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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.

And yet in the small but squabble-ridden world of thru-hiking, where those who stick religiously to a path are considered superior to those who take shortcuts, such a question had never been debated. No one had asked: What’s considered a legitimate yo-yo of the Continental Divide Trail?

The parameters are clear on the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails, which have well-established routes. But the CDT is different. The under-funded associations that care for the path haven’t secured all the necessary land easements or erected sufficient signage. To many, the CDT is more like a corridor. Conquering it is as much about improvisation as it is about enjoying majestic vistas.

"There is an official trail," says Jim Wolf, director of the Continental Divide Trail Society and a person as qualified as any CDT nut to be judge and jury on the issue. "But the ethos among trail users is do whatever you damn please." In late August, the Onion arrived in Yellowstone via the shortcut, and was soon marveling at Mammoth Hot Springs. He shared the trail with bison and cooled off in the crystal-clear Yellowstone River. He had no regrets. "To me, the fun was making up your own route," he later said.

Just a bit farther south, Magoo also decided to abandon the CDT–albeit in search of something longer and harder. Wearing trail-running shoes, he did his best to stay atop the actual Continental Divide in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, which is a lonesome wilderness of jagged rock, glaciers, and crevasses. It’s not the best place to be without crampons, let alone an ice axe. But this hiker was the intrepid Mr. Magoo, who wanted, even needed, exciting experiences.

"The route through the Winds was going to make my trip more difficult, and that was going to be an interesting story to tell," he later said. "I could use that material to inspire people."

Entering the trip’s final stretch, Magoo felt he held an advantage over the Onion, and not just because he was still ahead. He’d done exceptional justice to the CDT by taking its longest and often most challenging routes, and he wouldn’t hesitate to convey those accomplishments to his readers and sponsors. Whether any of them would care about such nuances didn’t matter. In the end, the obsessive Magoo was pleasing one person: himself.

"I didn’t want to come back from this trip in some sort of gray area," Tapon would later explain somewhat defensively. "I would hate to have an asterisk next to my name in the record books. I don’t want to be the Barry Bonds of hiking."

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