Memory Full

Story by Jeff Davison// Photos by Jeff Davison
May 28 2024

Riding the Northern Pacific Coast Highway.

It had been a long time coming. Fifteen years ago, I set out to ride the Pacific Coast Highway, but mechanical problems had collided with my timeline and, while I successfully experienced L.A. to San Francisco, I was forced to skip the Oregon Coast in favour of a more efficient Interstate 5. Now, at long last, I was back — this time on a long-term test ride of the then all-new Suzuki V-Strom 800DE — and I was excited not only to put Suzette through her paces but also to finally finish what I’d started.

I found my trail exactly where I left it: north of the Golden Gate Bridge. There, the PCH rolled through Sausalito, a seaside town that had intrigued me since I was a teen and Diesel’s road-tripping anthem, Sausalito Summernight, played on constant rotation. The serpentine road eventually led me to John Muir Woods National Monument, where I wandered under earth’s tallest living thing: an old-growth forest of coastal redwoods. I could have been on another planet.

At Point Reyes, a winding side road led to KPH, the last ship-to-shore radio station on the West Coast. Its long lane ran beneath a tunnel of cypress trees which served as a necessary windbreak. Rounding Tomales Bay and riding through the tiny settlement of Marshall, I noticed a row of restaurants advertising their daily catch of oysters.

Scenic Distractions

Inland, the road meandered through ranches and fragrant groves of eucalyptus, where frequent signs welcomed me into villages with three-digit populations. Surfers glided along cresting waves near Bodega Bay and, halfway up the cliffs, traffic funneled around road crews working to repair sections where the outside lane had slid down the mountain. Navigating tight turns that clung to sheer cliffs was not for the easily spooked, but the jaw-dropping views were worth any white knuckles.

I was so thoroughly enjoying the moxie of the 776-cc parallel twin that, as I stood filling the 20-litre tank, only a couple of minor niggles came to mind. First, the engine seemed to throw a lot of heat, and second, it required premium fuel (90+ octane) which I thought might be inconvenient for RTW travel where decent fuel of any grade could sometimes be scarce. That and the extra 20 to 30 cents per litre.

Highway 1 with its official PCH designation, ended at Leggett, Calif., where I seized the opportunity to ride through the base of an ancient redwood, the Chandelier Tree. While hollowing out such a monument would be unthinkable by today’s environmentally conscious standards…

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