ON A WARM NEW MEXICO MORNING last fall, Garret "the Onion" Christensen pulled up his socks, threw his green ULA Equipment pack onto his back, and prepared for a bizarrely long and arduous sprint. In front of him lay gravelly County Road 603, and beyond that half a state’s worth of rough hiking, including high-desert bushwhacking, countless river crossings, and the punishing Gila Wilderness. Formidable stuff for just about anyone else. But the Onion, an ultra-distance backpacker who measures his treks in the thousands of miles, knew he’d hit this journey’s homestretch. Good thing, given what was at stake. Without a minute to lose, he tugged on the brim of his blaze-orange baseball cap, faced south, and broke into a businesslike, three-mile-per-hour walk.
The Onion, who had years earlier nicknamed himself after the satirical newspaper, had reason to believe that he could become the first person to complete a roundtrip hike of the Continental Divide Trail. The attempt was over the top: a 5,600-mile journey, north from the bottom of New Mexico, following a tortuous path to the top of Montana–and then back again. But vast distances, snow-choked passes, and a labyrinth of trails weren’t the only obstacles between the Onion and the record. Another guy was simultaneously attempting the same epic trek. Francis "Mr. Magoo" Tapon was also in New Mexico, ahead of the Onion but still 150 miles short of the finish. The 37-year-old Magoo was a strong hiker, too, and yet over the previous five months he’d consistently lost ground to the trail-Hoovering, 28-year-old Christensen. The face-off was crazy enough to be worthy of a story in The Onion itself. One could imagine the spinny headline: "Magoo Dices Onion at Border!"