My Reaction to the June 2008 Backpacker Magazine Article

Discuss Francis Tapon's 2007 CDT Yo-Yo hike or specific issues about the CDT.
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My Reaction to the June 2008 Backpacker Magazine Article

Post by FrancisTapon » Tue May 20, 2008 7:13 pm

The June 2008 issue of Backpacker Magazine featured a long article about Garret Christensen (aka The Onion) and me, and how we each tried to yo-yo the CDT in 2007. (Here's a scan of that issue.)Although the article was mostly factually accurate, it was misleading at times. It’s a pity, considering how extensively Andrew Tilin, the author, interviewed each of us. You would think he would be able to paint a more accurate picture.

I’ll list the things in the article that were misleading in some way:

I’m not the Paris Hilton of hikers. The article implies that like Paris Hilton, I’m constantly seeking media attention for the sake of media attention, with little real purpose other than stroking my ego. If anyone knows how to make a living as a writer without doing any publicity, please tell me. I’m not ashamed to admit that I do seek publicity, but the only reason I do it is to put food on the table. Publicity helps me sell books. If I didn’t do publicity, I’d be forced to return to a cubicle life. |(

I give away half of my book royalty. The article depicts me as someone who just pursues his own self-aggrandizement. Sensing where the article was going, I repeatedly reminded Tilin that I give away half of my book royalty to the National Scenic Trails and that I have donated more money to the ATC, PCTA, and CDTA than most hikers donate over their lifetimes. The CDTA has me down as one of the largest individual donors. Where does that money come from? My book sales, which is my only source of income (and it's not much!). So my publicity doesn't just help my book sales, it also helps the non-profits that help build and maintain the trails. Most hikers who do extraordinary hikes just do it for their own pleasure. What's sad is that instead of celebrating a hiker who uses his publicity in a way that helps the backpacking community, the article chose to not even mention it. Imagine if a hiker said, "From now on, I'm going to give away half of my income to the National Scenic Trails." You'd think Backpacker Magazine would want to cover that story. Instead, they completely ignored it and instead depicted me as being selfish, self-centered man.

I don’t dream about money. This sentence in the article implies that money is my main motivation in life: “[Francis] dreamed of turning hiking and adventure into money.” That's misleading. I dreamed of living a fulfilling life, filled with travel and adventure. To do that, I needed to make money while pursuing my dream. It’s a subtle, but important, difference. My goal is not to make money, but to have adventures. My books and other activities that bring in revenue are just a means to that end, not the other way around.

The article’s critique of Hike Your Own Hike was misleading. The article makes my book seem overly simplistic. It says: “[Tapon] 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.” There are 2,143 paragraphs in my book. I spend just one small paragraph on smoking! I spend about 10 out of 352 pages discussing not just the importance of exercise, but also what types of regimes one can do to improve your strength, endurance, and flexibility for both hiking and everyday life. I spend a chapter on discovering your passion and what specific steps one can do to pursue it. The shallow summary of my book makes the book seem far more simple and boring than it is. I don’t pretend it’s the most profound book of the century, but if you read the reviews on Amazon you’ll see that there is much more to it than what this article suggests.

Sponsors weren’t my only motivation. The article quotes an email I sent during one of my lowest moments on the CDT: “But I have all these sponsors that I can’t disappoint. That’s been keeping me motivated.” Although sponsors did keep me motivated, my biggest motivation was just the thrill of adventure! If I didn’t have sponsors, I would have still finished the yo-yo with a smile.

The two serious photos of me don’t reflect my personality. It's a minor point, but my closest friends say, “These pictures don’t even look like you! You’re always smiling and happy! You look so serious in those photos! Why didn’t you smile?” The photographer, Timothy Archibald, took 1,238 photos of me over many hours (no joke, I have them all). He was outstanding and asked me to change my expressions dozens of times to capture every look I can make. One hiker asked me, "How many photos did they have to take before they got you NOT to smile?" Out of the 1,238 options, the photo editors picked serious photos that made me look like a jerk to go along with the tone of the article. At the bottom of this post you'll see two photos the photo editors could have taken from the same photo shoot.

