A prism penetrates the black of night, the solitary beacon ushering sailors to safe harbor through swirling storms. Lighthouses line the tempestuous Oregon coast, 11 in all, and have guided maritime travelers through dangerous sandbars and rock-strewn shores for over a century. Waves are big and currents are strong and navigating the narrow channels into safe harbors is perilous passage. The crew of the J.A. Chanslor knows this truth all too well. The oil tanker struck a rock off the shore of Cape Blanco and sunk to the briny depths of the Pacific in 1919 and of the 39 people onboard, only three lived to tell the tale.

CVO’s are the finest vessels in the Harley-Davidson fleet. With its “Sand Dune” paint job, the 2020 CVO Street Glide has the air of a battleship. It’s 117 cubic-inch Milwaukee-Eight engine is the biggest powerplant you’ll find in a production Harley and with each twist of its responsive throttle riders are rewarded with waves of torque. The need to put some miles on the CVO Street Glide was all the impetus I needed to dial up my buddy Kurt and chart a course for the Oregon coast. Kurt’s got a fine road-going vessel in its own right, a custom Pearl White Road Glide, so we met bright and early, powered up with some strong Dutch Bros brew, and set out on our merry way.

Between the cush of its leather seat and relaxed ergonomics, I feel like the captain of a ship in the saddle of the CVO as we barrel down Redwood Highway on our way to the coast. Evergreens crowd the narrow corridor as it cuts through dense forest and the air is piney and fresh thanks to recent rain. The road is two-way for the most part, but passing lanes pop up every now and then, giving us an opportunity to let Harley’s big baggers stretch their legs. Collier Tunnel, a 2,000-foot-long incandescent tube that cuts through Hazel View Mountain, is filled with the bellowing symphony of big V-Twins on the gas as we rumble through, the beat both audible and palpable. The road soon ambles through scenic Smith River Gorge. To our left, the fast-moving river rolls over rocks as the canyon narrows and the road hugs the mountain in a series of blind 15-mph turns. Guardrails bear the scars of drivers who have challenged these curves and lost. The CVO Street Glide is rock-steady as we gear down and wind our way through the tight turns. Erring on the side of caution is sage advice through this stretch. Before long we pass by Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park, one of the northernmost stands of old growth redwoods, the roadside giants seemingly breaching the gap between earth and sky.

The road kicks out on the coast at Highway 101 so we head north toward Brookings, the first town over the California/Oregon border. Pelican Bay Lighthouse sits discretely on a bluff overlooking the Port of Brookings. Barely over two stories tall, it is one of Oregon’s newest lighthouses and is privately owned. From the street, the lighthouse is almost unnoticeable as it sits behind a big garage. Below it, boats moored in the harbor bob with the tide and a hodge-podge of restaurants and curios shops line the boardwalk of a small entertainment district. Sitting on private property, you can’t tour Pelican Bay Lighthouse like you can some of the others, so we fire the bikes back up and head north on 101.

Outside Brookings the highway is a roller coaster of elevation changes and big sweepers. The CVO Street Glide powers up grades with ease and flows gracefully through the big turns. Passing lanes are spaced enough to keep the pace spirited. The highway drops down to rocky beaches and a salty breeze from crashing waves fills the air. The sets are big as a storm churns offshore, and though the weather man predicted rain we’ve been graced with mild temps and dry roads. Hiking trails splinter off the beaten path to gems like Natural Bridge and Whaleshead Beach as the forest and ocean intersect. The Oregon coastline is raw and untamed. Between Gold Beach and Port Orford stretches of the highway are rough, a combination of fractured pavement and sunken grades. Slides are a given along this stretch during the winter months and it’s a constant struggle to maintain the road.

Cape Blanco Lighthouse is nine miles north of Port Orford and there’s a couple patches of broken pavement on the road leading to it, but the CVO’s suspension is stout, traction is good and the motorcycle’s composed. The lighthouse sits high above the shoreline on a grassy knoll and beaches stretch for miles on both sides. Rising above the horizon, its white-turreted tower and adjacent red-roofed keepers’ quarters is post-card perfect. Tall grasses dance in the steady breeze blowing in from offshore. Cape Blanco Lighthouse holds four Oregon records. It is the oldest continuously operating light, is the most westerly, has the highest focal plane above the sea at 256 feet, and was home to Oregon’s first woman keeper, Mabel E. Bretherton, in 1903. Unlike Pelican Bay, you can take a tour of Cape Blanco Lighthouse courtesy of the spiral staircase inside. As much as I would have liked to have taken the tour, we still have a long ride ahead, so we hop on the bikes and continue up the coast.

