Winters in Cache Valley can be long, but that’s no excuse for not getting out and enjoying some of your surroundings.
Now that spring has sprung, there really is no reason not to get outside. Plus, with what is going on in the world right now, a little mountain therapy can be good for you.
Outdoor enthusiast Matt Shoemaker would certainly agree with that. In fact, “mountain therapy” is a term he likes to use. The North Logan resident can’t stress enough the benefits of being active outside.
“My formal schooling is in recreation management, but life has also taught me that leisure activity simply for the sake of fun and adventure are vital to overall health and well being,” Shoemaker said. “I have learned that regular outdoor recreation provides the self-care that I need to stay positive and maintain physical, mental and spiritual health. Being in recovery from addiction and mental illness myself, staying active helps keep me in a good place and heading in the right direction, which in turn allows me to help others when possible.”
Not one to seek out the spotlight, Shoemaker agreed to talk about his adventures and some accomplishments in hopes others may be helped the way he has been. Getting out at least a couple of times a week is a must for the 54-year-old, who works at Reminderband. That holds true the entire year as snow and cold temperatures do not keep him from getting into the mountains.
“For me, there is always a certain amount of excitement and anticipation just planning my next adventure, whatever that may be,” Shoemaker said. “Setting and pursuing goals can also be a great motivator. You can sign up for an organized trail race or event, or you can be creative and design your own personal adventure goals. On days when I would rather stay home or in bed, sometimes the hardest thing can be to just get out the door. On these days it helps to remind myself that once my feet hit the trail and I start moving, it always gets better.”
Dealing with seasonal depression, Shoemaker used to stay inside all winter and put in some miles on a treadmill. Now he pushes himself to get out.
This past winter, for example, he made it to the top of the Wellsvilles twice, Logan Peak on several outings, Mt. Jardine and many others. Snowshoes and skinny skis certainly help, but many miles are done in his trail shoes—and usually he’s in shorts.
“I came to learn that with proper clothing, gear and preparation, weather is not an obstacle,” Shoemaker said. “I prefer shorts year-round unless there is risk of frostbite on sub-zero days. Body core temperature management through layered clothing provides protection and comfort and allows for lengthy outings in spite of inclement weather.
Though Shoemaker makes a point of seeking out challenging adventures, he makes sure to emphasize a safe approach.
I do my best to manage the risk that comes with wilderness travel through careful planning, preparation, clothing, gear, emergency supplies and sound decision making,” Shoemaker said. “I plan each trip to match my experience and physical ability and always leave a route plan and schedule with my wife. Although time alone on a trail or a mountain can be very therapeutic, going with a friend provides an added margin of safety and social benefits.”
He and his wife Kerri have been married 33 years and lived in North Logan for more than 21 years. They have three sons and a grandson.
Asked what his favorite winter excursion has been and what trail in the summer he enjoys most, Shoemaker had an interesting answer.
“Just as I don’t have a favorite son, I don’t have a preferred trail, mountain or adventure,” Shoemaker said. “Each one is different and certainly has a place in my heart with unique memories. Generally speaking, the more difficult and challenging trips are the most rewarding. I particularly enjoy connecting trails and peaks via improvised routes throughout our local wilderness areas. We are very blessed to have so many nearby public waterways, canyons, trails and mountains allowing for countless adventure variations. With each trail explored and summit reached, you build a personal history of experience and memories from which to draw encouragement simply by looking to the mountains when you may be struggling or having a bad day.”
Growing up in the state of Washington, Shoemaker went camping with his family often. However, he found himself drawn to trails and climbing to every high point. His love of being in the outdoors began in the Cascade Mountains. As a teenager, he would take a friend, his mother or just go solo.
“Since then, wherever I may be, my gaze, wanderings and adventures find me drawn to the mountains,” Shoemaker said.
He read any guide or mountaineering book he could find. He also spent hours studying topographical maps and always planning his next trip. But part of getting outdoors is getting away from the busy world.
