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Backpacker Magazine – June 2008

The Onion vs. Mr. Magoo

On your mark, get set ... hike. Inside a 5,600-mile footrace on the country's hardest trail.

by: Andrew Tilin, Photos by Timothy Archibald


ON A WARM NEW MEXICO MORNING last fall, Garret "the Onion" Christensen pulled up his socks, threw his green ULA Equipment pack onto his back, and prepared for a bizarrely long and arduous sprint. In front of him lay gravelly County Road 603, and beyond that half a state's worth of rough hiking, including high-desert bushwhacking, countless river crossings, and the punishing Gila Wilderness. Formidable stuff for just about anyone else. But the Onion, an ultra-distance backpacker who measures his treks in the thousands of miles, knew he'd hit this journey's homestretch. Good thing, given what was at stake. Without a minute to lose, he tugged on the brim of his blaze-orange baseball cap, faced south, and broke into a businesslike, three-mile-per-hour walk.

The Onion, who had years earlier nicknamed himself after the satirical newspaper, had reason to believe that he could become the first person to complete a roundtrip hike of the Continental Divide Trail. The attempt was over the top: a 5,600-mile journey, north from the bottom of New Mexico, following a tortuous path to the top of Montana–and then back again. But vast distances, snow-choked passes, and a labyrinth of trails weren't the only obstacles between the Onion and the record. Another guy was simultaneously attempting the same epic trek. Francis "Mr. Magoo" Tapon was also in New Mexico, ahead of the Onion but still 150 miles short of the finish. The 37-year-old Magoo was a strong hiker, too, and yet over the previous five months he'd consistently lost ground to the trail-Hoovering, 28-year-old Christensen. The face-off was crazy enough to be worthy of a story in The Onion itself. One could imagine the spinny headline: "Magoo Dices Onion at Border!"



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READERS COMMENTS

Francis Tapon
Jan 13, 2009

Ladridi's comment is understandable given the angle the writer took. Ladridi is correct that I took a job at a startup a few months after finishing the trail; however, it was a part-time, unpaid position, which I did more to help out a friend rather than to make money. If I'm a capitalist, I'm a lousy one.

I encourage those who came away with some negative feelings about the article to read my response to the article here:
http://francistapon.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=47

I appreciate that Backpacker Magazine was fair and printed my short letter after this article came out. Unfortunately, the letter is not on the web, please view that link if you'd like to hear my take on the article. Thank you!

Happy trails,

Francis Tapon

Buck Nelson
Oct 02, 2008

I finally had time to read this well-written article. I just finished the CDT and it's hard to believe any yo-yoed that trail! An amazing accomplishment and adventure for both of them.

ladridi
Aug 21, 2008

Quote:
"He had hit the trail for the reasons many of us seek wilderness: to quiet his mind and spirit. He had recently left the Mormon Church and had taken leave from a PhD program; he was troubled by unresolved feelings about God and his future. Magoo, likewise, was motivated by a higher quest: He was a successful MBA who had chucked the corporate world for a dream of turning hiking and adventure into money."

I may be the only one, but I don't think that a dream of turning hiking into money is a "higher quest". When you trade one money-making opportunity (corporate job) for another moneymaking opportunity (hiking/travel books), I fail to see the "higher" status of the latter. He is a capitalist, plain and simple, who simply decided he'd rather be his own boss and figured that notoriety was his currency. (Nevermind that he took a job from a startup after he finished the trip.) Calling that a higher quest is insulting to the people who actually view hiking as its own reward instead of a commodity to be mined and then spent. While I know that there are a number of distance hiking enthusiasts who have turned their passions into profits, I suspect that most if not all of them would view the hiking as the higher quest, not the business.

Lee
Aug 20, 2008

How do these ppl afford to do this? Don't they have mortgages and bills to pay?

Downunder Baz
Aug 20, 2008

How about that. When I read the article there were two negative comments directed at the writer and one positive which was directed at the hikers. Go the positive guy.

Dan
Aug 19, 2008

A well written article, very enjoyable.

One question, though. Does Backpacker online really need to simulate the epic journey by spreading this out over 14 pages?

Chance Glasford
Aug 18, 2008

The Onion is a stud! and just because he didn't do it first he did it the quicker and did it for the right reason, himself! Over all the artical was great and kudos on getting the word out and giving praise wear it's due!

thruhiker
Aug 13, 2008

Congrats to both hikers. Amazing.
A strong ethos in long distance hiking is "hike your own hike". For Tapon, this meant hike on the trail, and add some extra peak bagging. For the Onion, this meant hike any route in the general area of the Divide, including roads that shaved off elevation and distance. Both valid hikes, just different.

Jean Brodie
Jul 26, 2008

This article would have done better by celebrating both hikers success. "Don't count anyone your friend who tries to clip your wings."

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