The clock ticked 9:24pm Mountain Time under the dark sky of Antelope Wells, New Mexico – a town on the US border located 170 miles from El Paso, Texas. But to get there, you have to pass through forbidding terrain, where civilization dwindles and food and water are hard to come by. Driving to the desolate town is one thing, getting there by bike is another. But for Lachlan Morton, who had just cycled from Banff in Canada, this remote part of the world was the final push in accomplishing a monumental task he’d set out to achieve 13 days ago – The Tour Divide.
Starting in Canada, the Australian rode 2,670 miles, climbed 192,000 feet, visited two countries, crossed five states and one province, weathered four storms, ate an untold amount of sweets and drank gallons of milk. All-in-all, it took Morton a record-breaking 12 days, 12 hours, and 21 minutes to go from Canada to the US-Mexico border across the Continental Divide. But even though time was not Morton’s top priority, as he stood barefoot on the dusty roads of Antelope Wells after riding 210 miles that day in the searing heat, he wrote himself into the history books, where many cyclists to come will now attempt to chase his time.
Ever since he completed his first ultra in 2019, the Tour Divide went straight onto his bucket list of rides to do, and while he has done a fair few ultra rides over the past four years where he has attempted to break records, this was set to be his biggest ride yet, and he wanted to test himself in a new way for his attempt of this legendary feat. His aim was to soak up as much of the experience as possible and generally enjoy the experience more as a whole, therefore, he imposed a 12-hour resting period out of every 48, curious to see how fast he could complete the full route with such strict timings.
Sleep deprivation has become a skill that riders seemingly must endure when taking on gruelling ultras in order to set records, but Morton came to the realisation during his last ultra that he wasn’t necessarily enjoying this element. The 12-hour recovery period allowed him to have a good amount of sleep in motels or his bivvy tent, vital to his riding performance and general concentration. By day five, he was already 12 hours ahead of the then-set record. By day eight, he was 15 hours ahead. But he still had hundreds of miles to overcome.
No day was the same for the 31-year-old rider, and the Divide certainly kept him on his toes. Day seven from Pinedale to Wamsutter in Wyoming saw him encounter the thickest mud he had ever come across, having to stop every 10 seconds to scrape the mud off his bike as the rain persistently fell. “How many Rapha jackets will it take to keep me warm?” Lachlan asked on the grim day. “Trick question, there will never be enough.” The following day, he arrived in Colorado, stripped of his layers, just in his jersey, claiming the day to be “like a vacation”.
The weather wasn’t the only concern Morton faced when taking on such an epic ride. Bears, wildfires, mechanicals, and injuries were just some of the issues he may encounter. On day 11, 2,155 miles into the route, Morton’s derailleur stopped working halfway up the 20-mile climb out of Abiquiu. Turning on and off randomly, it made cycling hard, slow, and frustrating for the Australian until he was forced to pull over and put it into some rideable gear, even wedging a spoke into the derailleur and leaving it there for the remainder of the journey, a mere 515 miles.
But one thing that was a constant for Morton throughout the 13 days of riding were the people, or the ‘dot watchers’, who had come out in their waves to support him, even in the remotest parts of the country. Some people had even given him food. “Food is how we show love here in New Mexico,” said Vanessa, a dot watcher from Albuquerque who met Morton by the Pueblo of Acoma and brought with her green chilli beef jerky. Another man commented on how no rider usually stops in these towns to chat to the local people when taking on the Divide, instead using these small communities to simply restock and move forward. But this was part of Morton’s plan, to take in as much of the experience as possible.
From start to finish, Morton hoped that this new approach to ultra cycling would inspire people to see these “big, wild places” and take on great adventures like this. And while he was looking to challenge himself in a new way with his Tour Divide challenge, ultimately, he was riding for a cause bigger than the route – raising funds for a national non-profit organisation that empowers individuals with Down syndrome, autism, and other intellectual and developmental exceptionalities through outdoor adventures. Morton encountered Adventure for All in Colorado where they were teaching kids how to ride bikes.
Crossing the Divide, Morton can tick this ride off his bucket list and add this record to his ever-growing list of achievements.