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Photography by Paul Bostrom

The story behind the bikes, the brotherhood, and a nearing cross-country adventure for a group of local young riders.

The crew rides Harley-Davidson Sportsters, a line of motorcycles produced continuously since 1957.

For a crew of young riders, most nights are now spent in front of a 47-inch laminated map of America, marking up highways with Sharpies while they plan a two-week trek from coast to coast. The crew spends time fantasizing about long rides across winding roads while feeling the rush of freedom journeying on their bikes cross-country. They map out what roads they’ll take, discuss where they want to stop and visit, and what memories they envision making along the way. They’re planning a trip of a lifetime. But how did a group of young men decide to endeavor on such an adventure?

“We grew up on a farm,” says Preston Morter as he details his upbringing with his fellow rider and (literal) brother, Carson. With more than six miles of farmland, the family had to cover a great deal of land while moving pasture to pasture to maintain their business based out of Oregon. “My dad didn’t believe in horses, so we always had dirt bikes growing up,” says Morter. This would become the Morter brothers’ earliest and fondest memories of riding together. “It was kind of in the family.” 

The Morter brothers’ grandpa was originally from Pennsylvania but made his way across America on an Indian motorcycle with his brother. “He was under 16, and he didn’t have a mom or dad. So they ended up West on this motorcycle and then just started working on farms as hired hands,” says Morter

As the Morter brothers progressed past the farm, riding motorcycles became pretty secondary for the two of them. They quickly learned how to ride motorcycles even before learning how to drive a car. “I remember Carson on his first one. He just pulled back on the gas and it went straight through my mom’s garden,” Morter jokingly recalls.

“The overall goal is to look back 40 years down the road and be like, ‘Yeah, you remember that one time we had nothing but the road and each other?”

The boys eventually made their way to Lakeland to attend Southeastern University. It was there that a group of young college students slowly progressed into a bunch of friends purchasing bikes and eventually riding together.

For Morter, witnessing his brother Carson and friend Michael Mutz purchase and ride their motorcycles piqued his interest. “I was inspired knowing Michael and Carson, and always wanted to get a motorcycle.” This interest continued to grow, either spurring others in their friend group to dive in with a purchase, or connecting one another with fellow riders with this common interest.

As the group grew, Morter began to think, “How dope would it be if we had this not even brotherhood or club or gang, but just this riding crew?”

Preston Morter, Carson Morter, Jason Bervaldi, Eric Hughes, Drew Nanulaitta, and Dale Hansen all became a part of this riding crew.

Although friends to begin with, the bikes were what continued to deepen their existing brotherhood. “I would say motorcycles didn’t bring us together. We were already close, but it was something that we found we could all do together,” says Morter.

“It’s weird because you can’t talk to each other [while riding]. But just the fact that you’re all just cruising as homies … I don’t know how to explain it, but it brings you all closer together,” adds fellow rider Eric Hughes.

“Realistically, it’s pretty hard to find one thing that seven guys, specifically guys, want to do together,” adds Morter.

The crew soon became known as the “Sons of Thunder,” a name jokingly and impulsively coined by Morter one night while the crew was hanging out. “I remember reading [in the Bible] that Zebedee had two sons [James and John]. They were referred to as ‘Sons of Thunder’ by Jesus. And, then, motorcycles are historically referred to as thunder horses in cowboy culture.” So after recounting both references, Morter proudly (yet hesitantly) proclaimed to his friends, “We’re the Sons of Thunder!”

Although a joke, the name quickly grew in popularity, and they became known amongst their peers as the Sons of Thunder. “We’re not bikers. That’s not our identity at all. We’re just guys who like bikes,” emphasizes Morter.

“I just love the feeling of riding,” says Hughes, as he recounts what inspired him to join his friends on their riding endeavors. He recalls each ride as a time to quiet everything down and fully experience life around him. “You’re feeling the air and it feels like you’re kind of flying. You can admire everything that’s around you more because you’re not closed in. Especially for long rides, I feel like it’s an escape.”

Morter agrees with these sentiments, also referring to rides as almost a forced sabbath. “I think it subconsciously takes away distractions, because you’re forced to focus on just one thing at a time. In our culture, that’s kind of rare.”

One thing the group always wanted since the very beginning was to ride across America together. “Our goal is coast to coast, corner to corner,” says Morter. They plan on starting on the East Coast and heading all the way to Seattle, eventually shipping their bikes back from the Morters’ other family farm in Idaho. Planning for over two-and-a-half years, the group is ready to finally start the trek next June.

Hughes says, “The overall goal is to look back 40 years down the road and be like, ‘Yeah, you remember that one time we had nothing but the road and each other?’” For him, this trip is an opportunity to challenge himself in a new way, slow down and appreciate the world around him, and create lifelong memories with his best friends. “I think it’s important to ignore the hustle and bustle of life, and enjoy what’s right in front of you and around you. That’s big for me.”

Originally from the West Coast, Hughes also looks forward to a pit-stop at his hometown in Arizona. “It’s always a big thing to go home. But even better to stop by, say ‘Hi’ to Mom, and then say, ‘Hey! Just rode 2,000 miles. Still got another thousand to go. Thanks for the meal!’”

In addition to bonding across America, the ride is a pioneer trip of sorts for the Morter brothers as they follow their grandfather’s previous journey. “It’s really special because of our grandpa’s story and how we ended up on the West Coast. It was the courage to leave and not know what was going to happen. That was always inspirational,” says Morter.

For others in the group, they are in it for lifelong memories. “Dale is really huge on being able to show his kids these photos and being like, ‘I was in Sons of Thunder,’” says Morter.

I think it subconsciously just takes away distractions because you’re forced to focus on just one thing at a time. In our culture, that’s kind of rare.”

Whether trying to create the nostalgia for their kids or relive the lineage of their family, Sons of Thunder plans on taking the trip of a lifetime this upcoming summer. Best friends journeying across America together, leaving without knowing what’s next but still having the courage to go for it.

“Since the beginning, that’s been our inspiration,” says Morter.

To stay up-to-date on Sons of Thunder and their upcoming trip, follow them on Instagram @_sonsofthunder.