Highway 101 is pretty much a straight shot between Port Orford and Bandon as it heads inland a bit. We’ve been riding for hours and my stomach tells me my tank is empty. Bandon has a quaint section called Old Town, a touristy little area right on the Coquille River waterfront. Our next stop, Coquille River Lighthouse, sits on a point across the river, so we make a pit stop at Fish & Chips Chowder House in Bandon’s Old Town to fill our bellies. Nothing like a big bowl of fresh clam chowder and some of the tastiest fish and chips around to warm the soul on a blustery day.

Coquille River Lighthouse sits at the end of a small peninsula called Bullards Beach State Park. Waves are crashing against a rocky jetty that juts out into the ocean and seagulls are surfing the winds whipping overhead as we pull into the parking lot. The 40-foot lighthouse was built in 1895 to help guide ships across the dangerous bar at the entrance to the Coquille River. The lighthouse sat abandoned for 24 years, left to the will of the weather and the ill intentions of vandals until Bullards Beach State Park was created and the lighthouse restored. The sun peeks out from behind the clouds and bathes the soft yellow building in bright light. At the Coquille River Lighthouse I learn that each lighthouse has its own signature flashing pattern which allowed ships to identify where they were based on the pattern. The Coquille River Lighthouse’s signature was a beam of white light 28 seconds long, followed by two seconds off. It also had a fog trumpet that sounded for five seconds every half minute. Little did I know this ride came with a history lesson.

Leaving Bandon, clouds grow greyer and thicker as we make our way to Umpqua River Lighthouse. The temperature drops a few degrees, the swing enough to make me click on the CVO Street Glide’s heated hand grips. The motorcycle’s Milwaukee-Eight 117 has been impressing me all day, not only because of its undeniable power, but by how smoothly the engine runs. It’s also one of the most comfortable motorcycles around, aptly suited for logging long miles without feeling beat down.

The original Umpqua River Lighthouse became the first lighthouse on the Oregon coast when its Fresnel lens illuminated in 1857. Unfortunately, they built it on a slope at the north end of the river’s mouth and the combination of a coastal gale and flooded river damaged its foundation in 1861. A few years later it came crashing down. The next lighthouse was built further inland on a headland above the mouth of the river, where it is the farthest away from a river or ocean of all the lighthouses along the Oregon Coast. The Umpqua River Lighthouse still uses an old Fresnel lens that sends out unique red and white flashes over the horizon. Across the street from the current lighthouse is the Umpqua Whale Watching Station complete with binoculars for spotting whale spouts at sea.

Before making the run back home, we top off in nearby Reedsport. Even though the 2020 CVO Street Glide has the Milwaukee-Eight 117, it got better gas mileage than my buddy’s 103 with the Screamin’ Eagle Stage 4 Kit because he’s almost bone dry and I still have about a quarter of a tank. The forecasted rain finally began to fall, but luckily I threw a set of rain gear in the saddlebag before setting out. Of course, I roll the dice and don’t throw it on until I’m pretty well soaked, rationalizing it’d clear once we head inland. I guessed wrong. We pull over at Dean Creek elk viewing area just outside Reedsport and I suit up. To our good fortune a small herd of elk are feeding in the field, the natural roadside attraction making it worth the stop.

A steady rain falls as we head east along OR-38 along the Umpqua River. The fairing of the CVO Street Glide provides a bit of shelter and now I’m even more thankful for the heated grips. Hillsides are painted in amazing oranges, reds and yellows, the fall colors doubly magnificent as they reflect off the river. Mist hovers above the hills and weaves its way between the treetops. Monet himself couldn’t have painted a more picturesque landscape.

Jumping onto I-5 for the last blast home, the sun is setting behind the mountains we just crossed as it embarks on its journey across the Pacific. With the onset of darkness I’m grateful for the punch and spread of the Daymaker Adaptive LED Headlamps which allow me to see far into the corners. Kurt and I open up the Harley baggers as we hustle over the trio of passes between us and home. The CVO Street Glide is smooth and collected through big sweepers and holds fast on its edges in tighter turns. There’s something special about charging through turns on a big bagger, a sense of mass in motion and a thumbing of the nose at the laws of physics you just don’t get from other bikes. We pull into town as the last glimmer of sun disappears behind the mountain, the exhilaration of the last rush into town reflecting in the stupid grins on our faces.