Long Haul Paul — Yamaha Revs My Heart and Helps MS

Large modern building with Yamaha motorcycles parked in front
Yamaha Headquarters

My last column was about looking forward to getting some MotoMedicine as I headed out in December for my final road trip of 2023. I was invited to attend Yamaha’s media event for the newest version of the bike I am currently riding; the Tenere 700. Yamaha was hosting two small groups of journalists over two separate days of riding. After those few days in Southern California, I was headed to speak at the Yamaha Motorsports headquarters in Atlanta. From Georgia, I was riding back home to New Hampshire to spend the holidays with my wife Elin, my dog Kona and the rest of my family. It was almost 8,000 miles of MotoMedicine and a great way to finish out the year.

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I plotted out my route for the trip, looking forward to seeing a few sights along the way as I made my way to Huntington Beach California. As it was the holiday season, I couldn’t help but stop in Chickasha Oklahoma to see the giant replica of the leg lamp from the movie Christmas Story! Most of my ride out was cold and one morning I even got to experience freezing fog that blanketed my face shield and headlights with a coat of cloudy ice. I rode along Route 66 through the mining ghost town of Oatman and then through Joshua Tree and around Big Bear Lake.

Paul's motorcycle parked with curved and mountainous landscape in background

I had added a few off road trails to the last day of my leg out west, hoping to brush up on my dirt riding skills before meeting up with the pros at the press event the following day. Unfortunately, my skills, overloaded bike and street tires were no match for one of the sandy mountain trails I attempted and I had to turn around and backtrack about 30 miles. It meant nothing to me at the time, but the trail I failed to get across was named, ‘Hell’s Gate Pass’.

I reached the Pacific Ocean and the hotel where the folks from Yamaha were getting ready for the press. We went to dinner with the other two brand ambassadors that were also invited to the event. (Unlike me, they were both famous motocross racers!)

As I had just ridden 3500 miles in three days getting there and still dealing with limited vision in my left eye, I was a pretty tired. I reminded the staff that I was not really a dirt guy and I was worried I might slow down the others on the group ride the following day. The route planned was about 30 miles through the Cleveland National Forest and would include some technical parts where the experienced journalists could really push the adventure bike to see what it was capable of doing.

I was offered the option of skipping the off road section which would allow me to get some photos by Lake Elsinore and then meet everyone at the lunch spot for the less technical route in the afternoon and that is what I did. Yamaha had hired a Taco truck to feed everyone at the end of the dusty trail and it was excellent grub! After everyone was fed, two local police officers were hired to block off a section of quiet twisty road so the journalists could get video and high quality photos for their magazines. (Spoiler alert: All those irresponsible looking street wheelie photos in magazines are actually shot on closed courses!)

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Because we were not taking part in the press photo shoot, I was able to catch up with motocross legends Ryan Villopoto and Damen Bradshaw after lunch. Together, they coaxed me into riding the off road section with the second wave of journalists the following day. They assured me it was pretty easy. I did warn them I would be the slowest guy!

The following day, I was bit reluctant, having little off-road experience and knowing I would be struggling to keep up the pace with a dozen professional off road experts.

Like everyone else, I was riding a brand new 2024 Tenere 700. It was taller than my personal bike and certainly much cleaner! We rode twisty pavement to the canyon and started up the mountain trails. I was in the rear, eating a lot of dust, but sort of keeping up with the rest of the pack. A couple of the Yamaha crew were behind me making sure everyone stayed together and to assist anyone who had an issue on the trail.

Paul's motorcycle parked in front of a large replica of the leg lamp from the movie a christmas story

At one point the trail became rocky and steep and one of the bikes in front of me ran off the trail a bit. I had to slow down enough behind them that I lost my balance and fell over on some large gravel. I was embarrassed and mad. The Yamaha guy stopped and helped me pick up the bike and I continued on. The second time I dropped the bike, I had ridden into a deep rut on the side of the trail and couldn’t get out. I had slowed down too much, lost momentum and fell over. After I got the bike back upright, I bent down and was grasping for breath. I was amazed at how out of shape I seemed to be.  My left eye (the bad one) was completely opaque by this point and combined with the dust, I had been struggling to choose the best line to ride the trail on. Coming up behind me, one of the other brand ambassadors stopped and fellow over. He was laughing, “See Paul, I just dropped my bike too!”

They were world renowned motocross champions, but today were stuck behind the slow guy on the trail they could ride with their eyes closed. They continued to praise and encourage me to continue up the mountain. They said I was doing fine, but I was doing way worse than I expected and the ride was starting to become more work and less fun.

The Yamaha guy picked up my bike from the soft sand and moved it to more solid ground for me. Riding a motorcycle with a 34” seat when you have a 28” inseam was not a problem for me on pavement, but was certainly a bigger issue for me on an uneven trail. I was struggling with the terrain and admitted I had lost my confidence to keep up with the rest of the group. I also felt something was off and I wasn’t sure I could make the 12 additional miles to the end of the trail. He offered to give me a lift down the mountain but I decided I would try again on my own. I joked, “This is not the mountain I am going to die on.”

