The struggle was real. It’d been weeks since I’d seen the sun and the grey of another cloudy day made me moody as the weather. To make matters worse, a 2019 Suzuki SV650X with a full tank and a new exhaust sat in the garage gathering dust. Apparently Mother Nature knew I was itching to test out the Lextek SP8C Hex Slip-On I’d mounted on the SV so she kindly sent storm system after storm  into the Pacific Northwest. I know I’m not the only one who gets a little irritable if they don’t get to ride for a while, a wicked cocktail of funk mixed with restlessness, shaken and stirred into a martini glass of agitation.

But there’s an eye in even the strongest of storms and the weatherman gave me a glimmer of hope when he said the next day there’d be a quick break in the weather before the next tempest swept in from the ocean. I was running out of windows of opportunity to test the new exhaust and get some final riding impressions on the SV650X before the test bike had to go back to Suzuki, so I rolled the dice and decided to make a run to the Avenue of the Giants, a grove of redwoods so regal they eclipse the sky. From monstrous trees you can literally drive a car through to the famous “one-log house,” there’s just enough kitsch sprinkled in to the natural wonders to make it worth gambling against the weather so I threw my camera and rain gear into a backpack and plotted a 450 mile road trip on the Suzuki.

The morning sun shone through the clouds like a lighthouse beacon. I hadn’t even hopped on the bike yet but the blues and hues had already lifted the veils of discontent, as did the prospect of a good ride. The first 80-mile stretch that shoots over to the coast is fittingly called Redwood Highway. The road cuts through thick forests of evergreens and an earthy, mossy freshness filled my helmet soon as I set out. One advantage of riding to the redwoods in January was no traffic and good fortune smiled upon me as I got the run through Smith River Gorge to myself, something that happens once in a blue moon. With no hindrances to forward motion, I tapped into the SV’s torquey Twin freely. The Lextek slip-on leveled out flat spots in the Suzuki’s powerband and the throttle was ultra-responsive as I throttled through the canyon. I connected corners with short bursts of power and the merits of the light and agile SV650X shone brightly in the twists and bends to the coast.

A wooden “Redwood National and State Parks” sign just south of Crescent City let me know I was heading the right direction. Highway 101 followed the shoreline as earthly giants crowded the road every now and again. Just out of town winter rains had caused a landslide and 101 knuckled down to one lane. Seemed like I was barely rolling when the road closed to one lane again, this time courtesy of construction. No sooner did I finally feel the flow than I was stopping again, victim of the campiness of the roadside attraction called Trees of Mystery and its larger-than-life folk heroes Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Where else would a 50-foot-tall Bunyan call home than in stands of some of the tallest trees in the land.

Continuing south, blue and white “Tsunami Zone” signs popped up every now and again in low-lying areas, reminders of the tempestuous forces which shape the coastline.  As the highway headed upward and away from the coast, four of the biggest bull elk I’d ever seen stood roadside. I slowed to a crawl and rode the opposite shoulder, one part precautionary, one part wanting a picture.  One of the bulls locked eyes with me, the beast all neck and massive rack, and in that glare I knew this was his territory. Visions of a photo op quickly dashed out of my head. I learned my lesson about stopping on a motorcycle around big game a couple years back thanks to a bison in Yellowstone, but that’s another story.

Founders Grove, my hiking destination in the Avenue of the Giants, was still almost 75 miles away and the swift grey clouds coming in from the Pacific were getting thicker and more clustered. Highway 101 flattened out as it fed into Eureka so I opened up the SV and tried to make time. The note of the Lextek exhaust drummed deeper and richer at highway speeds than the old stock pipe and overall the Suzuki danced livelier across its powerband. A buzz crept into the clip-ons when rpm climbed in the upper register as the character of the Twin carried to the bars.

Avenue of the Giants runs parallel to Highway 101 for 31 miles as it winds through 51,000 acres of redwood groves. The byway cuts through tunnels of trees and fern-lined forests as trails splinter off the road. Even though it’s not raining there’s a dampness to air that’s almost sweet. The turn for Founders Grove is a few miles in and there were only a handful of cars in the parking lot. Not surprisingly, the SV was the lone motorcycle.

The redwoods are so massive that they live in three climatic zones at the same time. The biggest redwoods can release up to 500 gallons of water in the air per-day and the trees create their own microclimate through the transpiration of moisture from their needles to the atmosphere. While the lowest zone is cool, damp and shady, it can be dry and windy at the tops of the trees at the very same time.

Not far along the path, a redwood bares the blackened scars of past fires. Almost half of its base has been hollowed out to form a natural tunnel yet still the tree stands strong. The thick bark of the redwoods is legendary. The forest tells a timeless tale of seeds sprouting through rich soil, then fighting for its place in the sun and its rightful place in the land of the giants, chronicling the annals of time in its rings as it grows before finally falling to a thunderous death and starting the cycle anew. A redwood reportedly takes 400 years or more before it fully decays and a downed tree can have over 4,000 species living on it. At 346 feet tall, standing beneath Founders Tree can take your breath away. It’s lived through the rise and fall of empires, weathered natural disasters and survived cataclysmic events. Its roots run deep. I touched the tree hoping it’d impart the wisdom of a 1,000 years on me. The wind carried answers in a tongue I did not speak. I walked back down the path humbled.

Hidden above the canopy of trees, the clouds had gathered into a blanket. Sundown was hours away but the horizon was already dull and grey. I fired the SV650X back up and hopped on 101 north. The storm the weatherman said would sweep in that evening was a little ahead of schedule and though I had the Suzuki revved up to the 90’s I lost the bet. I pulled over and layered up when the first drops hit which is a good thing because they only got bigger as the flood gates opened. The last three hours was a slog-fest, the type of ride where you just have to dig in and embrace the suck. To my good fortune, the SV650X was solid as a rock and its Dunlop Road Smart III tires performed admirably in the wet. The last second decision to wear my Icon Variant Pro Ascension Helmet also played in my favor as its design disperses water well. The Suzuki’s stock headlight left me wanting in some corners, but I arrived home soggy and safe. And even though I rolled the dice against January weather in northern California and southern Oregon and came up snake eyes, I’d go all in again tomorrow given the chance.