, jotting down bathroom locations and food courts. The fans cover close to 20 miles on foot requiring training similar to runners attempting a marathon. Speed work is also necessary to simulate dashes between rides. Fans face unpredictable opening times (parks can open as early as 7 AM and stay open as late at 1 AM depending on anticipated attendance), long lines, and summer temperatures that soar into the 90s. Waiting times vary as do riding times ranging from two minutes to an agonizing 20 minutes on slow, older attractions. Getting around between parks presents another challenge where it can take over 30 minutes to travel from one park to another. The entire Disney resort covers nearly 40 square miles.

Those who attempt the challenge follow strict rules established by this select community. Only rides completed from beginning to end count and hopping on and off to take a quick selfie are disqualified. The fans must rely only on themselves with no outside help in the form of food, transportation between parks, or volunteers who offer to stand in lines. To prepare for the challenge, many share tips based on previous attempts. Bags are useful to carry food but become a hindrance since park goers without them can speed through the separate park entrance. Power bars are a must since there is no time for breaks. Running all day on soda and Mickey ice cream bars makes it even more difficult to survive. Rain gear and foldable ponchos are also necessary as Florida is prone to sudden severe downpours.

The final few rides tend to be the most stressful. Kristina Hawkins, a 30-year-old who lives close to Disney, missed her last ride by a few minutes after getting stuck in a crowded Haunted Mansion. Brothers Reagan and Ryan Wagoner were set to complete their first challenge when two of the last rides broke down (Splash Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean) and weren’t reopened. Some of the Parkeology participants get recognized by the employees who understand why some riders on the raft to Tom Sawyer Island disembark and get right back on the raft to float to the mainland. “We think the world of our guests – especially our superfans who visit time and again experiencing our parks in new ways,” says Jim MacPhee, senior vice president of operations at Walt Disney Resorts. This year, many of the challengers are raising funds for Give Kids the World Village, a nonprofit Florida park for children with medical needs. Close to 20 teams tried the Parkeology Challenge during the July 25th fundraiser but none were able to finish. But even the best runners will admit that a bit of luck goes a long way!

Feature Image via Flikr/mr.skeleton