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It was cool on the mountain, but I was sweating and still out of breath when I caught up to the others. The group had stopped to take photos at a vista overlooking Lake Elsinore. I stopped fine, but my left leg collapsed and the bike and I just toppled over. I was fatigued and felt pressure in my chest which I contributed to anxiety from the embarrassment and my poor riding skills. I decided I would keep going, riding ahead of the group to the end of the trail where the Taco truck and pavement were waiting.

Paul with a group of Yamaha offroad riders parked, taking a break from the ride, dirt hills in background
Off road Yamaha Tenere 700 group

The last 5 or 6 miles of trail seemed like eternity, but I made it to the end without crashing and parked the bike near the two hired patrol cars. I took off my helmet, gloves and Jacket. I was oddly soaked in sweat so I grabbed a water and laid against a cold rock to cool down. By now the pain in my chest seemed tighter and I had a strange pain running up the left side of my neck. I knew it wasn’t heartburn and began to doubt it was just anxiety. I had been carrying a tiny bottle of nitroglycerine ever since having a couple stents placed in my arteries 8 years earlier, and for the first time, decided to place one of the little pills under my tongue. I didn’t wait long before walking towards the two police officers. Half way across the parking lot the pain intensified, I grabbed my chest and collapsed to my knees on the pavement.

NO.” Was the answer to,

“Hey Buddy, are you OK?”

The local fire department arrived in a just a couple minutes and I was able to explain my medical conditions including my history of heart disease. The first responders tried to keep me calm and talking. Getting my personal information and at one point they asked me if I wanted them to call anybody. I said, “How about a Priest a Rabbi and a Minister?” When someone asked, “What about your wife?” There was complete silence after I joked, “I’m not supposed to call my wife at work unless I’m dying.”

It was a tough crowd.

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My memory of collapsing in the parking lot is a bit cloudy, but I do remember at one point hearing faintly, “Chicken, beef or pork? Chicken, beef or pork?,” as the Taco guy began to feed the group of riders.

The ambulance took a while to arrive. They hooked me up to an EKG machine and determined I was having a heart attack. They gave me a bunch of aspirin and another of my own nitro pills. I startled them when I yelled “CLEAR” as they stuck the large red defibrillator pads on my bare chest. As you can imagine, a scared comedian on the edge of death will say some pretty stupid stuff! When they said they were giving me Fentanyl, I asked them how many catalytic converters it was going to cost me.

They kept me talking. “Where do you live?”

Paul in hospital gown with a puzzling expression

“New Hampshire. Just up the street. Remember where that old church used to be? Take a left there.”

When they asked me if I knew what day it was, I replied, “I don’t need to know that.” “Why not?” they asked. I looked around the ambulance and then called out, “Hey, Alexa, what day is it?”

The ride was fairly long and even with the sirens blaring I faded in and out, but the EMT continued to hold my hand and rub my arm while he just kept repeating, “We are almost there, stay with us Paul, stay with us Paul.”

They drove me to a cardiac hospital where I was rushed directly to the operating room. They kept announcing I was a patient having a STEMI (ST-elevation myocardial infarction), which seemed to clear the path through the corridors rather abruptly.

The rest of my clothes were cut off me and in preparation for a heart catheterization, my groin was shaved by a nurse who clearly was never certified as a hairdresser or took an art course in expressionism! After the emergency room yellow war paint was smeared over my hairless nether regions, I was rushed into the operating room. The cardio team inserted a third stent into the same artery as my last two and saved my life.

By the next morning, I felt great and wanted to leave. I walked for three hours lapping the hospital floor begging to be released. Less than 48 hours after being rushed to the hospital, the staff had had enough of me and discharged me. My friends at Yamaha had secured my bike and gear and booked a hotel room for me for when I got discharged. They even offered to ship my bike and fly me home.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next, but after a few hours resting in a real bed and a shower, I pulled on some clean underwear and slowly got on my bike. I rode around the block to see if riding caused any pain. Being back on the motorcycle felt so right, I knew I’d be fine riding and just pointed the handlebars east.

Motomedicine always seems to do the trick for me.

Paul's motorcycle parked on side of road at sunset with red mountains in distance

I lost a few days in the hospital, but as I rode, I decided not to cancel my presentation at Yamaha in Georgia realizing I could still get there in time. When I texted them my plans, they just responded with laughing emoji’s. Everyone at Yamaha was aware that I had had a heart attack at the event. I had to actually call them and convince them I was serious and indeed on my way. I was doing what I loved, back riding for the cause, albeit slower and a bit more cautious. Because of the help of friends and emergency first responders, I was back on the road and extremely grateful to ride another day.

One of the positive outcomes of having heart attack at an event attended by a dozen journalists is no one will remember me as the guy who dropped his bike three times!

Yamaha truly Revs My Heart!


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