Four Strangers Ride From Palms to Pines
By Christopher Nelson - 13 Aug 20
Genevieve walks along the outside of the abandoned military academy, searching for a gap between the rotting sheets of plywood that board the windows. The Elsinore Naval & Military Academy was an all-boys school that closed in 1977, and now it sits unloved on the edge of town, fenced in chain link and watched over by a groundskeeper who lives in an RV. Lore says the building is haunted—paranormal investigators have heard strange noises, were grabbed by phantoms, and even had conversations with spirits—but locals also believe that lurking in the depths of their town lake is a 100-foot-long, Loch Ness-like sea serpent named Elsie. Gen finds a split board, squints through, and yells, “I don’t see any ghosts!” Pat laughs as he bounces on the diving board that hangs above the drained pool, painted thick in graffiti, and he wonders aloud, “What did this place look like in its heyday?” Laurel isn’t listening, her face pressed flat against the blue plaster in the deep end, in conversation with a millipede. Neither is Jiro, who is too busy head-banging to Toto’s greatest hits, playing through the speakers of his all-black Indian Challenger.
They are four strangers on their way to Idyllwild, a charming artist community nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains, where the mayor of the town is a Golden Retriever named Max. They met for the first time just after dawn, brought together by The Bike Shed and Indian Motorcycle to model its collaborative clothing collection. They rode together for the first time on the infamous Ortega Highway, and after they stopped off at the supposedly haunted school.
They leave without seeing a ghost and ride some 500 feet before stopping at a roadside taco stand, where they wolf down anonymous meats in greasy tortillas and bond over “battle scar” stories, like Gen’s facial reconstructive surgery and Jiro’s near decapitation by a kite string. “I’m not sure what impresses me more: the injuries or the fact that everyone is so open and willing to talk,” Laurel says.
At stoplights they crack jokes, and they ride in a pack through charmless inland towns with adorable names like "Sun City" and "Green Acres,” with high winds and tumbleweeds trying to kill them. When they reach the mouth of State Route 247—the main road that runs through Idyllwild—Pat opens the throttle on his Indian FTR1200 and disappears from sight, his exhaust echoing through the mountains. Gen and Laurel play together on their Indian Scouts—leaning side by side in the curves and leapfrogging one another on the straights—and Jiro stretches out on his Challenger, bobbing his helmet to the rhythm of an esoteric ‘80s song.
The temperature drops as elevation climbs and the sun creeps behind snow-capped peaks, with the tendrils of daylight leaking through the pine forest and spilling onto the pavement ahead. The group pulls off at a gravel overlook to watch the pink sun sink into a tiny, faraway shimmer of ocean, and they stand with arms around each other, laughing like old friends.
The blue hour fades as the foursome rides into Idyllwild, shivering cold, and they wind through back roads until they findtheir evening accommodations: a geodesic dome that overlooks a fire-scarred valley of trees. As the sky darkens and fills with stars, Gen, Jiro, Laurel, and Pat change into robes and head out to the hot tub to warm their chilled bones and to cheers the day.
Jiro stands up, steaming and dripping wet, and he raises his drink to his new friends and says, “This is a little wolf pack, with a mixed bag of bikes, genders, backgrounds, and heights, that meshed smoothly and effortlessly as we hunted down creamy turns and good times, and shared laughs and memories.”
They soak until they prune, and they talk until sunrise because none of them want the day to end. “It’s a summer-camp energy we share, like we escaped from our parents and we’re off having an adventure on our own,” Gen says. “I can't believe this is my life, that I get to ride motorcycles through mountains, and stay in incredible places like this, and spend time with amazing people like Jiro, Laurel, and Pat. These are the memories I will keep and replay for the rest of my days.”