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Monday, April 2, 2018

Long Haul Paul: Riding a Million Miles for the Cure


Words by Paul Pelland | Photos by Matt Kiedaisch

As I slid down a lonely Arkansas highway just as the sun’s warmth was cresting the horizon, I couldn’t help but think this may not have been one of my better ideas. If I managed to live through the next few seconds, not only would the entire world know I was an idiot, I would have one hell of a long walk home.

I slid on my chest in slow motion, my motorcycle just a few feet ahead of me shedding pounds by the foot, marring the pavement while creating a fantastic light show. Bright, colorful sparks, the likes of which no Japanese bike could ever create.

The bike was veering toward the right shoulder like an obedient pigeon, and I dragged my right boot like a rudder to follow it to its familiar home, the breakdown lane. 

Every believing biker knows tractor-trailers would never be allowed to drive past the pearly gates, so inhaling the mingled stench of burnt asbestos-flavored dust and decade-old recycled tread was a welcome relief I savored as if it were a fresh-baked blueberry pie. The 18-wheeler was the only other vehicle on the highway, and the out-of-tune screeching of brittle rubber composed the string section that accompanied the light show. 

The year was 2001, and although I had yet to show any of the progressive disabling symptoms of having multiple sclerosis, I was riding a motorcycle that most certainly did. 

It wasn’t the first time I shouted, “You Commie bastard!” But this time it was forceful enough to fog my face shield. I realized for the first time in almost two years of planning that my attempt to ride a Russian Ural in the Iron Butt Rally was insane, absurd and appeared to be grinding itself to an embarrassing finale. As the Earth beneath me stopped rotating, the sparks fizzled out, and the music died. 

The show was over. Nothing to see here. My attempt at finishing the World’s Toughest Motorcycle Competition was ending in the gutter. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. 

Within hours of the starting pistol, I had experienced a seized motor and the joy of a 150-mile tow in the wrong direction. A stranger with matching DNA transplanted his personal bike’s engine into my frame to help get me back on the road. Not bothering to do a proper test run on the older engine, I rode all night with a rough running motor and electrical issues, including no taillights. After a half hour’s rest in a dingy truck stop, I wasted four hours just trying to start the bike, alternating kicking and swearing with resting and praying before it haphazardly coughed to life. And now, a series of dips in the road caused the front end of my overloaded combative camel to oscillate into a crunchy wobble that intensified into a tank slapper and spit me off.

“If life were easy, everyone would get one.” 


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