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.
• 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.
• 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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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!!!
Compare this to the one Backpacker used. Imagine if the article had printed this photo...