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PayDays and playlists: what powers Lachlan Morton’s FKTs

What gives gas station cuisine the edge? And what's he listening to on his earphones for days on end?

Jonny Long
by Jonny Long 20.12.2023 Photography by
EF Education-EasyPost and Ryan Hill
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Even in the deepest, most passionately disinterested-in-professional-road-racing mountain bike communities of Colorado, the talk of the trail in September was of a skinny former member of the peloton who had passed close to town a few days ago.

This wasn’t just because the recovering roadie had followed up his top-10 finish at the Leadville 100 by lining up at the six-day Breck Epic the very next day, winning three stages, coming second on the other three, and securing the overall victory while battling an untold number of flat tyres. It was because he then, another week or so after that, tackled the Tour Divide route, shattering the previous Fastest Known Time by more than 34 hours to complete the 2,670-mile route from Canada to Mexico in 12 days, 12 hours and 21 minutes, in the full knowledge that his record wouldn’t stand due to the presence of cameras and longstanding rules around external support, even of the emotional kind.

The presence of that film crew, headed up by his brother Gus, will be the only reason we get to properly see the latest exploits of Lachlan Morton. If a record falls in the forest and no-one is able to see it happen, is there actually any point?

Morton’s exploits continue to push the boundaries of what being a professional cyclist means, adventures that bring together various two-wheeled disciples the world over to ask each other, “Have you seen the latest madness Lachlan Morton has been up to?”

‘The Divide’ film, having had one-off theatrical releases in London, Stockholm, and Boulder, is coming to YouTube imminently. There will be stunning scenery, plus Morton’s indomitable spirit and sense of adventure. There will also be gas stations.

For those who’ve watched the EF Gone Racing YouTube series that has documented Morton’s alternative calendar over the years, there is a common theme, or vignette, through which his feats of endurance are viewed: gas stations.

Yes, he rides very fast, very far, for a very long time. It is awe-inspiring to watch. But seeing the 31-year-old buy a sleeve of Oreos and house them in a short amount of time is much more relatable to us civilians.

So, the burning question we have is what goes into Morton’s gas station strategy? Is there method to the mad armfuls of snacks we watch him carrying to the counter? And what about the other small intricacies of his work? What is he listening to on his wired iPhone earphones?

In the aftermath of the Tour Divide, and with Morton difficult to pin down as he headed east to Chicago for the Lifetime Grand Prix, we got the inside track from Johannes Mansson, one of EF Education-EasyPost’s press officers who was along for the ride on the Tour Divide, who had an enviable front row seat to the ticking off of Morton’s latest completed bucket list item, accompanied with some of the photography from the trip.

Lachlan looks out onto a lake with mountains behind.

Let’s start with what does Lachlan usually go for at gas station stops, specifically during his Tour Divide ride?

Really whatever he was craving at the time. Peanut-inspired candy bars. PayDays were a big favourite. He always went for milk or chocolate milk. Sometimes beer. It’s a hydration kinda thing but also he’s craving it. Or coconut water if he was hot. For breakfast, it would be a burger or sandwich and further south in the US it was a lot of burritos. At one point up north, the last stop in Idaho, he had a bad burrito and had a pretty bad stomach all night.

Lachlan chugs milk.

They are really good, but why PayDays specifically?

He’s used PayDays for a long time and he loves them. So for a lot of different ultras he’s survived on PayDays. They’re primarily a bunch of nuts and caramel is pretty high not just in fat but also protein and sugars. He was saying before, “I don’t think I could get sick of them,” and by day 10 he was pretty sick of them. He had to buy 25 candy bars [in one go] because that was the only time he could refuel. It was funny, he was grabbing all the candy bars he could fit in his arms. In the beginning he bought Oreos a few times and then he realised the mistake as there were no good places to put them so he had to eat the whole packet of Oreos. That was something he didn’t think of. There was one time he bought a big muffin and realised it was a poor choice in terms of packing as it was mostly air. He would also buy big jars of pickles and drink the juice.

Lachlan chats to some mountain bikers on the trail.

Another big question is why gas stations every time? Surely he sometimes goes past supermarkets too, right?

Sometimes he biked past supermarkets, he went off course some times even though there were supermarkets on course to go to the gas station. He does that just because he knows no matter what gas station you are at it’s the same things and he knows where to find them [in the store].

Lachlan looks out onto a storm in the distance as he pushes the pace.

You’ve been able to observe him up close for a while now, can you talk us through how Lachlan approaches a gas station stop?

He would go in, get his regular stuff and then just do laps to see what was there. It looked like he was thinking about it but also it would be like “that looks good” and he would then finish the whole thing. But there was more thought to it, he knew he could get what he wanted at gas stations, because even at some US supermarkets you can’t buy PayDays.

Lachlan getting changed in a public bathroom.

We often see him with one earphone in, what is he listening to?

He pretty much always has something on. He listened to two books, one was bad and one was good. The Hamish and Andy podcast, and I think he’s friends or gone riding with Hamish. He had a few Soundcloud mixes 10 hours long that he would listen to, electronic DJ mixes that would go on for 10 hours and ramp up.

And then after that a lot of Zac Bryan and a few different country artists. And then right before he went he was trying to make playlists but he was complaining about Apple Music … he ended up putting all of his music into one playlists and shuffling it. 2000 songs. When he was cracked and cold and going down the descent some bad songs came on and he couldn’t change it.

Lachlan eating breakfast in someone's kitchen.
Lachlan at a bar after taking a break.

What set this latest ride apart from his other quests?

He definitely had to dig way deeper, and there were times I haven’t seen him that scared or that cracked. He had to push really deep and you think, “How does he find the will to keep pushing?” He rode through a storm and there was lightning.

Watching him push the pace after 10 days, after we left Steamboat, Colorado, and he ended up getting his bike fixed, at Orange Peel bike shop in Steamboat where a lot of the Tour Divide goes, his brake pads had worn out on the back. And then after that he had his first real meal of the trip and after that he went back out on the trail and we were amazed by how hard he was pushing. He pushed 300 watts for three hours on day nine, so he was cranking. It was crazy because it was watching a rider do a training ride and every time the road kicked up he was out of his saddle. There was 6000 meters of climbing that day.

The whole trip he was cranking and he really attributes that to being able to sleep six hours a day [a pre-condition of Morton’s attempt, as he tries to make his ultra-riding more physically and mentally sustainable – Ed.].

The one thing that really did slow him down was his gear issues that slowed him down for 1,000 km. He was turning 50 rpm and his bike was not light. That took a toll on his back and knees and on the last day he was like, “My knees are destroyed,” and he had 400 km to the border.

Lachlan leans over his bike, exhausted.

Finally, what did you yourself learn from the trip, from your vantage point in the van?

There were all these different places he went to and people were so nice and that was something that stuck out to him, how nice everyone was all over. There was one point where he was riding in the rain and someone offered to drive him. “What are you doing out here, can I drive you somewhere?” they asked.

It changes your mind about the US and what US politics tells you. It restores your faith in humanity.

Lachlan smiles as he eats a burger.

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