I’m not really Mr. Magoo. Yes, that was my trail name in 2001 on the Appalachian Trail. However, ever since then I have stopped using it. I asked Tilin to not refer me by that name since I prefer my real name, because I want readers to link my name with my books, because that is my livelihood. Nevertheless, the article constantly referred me as “Mr. Magoo.” I admit this is a minor point, and I suppose I should be grateful that the article didn't refer to me as Mr. Tampon. :rofl:

I’m all for people hiking their own hike. The article implies that I think that The Onion shouldn’t have taken a shortcut that saved him 150 miles. Wrong. I wrote a book called Hike Your Own Hike. The Onion can do anything he wants. The only question I raised was how much trail can you bypass before a yo-yo is no longer a true yo-yo? If I hike continuously on highways near the CDT and go from Mexico to Canada and back, did I just yo-yo the CDT? If a hiker did that and told The Onion that she now holds the new speed record, I suspect The Onion (and others) would say her hike wasn’t a legitimate yo-yo of the CDT. So while I encourage everyone to hike their own hike, when it comes to proclaiming that you've set a record, I believe it is best not to invent major, unorthodox shortcuts. But that’s just my opinion. It’s possible that the backpacking community disagrees with me. Whether you believe The Onion yo-yoed the CDT or not, what he did was extraordinary and I salute him! He is certainly a stronger and faster hiker than I, and I have great respect for him.

My presentations are more interesting than Viagra ads. The reporter thought that parts of my presentation were "overdone and resembled Viagra ads." Tell that to those who fill out the anonymous evaluation forms at REI. Each attendee rated me on a 1-5 scale, on four metrics (organization; knowledge of speaker; quality of visuals; overall). In one REI store, I received 50 forms, and every single form rated the presentation a 5 out of 5 on all four metrics. In other words, it was a perfect score with 50 anonymous forms. REI was thrilled how well received the presentation was. I'm sure the reaction would have been even more positive if, at the end of the presentation, I had given out free samples of Viagra. :muscle:

I simply forgot to introduce The Onion at the REI event. The article makes a big deal that after I made a presentation REI, I did not announce the presence of The Onion in the front row. The uninformed reader might conclude that I was being petty and absurdly competitive. I regret I didn’t introduce The Onion that night, just like I regret many stupid things I forget to do during my presentations. For example:

    o Before my San Francisco REI presentation I told Lisa Garrett, my Appalachian Trail hiking partner and close friend, that I would introduce her. With all the post-show questions and excitement, I simply forgot. Lisa knows how much of a scatterbrain I can be and immediately understood and forgave me.
    o I gave a dozen REI shows and half the time I forgot to mention that I had giveaways from my sponsors! I had free caps, T-shirts, and other gear, but I forgot to mention that 50% of the time, even though the giveaway box was right in front me, just like The Onion was right in front of me.
    o Although I always mentioned that my book was on sale, half the time I would forget to mention the DVD I had for sale. In this case, I was the only one hurt by my absentmindedness.
    o I usually forget to pass around a piece of paper to collect people’s email addresses to add them to my newsletter.
The point of these four examples is that when I’m trying to wrap up my presentation I often forget to do important things, especially when I’ve gone over my time limit (which was the case the night The Onion came by). It’s a shame that Tilin, who spent many hours interviewing me, didn’t ask me why I didn’t introduce The Onion. That simple question would have avoided a misunderstanding. Instead the reader concludes that I’m a competitive, self-centered jerk. While that’s true, that particular incident is not a good example of it. ;)

