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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

The Onion made Mr. Magoo sweat New Mexico. Earlier in the trip, Magoo had envisioned his return visit to the state as a slowly hiked victory lap. But with less than a week's lead, he scratched his leisurely itinerary and moved his finish date up. That meant going as hard as he'd ever gone, hustling through places like Ghost Town and El Malpais, and walking well into the pitch black as the autumn days turned shorter. "The Onion was on my back," he later said. "I hiked into the night because I knew that's what he'd be doing."

At least Magoo didn't do it all alone. Five thousand miles into his journey, he finally found a hiking partner who could keep up. Clint "Lint" Bunting, a 30-year-old roofer from Portland, Oregon, was a fit and good-humored southbound CDT thru-hiker. He cracked funny jokes and bantered with Magoo about women and the art of Dumpster diving. They walked together for five days. "We had a blast. He was super friendly," Bunting later said. "Although Francis did try to tell me about the time wasted by stopping to pee. At one point he busted out some math formula."

Magoo arrived at the border town of Columbus, New Mexico, on October 25, 201 days after he started. The Onion finished on October 28, 178 days after he began. The two of them never joined in a victorious, grimy handshake. Mr. Magoo preferred it that way.

"I thought that we did sufficiently different hikes that I didn't want to be classified together. You know–pictures of the two of us," Tapon said shortly after he finished, estimating that his route had been about 300 miles longer than the Onion's. "There can only be one Neil Armstrong."

"I'm still one of the first," Christensen would later say. "And I'm the fastest."

Awards night, so to speak, came a few months later at an REI in Berkeley. Tapon had created a highly inspirational, 90-minute multimedia presentation out of his CDT adventure that he would present at several of the co-op's stores. The lights dimmed, and Tapon launched into his script.

"When I was in the corporate world, I would walk down these corridors and think, 'Is this what life is about?'" he began. "Then I said, 'You know what, I really don't want this anymore.'"

The digital film rolled, and Tapon wowed the respectably sized crowd. There was beautiful footage from the trail and triumphant self-portraits, although at times the latter were overdone and resembled Viagra ads. Tapon also flashed his sponsors' logos on the screen and warmly mentioned that his book was for sale.

Christensen was there, too. In the front row, holding his bicycle helmet, after having ridden from his low-rent home (he doesn't own a car). Tapon, however, failed to introduce his CDT foil to the crowd.

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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:

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.

Aug 21, 2008

"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.

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.

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!

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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