‘Thereabouts’

Rediscovering the beauty of cycling

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It's easy to get wrapped up in the details when it comes to cycling. Distances, wattages, victories and other measures often lead us to forget the simple joy of riding a bike. Brothers Gus and Lachlan Morton (yes, the one who races with WorldTour team Garmin-Sharp), got back to basics in an attempt to recover the lost magic of the sport. This is their story about the 2500km journey from Port Macquarie to Uluru in just twelve days.

 

 

We have the view that sport in general has been losing its sense of magic and wonder in recent times. In part due to scandal and in part to the reduction of all achievements to a bunch of numbers and all title-winning efforts to a scientifically predetermined plan.

We wanted to do something that re-embraced that magic of old. We wanted to participate in the frontier-type adventures of Lawson and Wentworth, to be pushed to our limits, in over our heads all while exploring a true wilderness.

So we threw away the conventions of modern day cycling: the lycra, the training bible, the diet, and the carbon fibre road bikes. We stopped talking about our form, we stopped talking about other people’s form, we stopped stopping at the coffee shop, and we stopped worrying about the height of our socks. We ignored everyone else’s opinions.

We picked a route we knew would be extremely challenging, would have us end up in places way off the beaten track and with people we’d normally be too afraid to approach. We told Mum and Dad, and then we just went and did it.

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

We started the trip in our home town of Port Macquarie, 400km north of Sydney, and basically headed directly west through Walcha, Gunnedah, Cobar, and Broken Hill. We crossed into South Australia and went down to Peterborough, then Blinman in the Flinders Ranges, up to Marree at the beginning of the Oodnadatta Track, then to Coober Pedy. We crossed into the Northern Territory and stopped at Kulgera, then finally made our way to Yulara and Uluru.

The total distance was about 3,000km of which we rode a little more than 2,000km in 12 days. We had to drive parts of the trip purely because the distances between settlements out there can be up to 400km which is a little too far to be doing day in, day out. That said, we did do back-to-back 300km+ days at the end.

The result was a true adventure. We found and met some of the most interesting people we ever have. We were challenged mentally and physically in some of the harshest environments across Australia (and the world) and had a hilarious time doing it all.

This adventure spawned a new sense of excitement in the sport that had grown stale for us. We discovered the bike was an incredibly diverse tool. One used not only to test yourself against others in competition or to explore and see the world in a unique way, but one that can open the minds and hearts of even the most steeled bar flies in the dustiest, dirtiest pubs halfway to nowhere.

This was the birth of “Thereabouts”, an idea that is focused on challenging the conventions, disregarding the rules, forgetting what your friends would say, ignoring the voice that says you can’t and just going and doing it.

Thereabouts is about changing the way you think about sport. Forget the superstars and the teams. Engage with people you never would have, push yourself, test yourself, and all because you want to. It will change you.

Below are two anecdotes written by both Lachlan and myself from our trip to Uluru.

 

Lachlan

Lachlan’ Story  

 

 

“We rode on with an unspoken sense of each other’s mental and physical condition, the type only brothers share.”

 

It was 5:30am when the sun began to spill out across the stone-covered desert earth and Gus and I were already 20km out of Marree. As those first rays hit my skin they stood only to magnify the hangover which already had my head in a vice, and confirm the fire was well and truly lit inside the furnace that is the Oodnadatta Track.

For once, however, I welcomed the dull thud; it was a physical reminder of the night before. An unbelievable blur of gun shooting, car driving, beer pouring and tale swapping. All fueled on West End Draught and questionable local wine. A night you’d barely believe if I told you, and a night I won’t ever forget.

What I had forgotten as I uncorked another bottle of the unknown plonk not eight hours earlier was the enormity of the day we were about to undertake.

The Oodnadatta Track was struck from our route in the week leading up to the trek. It was deemed too dangerous. However, on a whim, and perhaps a false sense of invincibility, two days prior I suggested we put it back in, and who was Gus to back down? I believed it was just the sort of epic challenge we were looking for.

As the sun rose it revealed a wide, rolling, corrugated dirt highway that stretched past the horizon into an unknown red desert. I spun a quick 360 as I stood taking a piss. We were finally in the middle of nowhere. Gus and I were alone, trekking across one of the harshest landscapes on earth.