“Today we are blessed to have so much information and technology at our fingertips, but it can be difficult to leave the world behind even for an hour or two,” Shoemaker said. “I do my best to un-plug when out on a trail as much as possible to regain perspective on what things truly matter. I generally don’t explore with any GPS device or app, as I like the challenge of navigating. Part of staying safe is knowing how to find your way with very basic route finding tools and techniques such as map, compass, stars, landmarks, careful observations and decision making.”
While always having a love for the mountains and getting to high points, about 20 years ago Shoemaker also began running.
“I believe that to every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose,” Shoemaker said. “Growing up I never considered running as a fun or enjoyable activity. I began running as a therapeutic way of coping with depression, stress and other life struggles. I have always been very competitive, so after running the Top of Utah Half Marathon on a whim, I gradually pushed myself to go farther training for road marathons. Road running helped me through some very tough times and brought amazing experiences and friendships.”
Shoemaker went on to qualify for the Boston Marathon, but in the process realized he was losing the “pure enjoyment of running.” He was focusing on miles, pace and his next race too much. Shoemaker ran Boston in 2013 — the year of the bombings.
“While Boston was an amazing experience that I would never trade, the aftermath of the bombings that day left me in a very dark place mentally, forcing me to take a break to regain my mental health,” Shoemaker said. “During that time I examined my priorities and motivations, and realized that while I needed to stay active, my focus had to shift from racing goals to simply enjoying the journey. My love for the mountains took me back to trails, where I discovered the benefits of fast hiking and trail running.”
He still runs a race or two each year, but his main focus is trails, where he enjoys every mile. Last fall he completed the Bear 100 trail race after volunteering the year before and seeing the passion and excitement in the participants.
“There is quite a trail running community in the Cache Valley, with unparalleled camaraderie and something for everyone from beginner to professional,” Shoemaker said. “... The Logan Peak Trail Run has a place in my heart as an introduction to ultra trail running events. ... I learned from my Bear 100 experience that the only limits to what we can accomplish are those that we place on ourselves”
Shoemaker said the key to competing in ultra trail events is mental toughness and persistence, beyond just the physical preparation.
“You don’t have to complete an ultra to experience the magic of our trails and mountains, but if you want a serious challenge to push and test yourself an ultra race or event is a great way to truly discover yourself with other like-minded people,” he said.
Shoemaker has also run the Skyline 50K and the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim. He called the Grand Canyon experience “life changing.” He has come up with many adventures of his own in the Bear River Mountain Range, connecting the 10 highest peaks in one outing.
While he enjoys the solitude, Shoemaker also recognizes the importance of social connection. He invites others to join him and gives tips.
“It is a great feeling to be able to help others find joy in our beautiful local canyons, waterways, trails and mountains,” Shoemaker said. “I am always happy to share what I have learned or help with route or adventure ideas and planning.”
Being open about his struggles, getting into the mountains is vital for Shoemaker. That’s why he calls it mountain therapy.
“Trails and mountains always seem to provide me with whatever I may be lacking in my life such as focus, direction, challenge, adventure, education, humility, peace, healing, comfort, perspective and gratitude,” Shoemaker said. “If you allow it, being in the mountains can provide a spiritual connection to not only the earth, but also a higher power. If you feel like you are losing a battle with addiction or depression, there is help, there is hope, you are not alone, please don’t give up.”
Shoemaker, who volunteers as a peer support specialist for those seeking recovery from addiction and mental illness, stressed people need to get outside and get moving. If you are interested in heading to the mountains, start with an easy stroll and gradually build up mileage and vertical. He said no one is too young or old to have adventures. Getting out of your comfort zone, setting some challenging goals and chasing your dreams is important.
“If you are willing to put in the work you can do things you never thought possible,” Shoemaker said. “There are many people — myself included — who are very willing to help you on your journey of wellness and adventure in our great outdoors. The physical, mental, spiritual and social benefits of outdoor recreation can be amazing and make our short time on this earth much more worthwhile.”