Riding for the Masses

Being asked to give a presentation 2000 miles away from my home in New Hampshire at the Iron Butt Association’s National Conference was the perfect excuse for a road trip. I took the long way to Denver to attend the biannual meeting of long distance motorcycle enthusiasts from around the globe. I thought it would be a great opportunity to see parts of the country I hadn’t visited in a decade or more.

Long Haul Paul - Riding for the MassesI rode 3300 miles in four days on the way out and attempted to ride through every national park that’s name ended in park. I was able to visit the Badlands in Wyoming, see Mount Rushmore at dawn, ride up and over Bear Tooth Pass in Montana, and trudged my way through Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons while dodging all the houses on wheels. I drank a free glass of water at the famous Wall Drug in South Dakota, watched the sun set in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and travelled on some of the most amazing scenic roads our country has to offer.

I rode alone, as I always do, taking time when I wanted and riding hard and pounding down the miles when needed. Having a personal cooling system, the now in production CTC-100, made all the difference in the western heat. Until I got to Denver and an overly warm conference center, I forgot I had multiple sclerosis (MS). It got so hot one afternoon in the main vendor area, my MS symptoms started to surface, and I began tripping and slurring my words. People were concerned, it was that obvious. Thankfully there were other areas of the hotel where the air conditioning was working just fine, so I disappeared to recuperate.

I spent three days at the convention, and although it was great seeing old friends, meeting new ones, and checking out the heavily accessorized bikes and vendors, I itched for the quiet hum of the open road as each day passed. I also missed spending time with my wife! This trip confirmed my chosen therapy: the road is indeed my medicine. It was a straight shot home, 2000 miles in 36 hours. A double dose of relief! Only after arriving home did I reflect on the trip, figure out what I discovered, and how it might play into my future.

Long Haul Paul - Riding for the MassesWhen I arrived at the conference, the goodie bag containing my name tag revealed someone thought I qualified as an Iron Butt Legend; in other words, one who is an expert or mentor for the novice or new long distance motorcycle rider to learn from. I was also informed I was actually the surprise keynote speaker at the final banquet for the entire event. Cranking up the pressure, I also learned this was the last national gathering, as the format was changing to multiple regional events in the future.

As a result, I spent lots of time in my hotel room working hard on transforming my talk into a punchy yet powerful presentation, and judging by the line of riders who waited an hour afterwards to speak to me, I think I pulled it off!

I never really thought of myself as an inspirational speaker for the general public, but just a guy helping other MS patients with my pep talks across the country. Hearing such praise from people who don’t have MS, that my words touched them, inspired them, and even had some reaching into their wallets to donate to my charities, even though I never asked, made me realize my skills are improving and my target audience may be a lot larger than I originally realized. There were outbursts of tears and snorts, knee slapping, clapping and howling from the audience, and no one fell asleep or threw vegetables. I could have heard a pin drop as I explained MS and how it affects people. The absolute best compliment I received the entire night was from a woman who actually wet her pants, only because she did not want to miss a second of my presentation! I was humbly amazed.

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Is it possible my story about overcoming impossible odds while crisscrossing the country on a crappy motorcycle in 2001 can apply to everyone? Could repeating simple advice, given to me by Ural’s (North America) head Russian mechanic, “Just Find Metal, Make Pushrod,” really have meaning for all? Can my humorous, self-inflicted and torturous struggle around the country really be a metaphoric message to the masses? My Denver audience thinks so. I was repeatedly told I needed to find a booking agent!

A 5500 mile trip may only be a tiny footnote in my million mile mission, but this ride may certainly be a turning point on the roadmap which is my journey. Clearly I can make a difference, help others by following my passion and by challenging them to do the same; and it feels so good! I didn’t visit the new marijuana dispensaries while in Denver, but I certainly got high with a little help from my friends! 

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