We didn’t speak a word to each other for almost five hours. We rode on with an unspoken sense of each other’s mental and physical condition, the type only brothers share. Without utterance, when the head wind spun around into a crosstail we pinned it at 50km/h.

Swapping turns, surfing the corrugations and washouts of this frontier land with disregard, our hands at each other’s back. It was a battle against the immovable, with no-one to bare witness. Cycling in its purest form.

 

 

   

 
 
 

 

 

 

As we pumped out of the saddle, cresting another roller, from the mirage appeared an acrid, acidic, extra-terrestrial landscape, bound by a black poisonous ring of salt. We had hit the shores of Lake Eyre, The Dead Zone.

I was, for a reason still unknown to me, overcome with emotion. An amazing mixture of fatigue, elation and companionship washed over me as I tried to figure out what it was we were doing out here. We stopped for a few minutes. Sitting in silence on the edge of the world’s largest inland sea, staring at its vast nothingness. Then we pushed on.

The next hours were more painful and taxing. The furnace had reached melting point. It was now spitting wind in our face with more ferocity than ever, a warning against the harsher conditions ahead. The corrugations became more severe and the washouts more regular.

It became impossible to ride as a pair, and we were forced to spread out and go it alone. Our two figures cutting a lonely path through the impenetrable desert, slowly being ground down.

As I slowed to a stop, the sharp clack of my cleat signaling the end of our jaunt, my ears began to ring in the silence. My joints, legs and head were aching. We both sat in the gravel at the side of the road. Suddenly out here I felt at home.

I could have sat all afternoon. A new clarity of thought enveloped me; I knew exactly what we were doing out here. We were finally using the bike for the purpose I had always intended and it was having a profound impact on me.

 

Gus

Gus’ Story  

 

 

“There’s no escaping the pain and there’s no welcoming it either.”

 

“F@%k it!” I’d just missed another road sign indicating how far left until to Yulara, our day’s end and final stop before Uluru. I slipped back in behind the camping trailer I’d become so familiar with over the past two weeks. My head sunk a little lower, I tried to focus, the flapping black plastic tarp whipping in the relentless wind. I was beginning to doubt if I’d make it.

“If only that f#$%ing plastic wouldn’t flap. F#$* it’s loud. Had it always been flapping like that? Who the f$%# loaded the bags at the front? Don’t they know it creates a vacuum making the tarp flap like a f#$%in’ helicopter back here?”

I was losing it. I tried closing my eyes, and taking a deep breath. Hoping in vain to slip into a peaceful painless groove. It was futile, I knew it would be. There’s no escaping the pain, there’s no welcoming it either. You’d be lying if you said you did. There’s only tolerating it.

“315km was 315km.” I told myself. I knew that in the same way I knew we’d averaged 50km/h since we hit the 150km marker. And I knew, because I’d done the math a hundred times, that in less than half an hour we’d be finished. Yet every time I’d missed one of those signs a panic set in.

I just needed to see a physical number. Just to be sure we were getting closer to the end, to be sure my mind wasn’t failing me. It was ridiculous, and it was an indication of my withering mental state. The road signs were winning.

Twelve grueling days in the saddle, with my WorldTour kid brother, and I’d barely slipped up. Now, with the end in sight it was the road signs that would grind me down to dust, leaving me in the middle of the desert.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Y – 15’. Yulara 15km. Thank God. I knew it couldn’t have been much further, but just to see the proof was an overwhelming relief. I glanced at Lach, he adjusted his knicks, slipping back half a length before popping out of the seat, ’da! da! da!’, he danced gliding back up alongside me.

It’s something I wouldn’t have dared do, I was sitting so close to the back of the trailer my tyre had burnt a solid black rubber mark across its back. If the slight wind there was slowly cracking my resolve, the comparable cyclone half a length behind would crush my soul in an instant.

“I’ve been thinking, we should start…” Lach began, his mouth continued to move but I could no longer make out his words. I channeled my gaze on the endless black stream of tarmac flooding out from beneath the trailer in hope of clarity. I slipped into a trance.

