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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


Ultra-distance backpacking surfaced in 2001, when "Flyin' Brian" Robinson became the first hiker to conquer hiking's Triple Crown in a calendar year. Flyin' Brian had approached the feat–thru-hiking the Pacific Crest, Continental Divide, and Appalachian Trails–as if attempting a giant math problem. Prepare one's body to endure thousands of trail miles? Run 50 miles per week before leaving. Lighten one's load? Use your poncho as a makeshift tent. Give yourself enough time? Start on January 1. Ten months later, Robinson had done what many said was impossible.

Garret Christensen gets Robinson's desire to hike for thousands of miles without a break. Unlike the rest of his life–his Mormon upbringing, as well as his graduate school classes in economics at the University of California at Berkeley–Christensen thinks that ultra-distance backpacking adds up. It makes sense.

"When I'm backpacking, I don't have to worry about anything else," Christensen told me on a hike in Tilden Park, outside of San Francisco, shortly after he came off the CDT. Sporting a Muir-worthy beard over his tanned face and dressed head to toe in lightweight nylon, he seemed to be in his element. "All I have to think about is tiny logistics, like getting food," he continued. "Other than that it's walking. It's very simple."

Christensen grew up in Reston, Virginia. His dad worked as a defense industry engineer, and his mom looked after Garret and three older siblings. They were devout members of the Mormon Church. Christensen's parents' only apparent failing seems to be that they didn't watch young Garret's diet too closely. He became a junk-food junkie.

His diet didn't slow him down. Christensen became an Eagle Scout at 18 and thru-hiked the AT in 2002. He developed a sharp wit and a facility with numbers, graduating magna cum laude from Brigham Young University in 2004 and writing a 40-page thesis that linked economic theory with summiting Mt. Everest. That same summer, Christensen squeezed in a thru-hike of the PCT, discovering in the process that he could travel great distances without much rest. He walked end to end in a blazing 93 days. Then, after the hike, he jumped straight into Cal Berkeley's rigorous PhD economics program. He says it was a logical step. "Mathematically, there was always a right answer in economics," he says. "Plus, as an undergrad I was good at it."



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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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