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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


It was awkward. Here were two men who had, for half a year, literally shared the same ups and downs, the same wonderful and miserable outdoor experiences. Yet as close as they got on the trail, it was now Tapon getting the attention. He closed with an update: He had recently been hired to help launch Booknolia, a Bay Area social-networking startup with a focus on books and authors. His next travel and self-help book, The Hidden Europe, will be out in 2009. Then there would be trips to Asia and Africa, and books following those adventures.

After the presentation, Christensen stood up and thoughtfully stroked his beard. Like most of the small number of ultra-distance backpackers–people like Tattoo Joe and Trauma–he was destined to remain anonymous. But Christensen didn't seem to mind too much. In the wake of his 5,600-mile therapy session, he had changed specialties within his PhD program, and seemed mildly excited to have swapped "labor economics" for "law and economics." Christensen was volunteer-tutoring school kids. And he was hanging out with Mormon pals without apparent conflict–happy hiking, he says, confirmed to him that his decision to leave the Church was the right one. His thinking had already drifted to his next adventure, a cross-country cycling trip planned for 2009.

The crowd at REI that night couldn't possibly have known that there were two CDT record-setters in their midst. Nor that the pair had come within three days of finishing simultaneously. Only a few friends and thru-hiker obsessives even knew there had been a race, of sorts.

In the future, of course, who was first and who was fastest will matter hardly at all, as each hiker contends with his own measure of success. Will Mr. Magoo prosper? Will the Onion remain content? As with all of us, those questions can have no final answer. And that's something to ponder on a good, long hike.

Andrew Tilin insists he has hiked more than 10 miles in a day. But only once.



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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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