It wasn’t until Lach moved from beside me into the wind and accelerated that I was brought back to reality. When you’ve been on the road together that long, all goes without saying. I knew exactly what was up. Empty, and as I had so many times already I pushed on the pedals and slowly clambered up to his wheel and tucked in. ‘Y-10’. Yulara 10km. F%#$ it; it was the one final time to go blow for blow, like we used to.

I can’t really explain how the body is capable of such torture, of being on the brink of shutting down for days then turning around and giving you another 10%. I think it was something in the fact that we were in it together, and we weren’t doing this for anyone else or for any gain.

We were simply testing out how far we could push ourselves, just to see what would happen. We let the road take us, challenge us and transport us to wherever it had in mind. There were no motives, no prejudices, no expectations.

I don’t know how fast we covered those last 10km, or if I was even able to take a single turn in the wind. It didn’t matter. We’d long since abandoned our HR monitors, and our power meters. We’d discovered that the true power of riding our bikes lay in the story and not the numbers.

 

   

   

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve come to realise that each of our lives is an experiment. We are given a ‘hypothesis’ based off of custom, hereditary, history, morality and personality. We plot our ‘method’ but instead of letting the experiment run its course we constantly adjust it to keep inline with the result we have hypothesised, the results we tell ourselves we want.

We think we know where we are headed. We tug hard on the wheel with blistered hands, as we try to maintain our co-ordinated path. But we are, essentially, just making guesses. Some educated, some instinctual, and some rebellious. We have no way of knowing exactly how our method will carve its course in time.

We are just being taken along for the ride, whether we resist it or not. The more we fight the ride, the less personal it becomes. The less our own genuine experience and more the more contrived, and structured one of our hypotheses.

As I reflect on it all now, the hardest part of the journey wasn’t that day to Yulara, surviving only by the little green road signs counting down the kilometres, or the wondering when my body would finally give out as Lach wound up the pressure. It was not being able get up and go to the bathroom on the flight home when the seatbelt sign was switched on.

You see, somewhere along the way we had completely let go. The experiences we had in the desert opened our eyes to another side to life, another way of understanding the world. In those two weeks we shed ourselves of society and it was this little red warning light, forcing me in my seat as the flight attendant ran through the location of our emergency exits, that signified our return to it.

We were no longer playing by our rules, we were no longer in the wilderness with the castaways, and we were no longer letting the road take us wherever it wanted. We were back in reality, and we were being forced to hypothesise.



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  • Davo

    As I take a break from work to read this, churning out 12+hr days during what seems like and endless 3 week stint in the middle of nowhere, it is even harder to see the light at the end of the tunnel that is the end of my working week this Friday! Nevertheless, what a great read! Its all too easy to focus on the numbers and forget the ride but this brings it all home. This sort of article(along with The Road Less Traveled from a couple of weeks back) make me want to ride my bike more than what race reports and colourful peleton photos ever do. With a couple of hundered km’s worth of riding planned for this wekeend when I get home this reminds me that maybe its time I left the Garmin at home for the weekend and just enjoyed the freedom that two wheels represents to so many of us! Outside is free.

    • Sean

      Awesome mate!!

    • dcaspira

      Spot on

  • Notso Swift

    I know there was some support but I would be seriously worried about being cleaned up by a grey nomad out there!

    • Abdu

      Road train more likely. Did you see the B double going the other way?

      Great pics and story. The essence of cycling. It’s almost a let down Lachlan is pro.

  • CUB

    So that’s where all the Foster’s ends up?

    • http://subcontinentalcyclist.wordpress.com/ Ankush Agarwal

      And to India :-(

  • runrider

    This ride makes Paris- Roubaix look like a soft option.
    Great feature, would have been truly epic if the Cervelo TT bike on the roof had been ridden for the entire trip.
    Reminds me of ex-British Pro Sean Yates, he came to Oz one winter when he raced with a mountain bike fitted with panniers and did an epic ride for several weeks camping & riding. Then he went on to have his worst season the following year! Hopefully this wont happen to Lachlan.

