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The Onion vs. Mr. Magoo

On your mark, get set ... hike. Inside a 5,600-mile footrace on the country's hardest trail.

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 cdtyoyo.com (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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