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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

If Mr. Magoo was going to lose this race, he wanted to lose it fair and square. Which is why, by mid-August, he was dumbfounded by the Onion's route. As Magoo dutifully followed some of the CDT's PUDs–"pointless ups and downs"–on the Idaho-Montana border, the Onion's intentions gnawed at him.

Mid-journey, the Onion had sent an inquiry to a CDT electronic mailing list. The email sought advice on taking a substantial and seldom used shortcut. It began in Montana and bypassed the annoying PUDs, thus shortening his return trip by some five days, or about 150 miles.

"I'm sure it's not close to the Divide or anything," the Onion had written. "But if it saves that many miles and makes it easy to hike straight north-south through Yellowstone, I think it might be neat to do."

Mr. Magoo's hackles were uncharacteristically raised. He didn't find the proposition "neat." He'd been sincerely disappointed that he and the Onion hadn't crossed paths near the Canadian border, where the fires had contributed to them taking different routes. But after reflecting on the email, Magoo no longer knew what to think of the Onion and his hike. Magoo had always stuck close to the CDT's "official" trail, and the Onion had already bypassed some of its meandering sections.

The modifications had contributed to what by August had become Magoo's noticeably eroding advantage. Throw in his day off here and there to update his trip on (ever the entrepreneur, he had created the website to track his progress), or to download photo files, or just to catch his dang breath, and Magoo had lost so much ground that he was probably only two weeks ahead of the tireless Onion. Now add this bombshell of a route change, which might halve Magoo's lead again, and, well, the frontrunner felt compelled to question the Onion's motivation.

"It was such an unorthodox shortcut. I thought people would conclude that he was disqualifying himself from his attempted yo-yo," Magoo later explained. "I thought he might be joking around."

To which the Onion would respond: Huh? To him the shortcut was about doing something new, and avoiding those annoying PUDs. The abbreviated southbound journey would also help him more quickly reach the imposing San Juans, which he wanted to traverse before the snow started falling. Besides, didn't Magoo literally write the book on hiking your own hike?

"I was still on an unbroken journey, on foot, from Mexico to Canada and back," Christensen later said. "If I wasn't yo-yoing the trail, then no one in history has even hiked the trail."

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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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