    • xrider3464

      …you´ve obviously never done Paris Roubaix ;-)

  • winky

    They drafted the trailer? Riding across the outback is something I’d never contemplate. Too far, too boring. And to do it drafting and supported by vehicles like that diminishes the ride and defeats the purpose IMO. But that’s just me. I understand that these guys got something out of it that is valuable to them. (Although I perhaps question their decision to ride in the Australian sun with shirts off, and to eschew helmets.)

    Good photos, though.

    • Daniel

      For a brief moment I was pondering the adventure, the beauty of the outback, their experiences, where the bike can take you, brothers, etc.
      Unfortunately I read this comment. The comment reminded me I was browsing the internet, in my dull office and every forum/ comments section has a few people that cannot resist negativity. I’ll get on with my work now.

      • scottmanning

        It’s ok. You forgot the part where they decided to do what ever they pleased and to hell with what other people thought. :-)

        • winky

          Do they really not care what others thought? They recorded and posted the adventure on the internet.

          • scottmanning

            They posted for others to enjoy. Not necsessarily for other opinions on what they did.

            From the article; “We ignored everyone else’s opinions” and ” In those two weeks we shed ourselves of society
            We were no longer playing by our rules, we were no longer in the
            wilderness with the castaways, and we were no longer letting the road
            take us wherever it wanted.”

            That’s what I got out of it anyway.

          • Guest

            great input all around winky

      • Yossarian

        Steady on Daniel. I think their trip was a wonderful one. I’d love to do but poor old lonesome Winky does have a point. It wasn’t just a matter of taking off on the bikes, they had to have backup, a support vehicle. That takes planning. Those who take a slightly contrary view (and bear in mind he wasn’t saying it wasn’t a great thing to do) should not be seen as, ergo, negative. Anyone out there who wants to do something similar, let me know and we’ll talk.

      • winky

        Was I negative? Perhaps. But the trip-thing did get posted. Was the cycling experience they had enhanced by putting it on the internet? I’d say perhaps not. So putting it on the internet is really to invite comment and reaction. Maybe inspire someone. Commenting was all I was doing.

        The guys may have achieved something profound, I don’t know. It’s just my view and experience that unsupported and independent trips have a much greater effect on those undertaking them. I’ve done both fully loaded solo touring and group cycling trips with strangers and with buddies. Different experiences with different outcomes – but in hindsight, the independent trips mean more to me.

        I like to post photographs of my experiences on the internet. I do this knowing full well I may be criticised, ignored or supported. That’s the deal I accept with posting. I suspect that these guys would feel the same. They seem like cool people.

        • Daniel

          I don’t know about Gus and Lachlan but their internet posting enhanced my day briefly.
          My irritation with comments such as: “too far, too boring”, “diminishes the ride” and “question their decision” is that online comments/ forums all too often focus on negativity. I have pretty much trained myself not to read comments on The Age for this reason. For the most part Cycling Tips comments reflect the sentiment of the post. I felt these comments didn’t. I recognise I may have misinterpreted the reason for Thereabouts’ post.

        • velocite

          I’m with you on your thoughts on this post winky. It was presented as an attempt to capture the ‘lost magic of the sport’, so do we agree with that? Not I: this was pre-planned extreme sport IMHO. I did enjoy the read because it was interesting and unusual, but inspiring? Not for me. The expected response to this exercise is ‘awesome’, so thankyou for voicing your actual opinion!

  • scottmanning

    Wow. Colour me inspired!

  • jules

    epic. i feel sorry for Gus being dragged along my Lachlan. if it were me riding with one of my brothers we’d probably get to 200 km then it would deteriorate into a massive fight and turn back :)

  • SaynotoGarmins

    Capo socks + Volleys = ‘PRO’

    • Notso Swift

      Saw that and had a chuckle when the said no need to worry about sock height… then perfect sock height every where

  • Snow Leopard

    Well, they say they want to forget about watts and distance etc.. But Lachlan has Vector Pedals on his bike and is wearing a heart rate monitor most of the way and recording to what looks like a Garmin 500. I respect that they are looking for adventure and they can do this in the off season base building period, but the data is still being recorded and sent onto his team and coaches for analysis.

    • Darth Idiot

      Well done for debunking the interweb.