CONCLUSION: As a professional media slut, I’m happy that Backpacker Magazine covered our CDT hikes. Tilin did an amazing job at thoroughly researching the article. He really impressed me by how profoundly he dug to cover this story. And that is precisely why I’m somewhat disappointed that these inaccuracies made it to print. Although the majority of the article is factually true, the tone and underlying message was, at times, a bit off. Had Tilin’s research been sloppy, it would be easier for me to forgive the article’s misleading sections. However, magazines need a compelling story angle and they probably felt that readers would get more into the article if it was a bit controversial. I'm just so glad that Tilin never found out about all the catholes that I dug that weren't quite deep enough. :lol:

Backpacker Magazine printed a few letters in response to the article. I welcome anyone who has thoughts about the article (or my reaction to it) to post their thoughts here. :)

Also, I encourage you to send your thoughts directly to the Editors of Backpacker by emailing them at

Lastly, if you want to learn more about my CDT Yo-Yo, visit my website and watch the 15 minute trailer from my CDT Yo-Yo Video. Now how's that for shameless promotion? Ha! The article was right after all! BUHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHAA!!! :twisted:
Image Compare this to the one Backpacker used. Image Imagine if the article had printed this photo... :o
Last edited by FrancisTapon on Mon Sep 15, 2008 12:43 am, edited 9 times in total.
- Francis Tapon

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Post by tacomabike » Wed May 28, 2008 8:33 am

I read your reaction to the BM article ... then yesterday I read the article. I enjoyed both !

Having bought one of your books when you were touring the NW, I was a little surprised that only 2,000 copies have been sold. I know I've seen it at REI and at least one big box book store.

Good luck on your future trips, books, etc


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Post by oregonbackcountry » Wed May 28, 2008 1:08 pm

Francis, I've read your book and follow your treks and gear lists. I admit that I was having some negative feelings about you after reading that article but knew very well that the media can paint an inaccurate picture simply by leaving out details.

A couple points...

1. I understand your are forgetful, but even if Garret was not at your presentation, I would have found it odd that you wouldn't mention him. I assume you have an outline of key points to discuss during your presentation and a fellow hiker who completed the same first-time feat within days of you would be worthy of a mention in my opinion. So regardless of him staring you in the face, reminding you, didn't you have an outline?

2. I'd like to know why you opted not to team up for the CDT yo-yo.

3. Re: "Hike Your Own Hike" being simplistic and telling us things we already know...

We pay people every day to tell us things we already know: personal trainers, personal coaches, counselors, therapists, teachers -- they are there to force us into maintaining discipline; something most people can't manage on their own. Your book didn't necessarily teach me anything new, but it was still inspiring. I found your analogies and translation of life truths to backpacking/hiking intriguing.

I am disappointed with this magazine article and feel that there was definitely some intentional "persona painting" achieved by leaving out information.

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Post by alanrich » Wed May 28, 2008 8:46 pm

Hi Francis,

It would have been better if the Backpacker article had emphasized the over-the-top hikes that both you and The Onion achieved rather than the rivalry. And I really can't see any value to the Viagra ad comparison.

But, I think you're over-reacting a bit. I don't think the article was slanted against you; Tilin seemed to enjoy pointing out the quirks of both you and The Onion equally. And of course, a lot of detail was left out (donating book proceeds, etc.) -- but that's true of any article of this length.

Hey, it's publicity -- make the best of it!

And the really important thing: you hiked an incredible hike, totally off-scale in my book. Keep up the good work!

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3 Questions and Answers on the Backpacker Magazine Article

Post by FrancisTapon » Wed May 28, 2008 9:37 pm

Dear OregonBackcountry:

Here are my answers to your excellent questions/comments:

1. I didn't have an outline because I've given the presentation so many times and often go into auto-pilot. That's precisely why I forgot to introduce The Onion, and why I forget to do many non-standard things in the presentation (I list some examples in my original post). Non-standard things throw me off my regular routine. An established habit is hard to break. :roll:

So you're right: I should have an outline. I "wing" it too often and the price I pay for that casualness is forgetting a few important details along the way! If I were being paying for these presentations, I would be more professional about them and have an outline, but REI doesn't even pay for my gas to get there (and I've driven up to 3 hours to do some of their presentations for free).

