Tough Turkey, Stayin’ Alive — Long Haul Paul

In my 54 years on this planet, I’ve yet to be late for Thanksgiving Dinner.

I’m not usually associated with giving up or giving in very easily either. I suppose that’s why I have managed to stay alive and ahead of all my life’s challenges.

Long Haul Paul Yamaha Sunset

Whether it was my ten-year custody battle or my 17 years of living with a progressive, often debilitating disease like Multiple Sclerosis, giving up is not usually in my bag of tricks. My story of finishing the incredible 2001 Iron Butt Rally on an impossible antiquated motorcycle taught me to explore every possibility and take risks and long shots when faced with bad odds. Except for the $200 I spent on Bitcoin last year, my risks are met more often than not, with great rewards.

I’m not like most motorcycle riders. I don’t care what color or how shiny my bike is, I don’t add fancy bits to make it pretty or go faster and I barely follow even half the recommended maintenance schedule.

My motorcycle is a tool. A vessel to transport me from one place to the next, often across multiple states and time zones to events where I speak, present seminars, fundraise or just display my bike and goal of riding a million miles for MS. My motorcycle is my car, my bus, my train and my airplane. It has to start and run and be reliable, dependable and as my life depends upon all of its systems performing properly. Most of all, whatever I throw my leg over in the morning must above all else, be trustworthy.

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I attended all 8 of the International Motorcycle Show outdoor events this year, all across the country. Unlike previous years, all the events were at new outdoor venues and during the summer and fall when the weather provided better attendance by folks who wanted to ride in as well as be able to test ride new models once they arrived.

The last IMS show of the 2021 season took place the weekend before Thanksgiving in Southern California. Like every cross-country trip I take, I loaded up the bike with my clothes and gear, changed the oil and the rear tire and headed out for a three day, 3300 mile ride from New Hampshire to California.

Long Haul Paul Yamaha test rides

The bike was rolling along great and I was making good time until somewhere in Virginia. It was my third stop of the day for gas and a quick restroom break. Getting back on the freeway, I was soon met with stopped traffic from an accident a mile ahead. As I was slowing to a stop, the bike started to cough and the engine died. I rolled over to the edge of the lane and tried to restart it, but it would not catch. I tried a few more times as the traffic was limping forward and finally it started, but would not stay running. I found by revving the motor constantly, I was able to move ahead with the traffic. A few minutes of this and the traffic cleared the wreck and we were running at full speed again. But the engine wasn’t right, I was finding I had to keep it revving very high to stay running. Once I reached a reasonable speed, it seemed to do ok.

My first thought was I had picked up some bad gas at the last stop and it was clogging the pump or fuel system. My bike had 74,000 miles on it and fuel filters getting plugged were common at about this mileage. I seemed to be doing ok if I kept riding at high speed, so I did just that. My thought process was that running through the bad gas in about 4 hours would be easier than having to find a dealer or a place where I could remove and drain my tanks without losing a day or hours that would make me late for California. My plan was to push through the bad gas as fast as I could at high speed and refuel with cleaner gas as soon as possible. I hoped and believed this would clear it up.

Well, by the next day I had refilled 5 or 6 times, and the engine did not get any better. It would not idle at all, it would sometimes struggle to go 65 mph and other times still pull hard at 80 mph. I was pouring in fuel additives and snake oil at every gas stop hoping to unclog whatever was damaged by running the fuel through the engine. One thing for certain was I was getting half the efficiency I was used to, and barely 25 mpg!

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I called my friends at Yamaha to discuss and asked that they ship a new fuel pump and filter assembly to California, where I would have a couple hours to swap it out as well as the help of the factory technician attending the trade show.

I made it to California, not without worry and fear, as Los Angeles traffic is bad enough not having to navigate it with a bike that stalls every time we slowed down! I arrived exhausted, beaten from the uncertainly and dread of breaking down each of the three days and 45 hours I spent attempting to reach the other side of the country, but received that we would fix it and I would be able to have less stress on the ride back home.

The show was busy, but I managed to get the new fuel pump installed between delivering seminars and greeting fans. My bike was hidden from display as tools and parts were sprayed all across the ground waiting for me to complete the repairs. The tech brought me a set of spark plugs and an air filter and we also changed the past due oil and filter, hoping the bike would run like new again. Unfortunately, after a day of repairs, it still ran terribly. The computer did not show any electrical issues and all fingers were now pointing to the fact that I had just ridden it 3000 miles in very poor condition and probably messed up the injectors or damaged the valves.

By Sunday, I had removed, cleaned, tested just about everything I could manage to get to in a parking lot with limited tools. My engine had real damage and needed to be brought to a dealership for diagnosis and repair. I was faced with a grave decision.

Long Haul Paul Yamaha repair

I saw only two options. I could leave the bike and all my gear at a California Dealer, try to find a flight Thanksgiving week to New Hampshire and then a return flight after the bike was fixed, possibly months later. Or, I could take a big chance and try to limp the barely running bike 3300 miles home, crossing the entire country yet again. Of course, it was the week of Thanksgiving, and if riding through holiday traffic on a bike that wouldn’t idle or go over mountainous hills was bad enough, I also had to be home the day before Thanksgiving if I wanted to stay happily married!

The Technician in California wasn’t very pleased with my choice to risk breaking down and further damage to the motor, and bet me $50 the barely running bike would not make it all the way to New Hampshire.

I choose to ride Yamahas because they are dependable, reliable and have never left me stranded. Any and all issues I have had over the last 500,000 miles were self-induced, and if I did break down heading for home it certainly would not be the bike’s fault. After getting me to California I felt I could trust my bike to do it’s best and I was not about to give up either.

Despite learning afterwards that my engine had suffered a burnt valve and I was riding with zero compression in one of the two cylinders, my T7 and I rode across the entire country in three days, arriving home just in time for turkey, hot potatoes and the best gravy ever!

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