    • Chris

      Yeh… A quick check – if your personal, introspective journey of self discovery has a photographer and filmmaker, a title and a logo, maybe something, something…

    • http://www.cyclingTipsBlog.com cyclingTips

      To be fair, that intro “Distances, wattages, victories and other measures often lead us to forget the simply joy of riding a bike” was written by us, not by them.

      • a different ben

        And by the way, speak for yourselves there. Every time I get out on the bike or down the park or on the field I love it. I forget about so many other little problems, they all just disappear. It’s like meditation. Or medication, those words are so alike.

    • 42x16ss

      The HRM would be for safety reasons, don’t want to overcook yourself and risk heat stroke or worse in the middle of nowhere.

  • Kam

    Good Story i enjoyed it Cheers!

  • Peach

    Shorter “thereabouts”: we smashed hipster into elite cycling culture for the ultimate in ironic cool and disheveled nihilism. Eschewing helmets and lycra (but not knicks) for fashionable shirts and turbans, we managed to heavily stylise “just riding your bike” – replete with seriously contemplative poses – and still pretend our faux-philosophy is dope and legit. Lachlan scored maximum street cred for saying f#ck you to the man (the man being J. vaughters) by not wearing the stale kit or riding the bike that he’s paid to. Because, you know, nothing says anti establishment like kicking corporate sponsors in the balls. Modern cycling conventions totally suck, too – except for disc brakes, Enve rims and Vector power meters. We were totally off the grid, on national roads with our 4×4 support vehicle and filmmaker. People from Erskineville don’t need to be afraid of outback peeps, either. We opened their cold, bogan hearts with bikes, man. Oh, and drinking Fosters out of a can is the new VB in a brown bag. Yeah and it’s going to be loose at the Rapha Cycle Club tonight so go get at em dawgs.

    • Sean

      haha love it!

    • jules

      yeah too commercial. i’m doing a writeup for CT soon on a more organic cycle touring trip i did. you’ll love it!

    • Jono_L

      Mate, you’re overthinking it.

    • thomasrdotorg

      “It’s not about the bike!” screamed Armstrong as he led the peloton off a cliff into Dante’s inferno. Perhaps it wasn’t about the bike, but merely about making the miles disappear under your wheels before the other guy and not with that other guy.

      In this post modern post hipster new era we are free to decide whether there can be irony in cycling and if not trying is trying so why try at all? Maybe trying too hard can be the not trying and we can celebrate that?

      Perhaps riding a fixie is now so hipster it’s no longer cool making it automatically subversive and cool again and now all we can do is wait and see when the backlash against the backlash gets its own backlash. (for it must come)

      Jarmusch should have shot this doco; after all he said “Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent.” And given Jim made the doco “Year Of the Horse” perhaps he’s best placed to understand the modern horse.

      A closer examination receals that technology is right where we want it. From the comfort of an air conditioned shipping container we can rain death on a wedding while sipping a grey lady with diamonds (that’s a diet coke with ice for those playing along at home). In the same way, any get-together can be shot at from a long way away giving the shooter a slightly empty sense of satisfaction (“I want to see the red mist!”). But by being unseen, by sniping from waaaay downtown, one does tend to feel disconnected and indeed may feel an inflated sense of worth when their own contribution might be nil.

      Foster Wallce put it better than I “Hell hath no fury like a coolly received postmodernist.”. And so say we all.

      I’ll leave it to the late Dennis Hopper “‘Marcel DuChamps said that ‘In the future, everything will be art, the artist will simply point at something and say ‘that is art” Now was he a visionary artist or just a fucking dork?” Touche.

      • jules

        that was very Fight Club :)

        • thomasrdotorg

          the things you own DO indeed end up owning you.

          • jules

            how much did that drone cost to fix? ;)

            • thomasrdotorg

              It is a money black hole that will never stop costing money to fix. the answer; make a new one.

    • Iain Moynihan

      Peach. You are the man, or woman. Here’s are some clause’s from Lachlan Morton’s contract with garmin:
      “1.3.12: Lachlan will cycle for the aforementioned team provided that there is explicit understanding that he is not like, about that whole professional scene and shit hey.
      1.3.13: Lachlan requires that all other team members and staff deny knowledge of any musicians, bands and or music tracks until such time as Lachlan has informed team members/staff of their existence and explained to them in detail the elements of said music which are #epic.
      1.3.14: Lachlan requests the following non-cycling-specific team apparel: 10x floral print button up t-shirts, assorted shades of brown and purple. 2 x denim jackets. 2x denim shirts. 1x pair of faded & torn designer jeans, $250 minimum cost. 3x Assorted terrible hats.
      1.3.15: No other team members or staff are permitted to wear any of the above items of clothing”

    • Logan

      The best comment ever posted on CT.