I wish I had introduced The Onion, because he was a special guest that night. He arrived late to my presentation, so I didn't have chance to talk with him beforehand and warn him that I would introduce him. When I saw him in the crowd I made a mental note to introduce him at the end, but after all the Q&A I was over my time and rushed to finish the presentation. My mental note vanished in my head. That same night I also forgot to mention that I had free giveaways and DVDs for sale. In short, I was very absent-minded. That's part of the reason people call me Mr. Magoo.

2. The Onion and I wanted to hike together as a team, but logistics made it difficult. We met for several hours a couple of months before the CDT. I wanted to leave in early April and he wanted to leave in mid-May. That's a 45 day difference. Leaving in May would be fine if you knew that nothing would go wrong. I didn't want to take any chances, so I wanted an extra buffer, and that's why I left April 6. The Onion moved his start date to the earliest possible date that didn't conflict with his school (May 2nd, I believe). He couldn't start any earlier and I didn't want to start that late. I wanted an extra buffer in case I got injured.

Therefore, we agreed to each hike our own hike and if he caught up to me, we would hike the rest of the way together and finish together (unless one of us got injured).

By the time I returned to New Mexico, The Onion was about a week behind me. I could have taken a week off to let him catch up, but we faced a big problem, which the article didn't even mention: we wanted to finish in different places! :shock:

He wanted to finish in Antelope Wells and I wanted to finish in Columbus. Athough both of these places are located on the Mexican border, they are hundreds of miles apart. The CDT community recognizes both locations as legitimate termini. Neither he nor I wanted to change our final ending point. We were both stubborn because we had each started at the opposite terminus and we both wanted to see something different at the end.

So how could we have ended simultaneously? Synchronize our watches and agree to touch each terminus at the appointed hour? Seems awkward.

I wish The Onion and I could have yo-yoed the trail together. He's a good guy, has a positive spirit, and would have made a great trail companion. It's unfortunate that he couldn't start any earlier than May 2 and that we couldn't agree on the final terminus.

3. Thank you for your comments on "Hike Your Own Hike." I agree with you 100%. ;)

Thank you for your thoughtful post. :)
- Francis Tapon

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pity the misuse of pithy...

Post by bckpkr76 » Thu May 29, 2008 9:07 am

umm... Are you sure that "pithy" means what you think it means...? Seems like maybe not so much...

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Pondering "Pithy"

Post by FrancisTapon » Thu May 29, 2008 10:05 am

Thanks for correcting my English! English was the third language I learned, so I sometimes make mistakes. :oops:

Although I believe I used "pithy" correctly, I should have chosen a different word.

According to my dictionary "pithy" means:

brief and to point: brief, yet forceful and to the point, often with an element of wit

Tilin's review of my book was "pithy" in that it was brief and to the point. Perhaps it wasn't terribly witty, but it was succinct.

However, "pithy" is often a compliment as many writers strive to avoid fluff.

Therefore, instead of "pithy" a more appropriate word would have been "simplistic", or "superficial", or "shallow." In fact, I like the "shallow" so much that I'm going to edit out the word "pithy" and replace it with "shallow." 8)

Thank you for the tip!

Would you like to preview my next book? I could use someone like you to catch my errors! :)

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Post by bckpkr76 » Fri May 30, 2008 6:34 pm

I would have substituted "dismissive."

Too busy to preview, thanks for the offer.

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What was the point again??

Post by markmclauchlin » Sun Jun 01, 2008 5:16 am

Well after reading that article I was left wondering what was it all about.

SO if I were to make some conclusions myself I would say the Author, Andrew Tilin, was attempting to get some "glory" in being controversial? Yet names Francis as someone who hungers for attention.

There was no real inspiring material in there that would make me want to pack up and get out there, instead it was as though we were being led to pick sides between two people who do extraordinary things for the sport they love.....bad move. This does nothing but discredit the author.

