A Million Miles
NH's 'Long Haul Paul' rides to raise awareness of MSBy APRIL GUILMET
Union Leader Correspondent January 04. 2015 7:23PM
LONDONDERRY — Paul Pelland compares his life’s journey to an 11,000 mile, 11-day motorcycle rally he completed four years before being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Known by those in the cycling circuit as “the world’s toughest motorcycle competition,” the Ironbutt Rally isn’t for the faint of heart in the best of circumstances.
Adding to the challenges Pelland, who was in the midst of a painful divorce at the time, agreed to embark on his journey aboard a rickety Russian motorcycle.
Over the course of that fateful 2001 trip, Pelland’s bike broke down over 30 times, his engine blew out twice and he had to replace the motor several times.
“There were many stops at hardware stores along the way,” he said with a laugh. “But I made it.”
Four years later, doctors diagnosed Pelland, who had been experiencing ongoing bouts of cognitive difficulties and hand numbness, with MS.
He’d eventually come to draw many parallels between his Ironbutt trip and his daily struggles with the incurable neurological condition.
“There are days when you decide to go out for a walk, but the heat hits you and your body just won’t cooperate,” Pelland said. “So you get up, you start all over again.”
Two years ago, Pelland embarked on his longest journey to date: a million miles on the open road to raise MS awareness.
Though his days as a competitive motorcycle rider are over, he’s hoping to share his story and touch as many lives as possible along the way.
It took him several years to get back in the saddle. “When I was first diagnosed, I thought I’d never ride again,” said Pelland, who also opted to keep his condition private at first.
But after attending a speaking event for MS patients, Pelland had a change of heart and ultimately decided to head out for a quick ride on his motorcycle. “I went out for a pizza and ended up driving to Florida,” he said. “Over the course of three days, I realized that I could still ride and I loved doing it.”
Never looking back, Pelland started blogging his experiences on his website, www.longhaulpaul.com, and sharing his daily exploits of life on the road.
Over the past year, he’s spoken at over 100 events around the United States: both motorcycle rallies and gatherings for people living with MS.
“I’ve found that my story can benefit all kinds of people, no matter what struggles they may be going through in their lives,” Pelland said.
These days Pelland travels by motorcycle just about everywhere - whether he’s heading off to his job at a local nonprofit or taking a trip that’s considerably longer. His 2012 Yamaha already has over 60,000 miles on it.
A sign hanging in his kitchen reads, “It’s Not the Destination, It’s the Ride.” Pelland keeps a yellowed prescription for “moto-medicine” tucked in his wallet. His doctor’s advice is to “take one ride up to eight hours daily, as needed, for symptom relief. Apply liberally, frequently and refill tank.”
He’s learned to manage his symptoms through medication and wears a specialized cooling vest on days when the extreme heat would otherwise make two-wheeled travel too dangerous.
The vest, known as a CTC 100, uses thermoelectric waves to cool the body core. “It absolutely makes riding possible,” Pelland said.
Several days into the New Year, Pelland was already in the process of launching his latest project: the Silhouette 500. The interactive website gives riders the chance to plan out their respective 500-mile rides and share their experiences online.
Participant’s routes will be illustrated into specially-shaped “silhouettes,” and site visitors can vote for their favorite travelers, while donating funds towards MS research. Details on the yearlong fundraiser are available online at www.Silhouette500.org.
“Really, my whole goal here is to simply raise awareness,” Pelland said. “When you think of it, I’m getting a shot at living out my dreams….and I’m doing it because I have MS.”