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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


And yet in the small but squabble-ridden world of thru-hiking, where those who stick religiously to a path are considered superior to those who take shortcuts, such a question had never been debated. No one had asked: What's considered a legitimate yo-yo of the Continental Divide Trail?

The parameters are clear on the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails, which have well-established routes. But the CDT is different. The under-funded associations that care for the path haven't secured all the necessary land easements or erected sufficient signage. To many, the CDT is more like a corridor. Conquering it is as much about improvisation as it is about enjoying majestic vistas.

"There is an official trail," says Jim Wolf, director of the Continental Divide Trail Society and a person as qualified as any CDT nut to be judge and jury on the issue. "But the ethos among trail users is do whatever you damn please." In late August, the Onion arrived in Yellowstone via the shortcut, and was soon marveling at Mammoth Hot Springs. He shared the trail with bison and cooled off in the crystal-clear Yellowstone River. He had no regrets. "To me, the fun was making up your own route," he later said.

Just a bit farther south, Magoo also decided to abandon the CDT–albeit in search of something longer and harder. Wearing trail-running shoes, he did his best to stay atop the actual Continental Divide in Wyoming's Wind River Range, which is a lonesome wilderness of jagged rock, glaciers, and crevasses. It's not the best place to be without crampons, let alone an ice axe. But this hiker was the intrepid Mr. Magoo, who wanted, even needed, exciting experiences.

"The route through the Winds was going to make my trip more difficult, and that was going to be an interesting story to tell," he later said. "I could use that material to inspire people."

Entering the trip's final stretch, Magoo felt he held an advantage over the Onion, and not just because he was still ahead. He'd done exceptional justice to the CDT by taking its longest and often most challenging routes, and he wouldn't hesitate to convey those accomplishments to his readers and sponsors. Whether any of them would care about such nuances didn't matter. In the end, the obsessive Magoo was pleasing one person: himself.

"I didn't want to come back from this trip in some sort of gray area," Tapon would later explain somewhat defensively. "I would hate to have an asterisk next to my name in the record books. I don't want to be the Barry Bonds of hiking."



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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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