References to not wanting to disappoint sponsors as that is keeping Francis motivated, well if you need sponsors to make a living, then yes of course you need to satisfy them, and if this means that you are able to keep doing what you are doing then good on you. Andrew, perhaps you could look at taking these comments which were so obviously taken out of context and turn them into something admirable. I have listened to many pod casts and read many articles on Francis and had you thought about it you would also see the same person most of us do.

The article should have centred on the personal achievements and sportsmanship; yes this is a sport, of two very focused individuals who have achieved the ultimate status in their chosen event.

The Article belittles what has been achieved, this is a huge undertaking and anyone should be applauded for it.

I wont touch on the items Francis has addressed in his original post as they are covered well enough by him, suffice as to say that the time invested by Francis with the author to put together what at the time I am sure was sold as a 'good article' and then to read this is a complete insult. Statements and correspondence freely handed over then to be turned into rubbish is an insult.

Francis, keep doing what you are doing, ignore those that try to add obstacles to your journey, rise above the small poppy’s.

p.s. Hike your own hike is on the next book to buy list, borrowing from a friend just isn’t the same as owning it.

Take care

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Let it go

Post by robbsterino » Thu Jun 05, 2008 11:34 am


I've enjoyed listening to podcasts you've been on and reading various things on your site and in emails, but to me it appears that this interviewer was already out to get you or decided during the interview to slant the article against you. I also think there's nothing the magazine or you can do that will really make it right. What percentage of readers would a) notice and b) really care, even if the magazine printed some kind of retraction?

Once my mother, a well known and respected in a certain community, worried that her reputation would be damaged after a nephew sold vacation packages door-to-door, and without her permission referenced her business as supporting them, which increased his sales--but the nephew and his customers had all been scammed by a fly-by-night company. The customers all lost their money. After one scammed customer called my mother and told her about my nephew's saying my mother's business had been involved, she at first felt a need to go to each customer he had sold to and let them know that she wasn't in any way involved. Then she remembered a story her father had told her about gossip, and concluded that all she should do is continue being the person she was and not worry about any gossip that came of it. I searched on the internet and found a version of this story, if you're interested:

Feathers In The Wind
In a small German village, a woman differed with her minister and became so angry that she began spreading ugly rumors about him around town. As fate would have it, she eventually became ill and called on the minister to pray for her. He came gladly, and she asked his forgiveness of her gossiping.
"I will grant you forgiveness," the minister said, "but there's something you must do."
"I'll do anything," the woman said.
"As soon as you get well, go pluck the feathers from a black chicken and put them into a basket and bring them to me."
When the woman got well, she did what the minister asked her to do and presented the basket of feathers to the minister.
"You did well," the minister said. "Now take this basket of feathers and scatter them in the corners of the marketplace and from the towers of the church. Scatter them throughout the town. Then return to me."
So the woman did. She walked from one end of town to the other, scattering the feathers. Then she returned to her pastor. "I have done as you asked," she said.
"Very well. Now take your basket and collect all the feathers. Make sure not one is missing."
"But that is not possible!" the woman said with a choking cry. "The wind has carried many of them away!"
"So it is with your words," the minister said. "While I have gladly forgiven you, do not forget that you can never undo the damage your untrue words have done."

Another story sounds even closer to your own, and reinforces the idea of just leaving it alone and not worrying about it:

Once a man who had been slandered by a newspaper came to Edward Everett asking what to do about it. Said Everett, “Do nothing! Half the people who bought the paper never saw the article. Half of those who saw it, did not read it. Half of those who read it, did not understand it. Half of those who understood it, did not believe it. Half of those who believed it are of no account anywayâ€

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Wisdom In Letting It Go

Post by FrancisTapon » Thu Jun 05, 2008 2:45 pm

Robb: This is one of the wisest notes I’ve received in years! Thank you!

First, I'm glad that you noticed the negative slant on the article.

