Going the Distance

March 3, 2014

District 19 Freshman legislator Mat Erpelding on the Idaho Centennial Trail.

By Liza Long

Mat Erpelding, outfitter, guide, college instructor, and Idaho District 19 freshman legislator, surveyed the massive granite spires of the Selkirk mountain range in Northern Idaho in wonder. It was just the third day of a summer journey that would take him more than 1000 miles along the Idaho Centennial Trail, which winds from Canada in the north to the southern desert border with Nevada. “It was eerie, beautiful,” he said, recalling the scene. “It was something to behold.”

Erpelding left his beloved girlfriend and their dog at home in the North End to raise money and awareness for the Redside Foundation, an Idaho nonprofit organization that provides mental health services to guides and outfitters. “Since most guides and outfitters are self-employed, it’s hard for them to get their own health insurance,” he said. Erpelding, an experienced mountaineer who has written a book on outdoor leadership programs and is a licensed rock climbing guide, also used the opportunity to bring media attention to Idaho’s Centennial Trail as Boise celebrated its 150th anniversary. But the hike didn’t go exactly as planned.

“I wanted to set the speed record,” Erpelding said. So he traveled fast and light, averaging 22 miles per day and caching food and water along trail prior to the hike. The remote trail crosses multiple mountain ranges and includes long stretches of desert. Leo Hennessey, the Idaho Centennial Trail Coordinator, told Idaho Public Television’s Outdoor Idaho, “It’s one of the most spectacular trails in the Northwest, and potentially in the country.”

Erpelding completed more than 300 miles of the trail on foot. But fires in the Frank Church Wilderness and a lack of water slowed him down; Erpelding suffered dehydration and injured his Achilles tendon. “I was nervous that I wouldn’t have enough resources,” he said. “The number one rule for a successful hike is to come back alive.” Because he had committed to completing the trail to raise money for the Redside Foundation, he decided to modify his original plan to backpack the entire route, finishing the journey on a road bike and raising more than $10,000 for the cause.

“Traveling by yourself, pushing yourself to the limits of your abilities, is something everyone should experience in their lifetime,” Erpelding told me. “When you’re by yourself with your thoughts, it’s a strange experience.” During his long stretches of isolation, Erpelding, who has a quick wit, sometimes imagined his personal worst case scenario: a newspaper headline that said “Unarmed Idaho Democrat Eaten by Wolves.”

Though he didn’t set the speed record, Erpelding calls 2013 a “bucket list” year. Raised in Colorado, he moved to Pocatello in 1993 to attend college and stayed. He ran for the legislature in 2012 after Cherie Buckner-Webb decided to run for the Senate. He is working now to introduce legislation that would create an Idaho Youth Conservation Corps, a program that would provide college tuition vouchers to young people ages 16-23 who work on land conservation projects. Not one to concede defeat, Erpelding plans to try the Centennial Trail by foot again when he’s 40. But right now he’s focusing on his work here in Boise, representing his constituents in District 19.
Pull quote: ““Traveling by yourself, pushing yourself to the limits of your abilities, is something everyone should experience in their lifetime.” Representative Matt Erpelding, District 19

For more information:

Redside Foundation http://www.redsidefoundation.org