Highway to Health Part III

Long Haul Paul - Ticket to ride

My road trip began with unexpected coronary surgery and a two-wheeled dash from New Hampshire to the Arctic Circle in Alaska. The second part of this trip-of-a-lifetime was heading south through hellish heat in Vegas and Los Angeles. After 10,000 miles in less than two weeks, I would finally get to rest a few days in sunny California. Relax, wash my clothes and do some much-neglected maintenance on my motorcycle. Part three, and the final leg of my June journey to raise awareness for multiple sclerosis (MS), included stops along the California coast and Oregon before boomeranging back across the country to New Hampshire, where I had a life and a wife anxiously waiting for my return.

A friend, who had just relocated from Rhode Island to Huntington Beach, offered up his home and garage space for the weekend. Kevin Nixon, who was the former marketing manager for Twisted Throttle, one of my very first sponsors, was now the marketing manager for AIMExpo, one of the largest international motorcycle shows in the world.

I had picked up some spark plugs, oil and a filter at a Yamaha dealer earlier in the day and was anxious to get to work, figuring out why my bike was barely running, burping and sputtering, and unable to idle. I have to admit, I beat the crap out of my motorcycles and gear; after all, I ride more miles in a month than the average rider does in years. I don’t pay attention to regular maintenance schedules or wait for stuff to break or fall off before attending to it. My bike had been having rough running issues for about 20,000 miles, and I just kept applying Band-Aids. Sometimes a back flush of the fuel pump helped, while other times fresh spark plugs would get me a few more thousand miles down the road. This time it was pretty serious. It was barely running, and when I reached Kevin’s driveway, it conked out all by itself. “Done,” it gasped out loud. I could not fault the machine for I had truly beaten it to death and yet it still managed to get me to my destination. Kevin was still at work but had left me a key.

I pushed the tired bike into the garage without much worry. I decided to let it cool off a bit and retrieved a cold adult beverage from the house. I searched boxes marked kitchen stuff that I saw in the corner of the garage for a bottle opener. It was pretty obvious a single guy had recently moved in because the boxes were still sealed with packing tape. I ended up peeling off the bottle’s cap with a screwdriver and took a long swig. The two weeks of grueling miles were over. I had made it all the way to the west coast.

I got back to the task at hand and removed the fuel tank to access the heart and lungs of my 1200cc riding companion. I extracted the fuel pump from the inside of the fuel tank and flushed out the dirt and gunk from the little fuel filter sock inside. After reassembling it, I set about removing the ignition coils and spark plugs. Nasty roads and 10,000 miles at high speeds clearly had an effect on the motor’s state of tune. I replaced the oil filter and drained the thick, black oil that stunk of adventure into a container I’d found in the garage, hoping it was not my host’s favorite salad bowl. The four spark plugs were dirty, rusty and showed signs of fouling so I replaced them all, despite only being three weeks old.

By the time my friend arrived home, I had the bike back together and running like new again. I never had any doubt—I picked this Yamaha bike for a reason. Even with 88,000 strenuous miles on the clock, it was a faithful companion.

We rode a few blocks to the Pacific Ocean for dinner, enjoying the sights and sounds of the famous Surf City beach, a beer and a bunch of fish tacos. On Saturday I slept late, did laundry, worked on updating my social media sites, talked about motorcycles and my journey, and headed off to a local dirt track to watch some exciting motorcycle racing. On Sunday we met up with a few of Kevin’s friends and took a casual ride up the coast to check out some motorcycle hangouts. We don’t have many motorcycle cafes on the east coast, so it was a real pleasure!
Monday came quickly, and I had two important meetings on my agenda. Networking had finally paid off and some of the big wigs at Yamaha Motors had heard about my quest and expressed interest in meeting me. Yamaha headquarters was only a few miles away, and I had left a message on Friday afternoon that I was only in town until Monday morning and if possible I would like to get a few minutes of their time. This was not an opportunity I wanted to miss or mess up. I had been trying to get noticed by Yamaha for two years, and this would be the first real connection that could lead to a factory sponsorship.

The other connection I wanted to make while in Southern California was to finally meet the man who gave me a voice, ABILITY’s Chet Cooper. We had communicated back and forth for years, and I always said that when I get to California, we would have to meet up. When I did not hear back from Yamaha, I called Chet to see if he had any time available to meet up that morning.

I was giving Chet directions to my buddies’ place when Bob Starr, the GM of Yamaha Communications called on my other line, and I toggled between them. Chet was already heading over to where I was, and Yamaha said they wanted to meet with me in about an hour!

Of course, Chet wanted to show me his prized chopper, and we ended up riding together to the Yamaha corporate offices in Cypress, CA. Together, we met with a few of the top people from Yamaha, and they all wanted to see my motorcycle. I hadn’t washed it, so it reeked of dead bugs and was covered in dried Alaskan crud and calcium from the famous Dalton Highway. Not washing my bike before presenting it to potentially my biggest sponsor ever was a gamble I knew paid off as soon as I saw camera phones being unilaterally whipped out of three sport coat pockets.

“You just came from where?” asked one of the smartly dressed men.

“Arctic Circle.”

“How many miles on this bike in two years?” He
continued to ask questions.


“What have you had to do to the motor? Any major work?” asked the group’s leader.

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“Why don’t you ask me if I have ever checked the valves?”

“Holy &*^%!” As they clicked more photos.

“Yep, when I couldn’t find a manufacturer to sponsor my journey, I chose a bike that wouldn’t need factory sponsorship. This bike has been the perfect tool for me.”

“So, Paul, what can we do to help you?”

It was a short sentence, but one I had never thought I would hear. I was unprepared and had no answer ready. I stuttered and muttered, falling back on what I was doing, my fundraising, my website popularity, but never really answered their question. What did I want from Yamaha?
Chet was quick to chime in, explaining all the press I was getting and my columns in ABILITY, and how a sponsorship from Yamaha would make a great feature story in the magazine and how much publicity it would bring Yamaha. I should have said he was my agent instead of my publisher! Thankfully, I was able to put together a more legible proposal later on and have since had many conversations with Yamaha. They are now supporting me in a variety of ways, including helping me get a second bike and publicity. Chet and I rode back to Huntington Beach, and I begged him to stay for dinner. I had gone shopping earlier and filled my friend’s fridge with goodies. Chet, Kevin and I then had a great evening exchanging stories over an array of grilled meats and vegetables. Good times!

I gave a presentation the next day to a group of people living with MS in San Luis Obispo and then San Francisco on Wednesday. I rode along the Pacific Coast Highway, visited elephant seals and another great sponsor of mine, Bill Mayer Saddles in Ventura. The last stop on my three-week speaking tour was in Eugene, Oregon, where my sister-in-law, Stacy, and my mother-in-law, Beverly, who live there were able to attend and hear me share my story.

After being on an amazing three-week adventure encouraging others to continue chasing their dreams, the bike was pointed east for the finale of my June trip. The Wheels Out West for MS tour added 15,000 unforgettable miles to the Yamaha’s clock, but at this point, I couldn’t wait to get home, wrap my arms around my wonderful wife and my hands on the toenail clippers!

I think everyone should take a trip of a lifetime at least once a year!

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