Romancing the Stone in Africa

Romancing the stone in Africa: Paul and others riding motorcycles in Morocco dessert,

In February, I received a call from one of my sponsors. Bridgestone informed me they were having a press launch for the latest adventure tire designed for bikes like my Super Tenere, and wanted to know if I could join them. Because I was one of the biggest personal consumers of this type of tire and they considered me to be a social media influencer, they wanted my opinion and thoughts on the redesigned Battlax A41.

The launch was taking place the same weekend as Daytona Bike Week, and I was also supposed to be at a patient conference in Boston. Hanging out with Yamaha and maybe getting my new bike presented to me was a big deal I didn’t want to miss, and attending the patient speaker conference in Boston was important because it was the only time I get to hang out with other MS advocates who also share their stories at patient events, just like I do. I wanted to be at all three events, and eventually came up with a plan. I would spend a couple days in Daytona, ride back to Boston to attend the first two days of the conference and then head right to the airport to make the Bridgestone press launch.

It took a while for it to sink in that the event was taking place in Ouarzazate, Morocco. I remember hearing something about Madrid, but not until I accepted the offer and started looking at a map did it hit me that I would be riding motorcycles in Africa!

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If you have been following along my journey, you know I always ride my motorcycle to all of my events, no matter the distance from my house. My story of finding something in life that you love to do and to make it more important than your disease is very real for me, and long distance travel by motorcycle is my passion. I am almost a third of the way to my million mile goal. So, not only do I never use airplanes for transportation, I have never left this continent!

This trip to Morocco was a big deal for me. The company was flying out two dozen of the top motorcycle journalists from the US and Canada for a couple of days to test out the new tires. One day etching the Sahara desert and one day through the rural towns and paved beauty of Ouarzazate. I was going to be rubbing helmets with magazine writers I had been following for years. It was a chance to tell my story and grow some interest in my journey. My only worries for this trip were getting confused in the airports because I was unfamiliar with how they work, and not being able to keep up with the journalists during the rides.

My wife doesn’t ask for much. As I travel all over the country she continues to go to work, clean the house and do all the yard work; all while keeping an eye on my live tracker. Just about the only thing she asks me when I find myself at a famous location or national park, is to pick her up a rock from the area. Not a diamond, an actual stone. She has dozens of these stones from all over the United States and Canada. She remembers where each stone came from and the trip it represented. Of course, Elin wanted me to fetch her a rock from Africa!

Arriving in Morocco by charter plane was the first chance I got to chat with the others on the trip, and I soon learned although these writers spend a lot of their time together going to events and launches, they seemed really excited to be in Morocco. I mentioned how my wife wanted a rock from Africa and they all assumed my trip was going to be very expensive!

Paul in gear with local Moroccan merchants

We were treated to a great meal, a presentation about the technical aspects of the new tires and an itinerary of the next couple of days. Day one was 200 miles of gravel and I chose to ride one of the Honda Africa Twins. It was a fun bike, a lot lighter than my Super Tenere, especially considering all the added accessories I travel with! I was able to keep up with the crowd and was surprised at how well the tires handled the dirt roads at freeway speeds. The scenery was incredible, the guides who led the group were FAST and fun and after a few hours we stopped to get a drink at a roadside cafe. I met some kids on bicycles who were excited to see our motorcycles and I offered some of my Longhaulpaul wristbands to them. They say “Chasing the Cure” on one side and show my social media tags on the inside. I give them out at bike shows hoping they subscribe to my youtube and Facebook pages. Each of the kids accepted the bands with a smile and a thumbs up. Three weeks after returning from Africa, I was ecstatic to receive a friend request from one of the boys!

After another few hours of riding we stopped for a photoshoot in the mountains, and while waiting for my turn to be filmed, I was able to buy a few items from a man selling goods on a blanket in the middle of nowhere. A bird and a small jewelry box made of soapstone were items I knew my wife would like and would fit in my Aerostich jacket pockets. I was shown a black rock, which when opened beamed beautiful purple crystals.

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I wasn’t going to buy it until someone reminded me I was supposed to buy my wife a rock from Africa. I emptied out a pocket full of ordinary Moroccan stones I had been collecting and replaced them with my new baseball-sized black beauty.

Day two was riding sport touring bikes on the streets, and once out of the small towns, we rode at—should I say, a brisk pace. I was having some digestion issues; I’m not sure if it was something I ate, or my nerves from riding at the edge of my comfort zone on an unfamiliar bike for 200 miles. After we returned to the hotel I really felt something wasn’t right and the pain was radiating across my abdomen and lower back.

Ouarzazate was the backdrop for many movies like The Mummy, Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator, so we shared our last meal at the famous movie museum which was a short walk from our hotel. My pain continued to intensify during dinner and I excused myself from the big rectangular table repeatedly. At one point, the man next to me asked if I was ok, I was silent, sweating and not touching my food. I tried not to draw attention to myself; everyone was laughing and having fun. When it dawned on me what I was experiencing, the fear of trying to get emergency medical treatment in a different country was almost equal to the pain I was suppressing. I could no longer sit, I had to stand, but holding my side in agony. I went to the men’s room for the fourth time, trying not to pass out.

Of all the places in the world to have a kidney stone, Africa was probably not the best.

I missed most of dinner, but somehow made it back to the hotel. The pain was all too familiar, it definitely was a stone. I asked the desk clerk for aspirin, ibuprofen or Tylenol; anything for pain. I must have looked pretty bad because I was told they wanted me to me see the doctor. All I could think of was Bridgestone being charged for some extreme medical consult or the ambulance ride. This was my first time at one of these press events and I didn’t want to be THAT guy.

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Dr. Mustafa was the house doctor, and decided to send a boy to the pharmacist to smoosh up some compounds to help my tummy. He thought I was constipated because I was telling him how I felt earlier in the day. As I sat waiting for him to finish with another patient, my pain dissipated in a matter of a minute. I felt my forehead and it was no longer hot. I stood up and no longer had the acute sharp pain. I thanked the doctor for his help, but said that I was feeling better and would not need the prescription filled.

­­­­­­­­By the time I reached my room the pain was completely gone. Not wanting to spoil my last night in Morocco, I decided to venture out to the hotel bar and have a few drinks with the guys. Some of them had noticed my condition at dinner and were relieved but amused to hear I had picked up a stone for myself in Africa!

by Longhaulpaul

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