  • Sean

    It occurred to me that ‘thereabouts’ is a great way to avoid ‘whereabouts’.

  • http://www.cyclingTipsBlog.com cyclingTips

    A good interview with Lachlan about this trip on Cycling Central here:

  • Tim

    I liked it. These kids covered half the continent. Forgive them the introspective reflection, we all do that when we challenge ourselves on an adventure like this. They’ll remember this trip for the rest of their lives (not just because it is captured on film) and tell friends their tales long after it gets boring and the truth gets lost. Also, it wasn’t a test of survival- having a support vehicle is just plain sensible. Someone had to carry the wardrobe….. I mean water.

  • Kevin

    Anybody know what glasses lachlan is wearing (retro looking ones) in the photo with the unbuttoned shirt and HRM? just above Gus’s story?

  • Paolo

    In the distant past journeys were recorded in books and diaries. These days photo and film are used. Nothing wrong or commercial about it. Who would attempt a ride in the outback without support? People climb Mt.Everest with oxygen masks and carrying nothing else than the clothes on their body, let the support people carry the heavy stuff, and still brag about it. I think, they have done a very cool trip and i’m sure in 40 years the two brothers will sit together somewhere talking about the ride to Uluru they had done and maybe their grand children will listen with eyes wide open.

  • Flash

    Great work guys, I ride without a bike computer etc and you just ride how you feel, which I think is a great way to ride – No speed, no watts, no HR, no vertical metres climbed etc etc. We should just enjoy the story for what it is, a great adventure – and not worry about the fact they had a support crew or a HR monitor etc – the fact is they got to share a great adventure we us, and that’s all that matters.
    Too many people are just waiting to find a negative about some point of the story – who cares.
    It took me away from my reality for a little while – so well done guys, great ride. Thank You.

  • a different ben

    Fun fact: the pressure at the deepest site in the ocean (Mariana Trench) is 16,000 psi. That’s 11km deep. Think the caption for the CSG dude might have the wrong units?

  • alexroseinnes

    Dude has a goddam Bison tattooed on his chest. And those hats with denim jackets and Capo bibs at 50kmh going around Uluru…Awesome.

  • http://subcontinentalcyclist.wordpress.com/ Ankush Agarwal

    For the life of me, I can’t understand what’s wrong with having a friend clicking photographs & recording a ride where other dudes are crushing it in wilderness. I found their trip totally awesome and inspiring. Solid stuff.

  • De Mac

    Good on them both – they seized an opportunity that most of us do not have available and they made the most of it and spent quality time together – Kudos.

  • http://www.trainedinfrance.com Yoga Sport

    Killer story, racing in Europe can be exhausting and a bit of bogan adventuring is just the ticket – and when did Aussies become so pathetic and whine and nitpick like this? Seriously? Do you think racing and living in Europe is as glamorous is at looks? Its good at times but you spend most of the time completely fucked trying to train and make your next flight!
    Quit you jobs and go and take a chance – 12 hour days in your nice safe office …boohoo…

  • Pedale.Forchetta

    Fantastic…

  • adam

    best article of the year.

  • Abdu

    Speaking as an old man (45+), these kids can waffle on like hipsters and you armchair critics heckle all you like.

    Fact is, these kids did a big awesome ride through the dead heart of our country. You nor I did.

    Love it. Good on em.

  • Carlo Ponto

    Which brand is that bike from Lachlan? And how would one describe that kind of sport he´s doing on pic nr 29?

    • Kevin Batchelor

      Lachlan is riding a Mosaic XT-2 titanium CX bike.

  • Theodore Kincaid

    what kind of frame is the silver one?

  • Mark

    Awesome photos. Haven’t had the time to read it all yet, but the images gives it a real sense of adventure…