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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.

Tattoo Joe. Trauma. One Gallon. Nimble Will.They’re all top ultra-distance backpackers, and nobody’s ever heard of them. Which is pretty much the way they want it. That’s because the ultra-distance community–a fraternity of maybe a dozen folks who think of an Appalachian Trail thru-hike as a warm-up–typically prefer to walk 200 days straight, and then reenter civilization only long enough to mastermind a plan to leave again.

"Money is just a means to get to do the next trip," says 27-year-old Justin "Trauma" Lichter, who hiked 10,000 miles in 2006. "As for fame, why would I want that? It just complicates things."

Francis Tapon, on the other hand, hungers for attention. The Bay Area-based Tapon sought to become the first person to yo-yo the Continental Divide Trail–that is, thru-hike it and then double back to the start–for the adventure, but also to raise his profile. Tapon is an entrepreneur who hopes to parlay his hiking and travel into a series of self-help books, equal parts life-coaching and travelogue, and become a successful author.

Tapon, who has engaging hazel eyes and a celebrity’s smile, released his first effort, Hike Your Own Hike, in 2006. It’s based on his thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail five years earlier. To this reviewer, the writing is uninspired and the advice often clichéd: The author doesn’t need to tell us that exercise is good or that smoking is bad, or that we should find a job we love because life is short. But Tapon likes to think of his messages as timeless reminders. To him, backpacking and life should both be distilled to their essences.

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