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A Great Journey on the Divide

DALLAS -- Frank Caudillo woke in the middle of the night to something sniffing around his tent.

Felix Rodriguez approaches a curve on the trail early in a seven-week journey this summer that had him and his companions biking from the Canadian border to New Mexico.

Photo courtesy of Nathan Johnston

Felix Rodriguez approaches a curve on the trail early in a seven-week journey this summer that had him and his companions biking from the Canadian border to New Mexico.

October 23, 2013

DALLAS -- Frank Caudillo woke in the middle of the night to something sniffing around his tent.

The Independence resident was in northern Montana in mid-August on the first night of what would be a seven-week mountain bike ride on a trail following the Continental Divide.

At the time, he thought it was going to be his last.

"I was pretty sure it was a bear, so I wanted to go home," he said Monday, recalling the first part of the trip he took with his father and two friends. "I wanted the ride to be over. I was in my tent shaking with the bear spray out not knowing what to do."

It ended up being a deer but the unfounded fear made an impression on Caudillo -- who said he has difficulty sleeping after that. But it didn't make him regret embarking on the trip.

The Continental Divide in the United States follows the crest of the Rocky Mountains from Montana to New Mexico. Caudillo's group rode the Great Divide Trail, a mostly off-road route following that path.

Caudillo, 38, said the idea came to him after he watched a video of mountain bikers on the trail. It was the adventure he was looking for.

He was born with an eye defect, but doctors were able to treat one eye to give him some vision back. He didn't want to waste it.

"I wanted to do one big adventure in case I couldn't see later," he said.

Caudillo invited Salem resident Felix Rodriguez, the former manager of Santiam Bicycle's shuttered Dallas outlet, who now works in the Salem store. Rodriguez thought he was kidding at first, but agreed when Caudillo asked him a second time. The ride had been on Rodriguez's list of goals for years.

From left Felix Rodriguez, Nathan Johnston, and Frank Caudillo embarked on an adventure on the Continental Divide starting in August and ending in early October.

Photo courtesy of Jolene Guzman

From left Felix Rodriguez, Nathan Johnston, and Frank Caudillo embarked on an adventure on the Continental Divide starting in August and ending in early October.

"They (goals) just lie dormant if you don't act on them, so I said `Yeah. I want to go,'" Rodriguez said.

Caudillo's father, Manny, agreed to join his son on the journey and the group was rounded out by Dallas resident Nathan Johnston, 24.

The foursome left the Montana-Canadian border on Aug. 13 with tents, food for several days, water, and ever-invaluable water filters.

They soon found the quest for water was nearly all-consuming. Their filters were put to the test as they had to resort to using sources of questionable quality frequently.

"You needed water," Caudillo said. "It was survival."

They pushed themselves to longer distances -- they began the quest traveling 35 miles per day, but that soon increased to 70 or more -- in pursuit of water and getting to the nearest town or post office to pick up replenishments of "trail food" -- Top Ramen, jerky, Pop Tarts and granola bars -- and supplies, including a bike wheel courtesy of Santiam Bicycle.

They never encountered a bear, but they did suffer setbacks.

The biggest was after their journey through Montana. He had traveled 800 miles, but Manny Caudillo had to return home following a rib injury.

Climbing and high elevation riding is a challenge facing riders on Great Divide Trail.

Photo courtesy of Nathan Johnston

Climbing and high elevation riding is a challenge facing riders on Great Divide Trail.

The next challenge was riding through Colorado in September -- in the midst of the heavy rainfall that caused the devastating flooding in the state. High in the mountains, flooding wasn't a concern for them but persistent rain was disheartening, especially for Caudillo. At the worst point, the trail was covered in mud so deep they couldn't even walk their bikes through it. They had to ask for a ride from a man driving a truck in the opposite direction.

"That may have been one of the hardest days or one of the days when you feel like you don't even know how we are going to keep going," Johnston said.

But they did and the trail soon rewarded them as they rode through "aspen alley," a section lined with beautiful aspen trees.

Rodriguez said the journey reminded them not to take everyday conveniences for granted -- including showers and clean clothes.

Nathan Johnston navigates a rough and rocky trail.

Photo courtesy of Nathan Johnston

Nathan Johnston navigates a rough and rocky trail.

"A shower after 10 days (on the trail) and putting on clean clothes, that can't even be explained," Caudillo said, laughing.

They began the journey together, but in the end they parted ways with each other -- and with the incredible trail -- at different times.

After riding nearly 2,000 miles, the freezing nights of the New Mexico early fall became to much for Rodriguez. He headed for home on Sept. 28.

A wheel on Caudillo's bike blew out a day later in the middle of nowhere. It took the kindness of a complete stranger, who offered him a ride and place to stay to get him to Santa Fe for him to catch a train home Sept. 30.

Johnston rode alone for a few more days, cruising through the challenging desert before ending his journey 300 miles from the Mexican border on Oct. 5.

Back home, the trio agreed they all left the trail with more wisdom -- and some incredible memories.

"It was good adventure," Johnston said. "I'm glad I went.

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