Group Therapy: Exploring America's Southwest
It’s 8:00 a.m. at CSC headquarters in Azusa, California. Kickstands clatter against their stops and our wheelhouse-boomer demographic group fires up their 250cc RX3s bound for the deserts of America’s Southwest. From the extreme eastern reaches of Texas to the next town over we’ve gathered to ride CSC’s Destination Deal Tour. The group leaves the Uplands, leans left onto the 15 North freeway and climb the cold, windy Cajone Pass.
CSC (California Scooter Company) custom-specs, then imports Zongshen motorcycles under their logo. And, they have their own way of enticing riders: Invite owners along for a tour. It’s about the doing, and in the friendships built on a shared passion.
We’ve lots of distance to cover on this tour so we pound out freeway miles to Topok, a bend in the Colorado River with a hamburger joint attached. Then a quick stop for ice-cream and a little burro-on-burro action in Oatman on old Route 66. The Riverside Bar inside the Colorado Belle Hotel in Laughlin, Nevada, has a live-band. Maybe I’ll have just one more of these harsh, straw-tasting IPAs.
After a few days of riding, our group is hurling tongue in cheek insults at each other on a regular basis, a sure sign that we are knitting into a team. I’ve finally learned everyone’s names and have set about mispronouncing them every chance I get.
Highway 89A traces the Vermillion cliffs through Arizona then crosses a vortex of tranquility at Marble Canyon. We gas up the Zongs and climb the back side of the Grand Canyon into Fredonia, rejoining 89 at the impossibly tidy town of Kanab, Utah. Zion National Park is our next stop.
Zion is a split-up point. Some riders head into Hurricane while Dan, Rob, Willie, Orlando and Vilma conned me into taking the park shuttle to a hiking canyon. I’m against any exercise as a rule, but 70-year-old Dan was going so I figured how hard could it be? It was only the most brutal, level concrete walkway ever. Rob and Dan skipped along like Olympic marathoners. After half a mile I was sure we were all going to die. I gave the hike up as a bad job so Willie, Vilma and Orlando walked back to the bus stop while we spoke of where the beef jerky was hidden and how to block the trail so Dan and Rob would be trapped in the canyon forever.
The CSC Destination Deal actually has a deal component, and I guess I should tell you the details; it’s one of the reasons I’m here. You buy a motorcycle, fly out to Azusa, California, ride with CSC for six days then they crate your bike and ship it free to anywhere in the Lower 48. They also don’t charge for assembling the bike or document fees. You’ll still have to pay your state taxes and registration, but you’d have to do that with any bike.
It was dark by the time we made it back to our motorcycles. Stock Zong headlights aren’t exactly powerful so most of the riders had auxiliary LED lights mounted. The group met for dinner at the BBQ place in Hurricane.
Rachel is midway between Ash Springs and Warm Springs on The Extraterrestrial Highway. It’s desolate, there’s a tired-looking UFO slung from the back of an aging tow truck and the A’Le’Inn restaurant. In this barren land I manage to find a waitress to annoy by removing the ketchup from another table.
Our stop for the night is the Tonopah Station Hotel and gambling casino. If you spin the dice-basket and get three of a kind, your room is free. We can’t decide if the odds are one in thirty-six or one in fifty-four million (none of us win a free room). Set into the side of a hill the wide hallways rise in three-step tiers, a child-sized, incredibly sad toilet sits in the lobby begging for a selfie. Sparsely attended, the casino blinks and clatters a desperate come-on. It’s a grand shambles of a hotel and just the kind of place I love to stay.
Dropping down from Beatty into Death Valley reveals the entire sweep of the valley in one instant. I catch my breath in the warm wind. The motorcycle purrs a soft thrum. Death Valley is a huge sink, falling into the earth at Badwater. Here’s where you realize it’s good to be alive and good to be on a motorcycle.
Further down the road, the bulk of the group heads off to Dante’s Peak, but I’ve got business at Stovepipe Wells. The power is out at the gas station. The big glass coolers are swaddled in yellow police crime scene tape. Ice chests full of cold drinks line the dark aisles. A guy from San Francisco on a BMW pulls up needing gas. The hum of a faraway generator rides in on a breeze.
I’m riding alone, finally. Group riding is fun, but you can’t get much thinking done. At Furnace Creek I top up the Zong. There’s a golf course behind the pro shop where there’s a little store with snacks and sodas. All warm.
It was getting late. I knew I’d better head for Shoshone where we’d agreed to meet at the end of the day. After Badwater the road gets lonely. And I hadn’t seen the guys for hours. I don’t have my normal travel tool kit, so I can’t even fix a flat. The horrible-imaginables start, “What if I break down? Why didn’t I bring my tools?” Group riding is making me lax, I’m getting foolish.
The guys pull into Shoshone about an hour and one five-dollar Dos Equis after I do. It’s our last night together. We sit around one of those auto-light, gas-powered campfires telling tales of the road and drinking beer.
On the final melancholy run back to Azusa our group breaks up. Layton heads to Folsom, Willie goes to his mansion nearby, Dan starts loading his bike, Rob, Orlando, Vilma, and Gary just kind of filter away. Seems like I make my best friends on motorcycles. I hope to see the guys again one day.
All of the riders on this run own other, bigger motorcycles; to a man they said they liked riding the little 250cc Zongs better. It’s more fun not having to fight the weight and worry about the expense of a big bike. No one asked for a faster, heavier motorcycle, in fact, the motorcycle was just the river we floated on for six days together. CSC has nearly zero budget for promotions so their hands on, customers as friends approach works for them. I had a blast riding with this crew.
Joe Gresh started riding motorcycles at 12 years old on a Briggs & Stratton mini bike. Flash forward and he’s served a 10-year stint at Motorcyclist Magazine as a regular columnist and feature writer. Most of his seven motorcycles don’t run and they can’t seem to keep their headlights lit, but that doesn't seem to impact their desirability in his eyes.