Second, I’ve learned a lot from this article. The 7th principle in my bookis about the importance of not taking life too seriously. I’m generally good at this. Moreover, my friends sometimes marvel at how little I care about what other people think of me. After all, I shamelessly dumpster dive, I say things that are risqué that might get me fired, and I’m generally unconventional. I'm nearly impossible to embarass.

Nevertheless, I struggled with this article. Part of me wanted to shrug it off, but the other side wanted to defend myself, without coming off as the defensive jerk that the article makes me out to be. I felt like I was in a no-win situation: Ignoring it would amount to agreeing with the article, but arguing against it would make me act just like the article said I am.

Also, I wanted to hear what others thought to see if I was being overly sensitive. Was I the only one who felt the article was negative? I reached out and asked all types (those who know me well, those who barely know me, and those who have no clue who I am). My unscientific results were:

    80% felt the article painted a negative picture of me.
    20% felt the article was fine.
Those who were in the 20% category were more likely to have skimmed the article (they admitted to reading it quickly) and to be male (not one woman fell into the 20% category). Moreover, some had much stronger negative reactions than I did. In my informal survey, my reaction was middle of the road (i.e., I felt it was misleading, but it wasn't horrible).

I agree with you that there is a certain futility to defending yourself, especially against a publication. For what it's worth, the deluge of emails that Backpacker got compelled them not only to apologize, but to give me 150 words to answer back. Of course, it will be buried in some corner of the September issue, but it's better than nothing. I agree with you that it's very hard to undo the damage. Besides, as your second quotation points out, we often overestimate the damage.

As I wrote to editors of Backpacker magazine:

    * The bad news about articles is that after a week nobody remembers them.
    * The good news about articles is that after a week nobody remembers them.


So what have I learned? What can we all learn (in case something like this happens to you)?

Heed Principle #7: The Hike Is Too Important To Take Seriously. This is, in essence, your message above. Thank you for sending me a thoughtful reminder. ;)

As I mention in my book, I'm no saint. Even though I write about the 7 principles I believe are necessary to follow in order to live a fulfilling life, I'm not always perfect at following them! :(

I better develop thicker skin quickly. In 2009 my new book, The Hidden Europe, will come out. It's a controversial book and I've already received many insulting emails from random Eastern Europeans who have surfed my webpages on Eastern Europe. I suspect certain publications will write some nasty articles about me once they read that book. Book reviewers will rip me right and left. This Backpacker article will seem tame in comparison.

I believe it's important to listen to others (that's what the 4th Principle is all about). Harrison Ford refuses to read any reviews of his movies. That's like sticking your head in the sand. Indiana Jones wouldn't do that. It's best to listen, absorb, shrug off the stuff that's not constructive, and then hike your own hike. :)
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Continental Divide trail response

Post by airjay66 » Tue Jun 10, 2008 4:19 pm

I have read both articles . . . .your's and the one in Backpacker's Mag. It really does make you wonder what motivated the style and tone for the article. In my own opinion, it's a kind of tongue-in-cheek article most of the way through--not meant to be taken too seriously. That's fine for him, but much less fine for you. I think he is missing one aspect of the trip that goes deep into explaining why people do such hikes as the one you and The Onion have done: You do it for yourself; in the end, no one wins. In that respect, I think he has entirely missed the point. That is too bad for him (Tilin) and for Backpacker Mag. I certainly do feel that the article could have been written much better. Thanks Francis for your motivation.
----Jay R

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CDT Backpacker Article

Post by musiccitybluesguy » Wed Oct 22, 2008 4:34 am

Good day,
I'm a Backpacker Mag subscriber and have discovered your quests through that article. Congrats, I tip my cap and say well done. I also noticed the gloomy shadow cast by the writer in the Mr. Magoo/Onion article. I hope you can take some consolation in that I (for one) noticed the slant (all too recognizable with writers from any era) and actually tried to read through the writer's agenda. I'm sure as he gets older he will become a more responsible caretaker of accurate writing and less focused on his own ability to color outside the lines. Sometimes I almost prefer fiction as it removes all pretense of being based of fact.
Tom the Music City Blues Guy

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