TRAILS -- State Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, who was elected to the Idaho House of Representatives in November, is attempting to hike a 950-mile route the length of Idaho in about 40 days.
“Why did you run?” we asked the mountain climbing guide and outdoor educator who teaches college-level physical education and leadership courses.
“Tom Luna, mainly,” he said referring to the resentment many educators have for Idaho's controversial state schools superintendent.
“More important, why are you hiking the Idaho Centennial Trail?”
“To raise awareness of trails in Idaho and as a fundraiser for the Redside Foundation, which promotes health programs for guides. Outfitters have their own association, but there’s not much support for the guides who work for them.”
Erpelding, who started at Upper Priest River Falls, barely had 100 miles under his belt Saturday when we caught him in Clark Fork poring over maps and protein-loading at a barbecue hosted by Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness.
“This is a bi-partisan effort,” he said, noting that Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, hosted him for a night at his lake place.
The route is a network of trails, roads and bushwhacking through at least 10 national forests and three wilderness areas.
“I’m getting insights on rural areas and exploring ways people can work together for Idaho,” he said.
The trail isn’t for sissies. “The Upper Priest River trail is amazing through the cedars,” he said. “But in other places the Centennial Trail is poorly marked or nonexistent. Road-walking isn’t fun, and you can go more than 20 miles on ridges without water.”
Despite devoting 10 hours to a 13-mile navigation error over White Mountain, Erpelding, 38, had covered 220 miles in 10 days as of Wednesday.
“Crossed the Selkirks, Cabinets, and some of the Bitterroots,” he posted on Facebook. “Only had to get my bear spray out once and realized that I needed a much bigger can. Bad news: I hurt my left calf; gonna take a rest in Mullan and see if I can get it up to speed.”
Erpending guided climbers in Colorado and on Rainier this summer. He’s also guided five climbs on Denali, although he had to back out of an expedition last summer: “It conflicted with the Idaho primaries,” he said.
Beyond his priorities for education and equality, he wants to spotlight the value of trails for local economies.
“But it does not good to overstate the problems,” he said. “About the same time Hurricane Sandy was trashing the East Coast, Idaho legislators were calling trail neglect in the Frank (Church Wilderness) a ‘national disaster.’ We’re not going to get much credibility with that perspective.”
Trail conditions in the Frank aren’t his top concern for this trek: “Right now the route in the wilderness is closed because of fires.”
His deadline is Oct. 4 – he’s the keynote speaker for the Idaho School Counselors convention in Boise.
“I’ll do the best I can to finish the trail,” he said.
Last question: Is that blood all over your sleeping ground cloth?
“Huckleberries,” he said. "The North Idaho woods are full of them; and the bears know it."