By Ed Chasteen
Their quest for peace and justice drew the 22 of them together from across America and three other countries. From San Francisco they set out in mid-June, bound for Washington, DC in late August. On Tuesday, July 23 they arrived in Kansas City, where they were housed for two nights by seven different faith communities: Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh. Hosts and riders came on Wednesday night to the Human Family Reunion at William Jewell College, where, in recognition of their impossible dream, each rider and each host was given the Don Quixote Award.
Received by the City of Kansas City, Missouri at 9 o’clock Thursday morning on the steps of City Hall, riders were lauded by city officials and interviewed by the media, then ushered through city streets by police motorcycles to begin our 60 mile trek to homes for the night in Warrensburg.
Precisely on schedule at 6 PM Thursday evening, the last of us arrive at the old train station, now the Chamber of Commerce in Warrensburg. By ones, twos and threes we are assigned homes in town and whisked away by our hosts. Long conversations over great food and sleep of the innocent fuel us for our early departure to Sedalia. A police car escorts us from the edge of town to First Baptist Church, our home for Friday night.
Melvin Kerr has again this year arranged our place for the night and dinner. At three o’clock, Melvin takes us to a hundred or so eager children at the Boys and Girls Club. They’re fascinated by the sight of our bikes and our tales from the road. Bev and Bill Chapman have again planned our evening. Opening night for their community theater. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Laughter soothes tired bodies.
Our second night together on the road. Bicycles ring the room. Hard, sun-toned bodies stretch out on bags beneath basketball goals on a gymnasium floor. Sleeping idealism soon will rouse. With first light early risers will carry their bikes up the long flight of stairs to the street and search their way through the not-yet-quite-light of early dawn through the town to the bicycle trail that will take us to our next home for the night some 80 miles away.
With the sun on this late July Missouri day comes triple digit heat and stifling humidity. Riders fight a barely winning battle to take in more water than they lose, a Niagara of sweat replenished by a fresh water ocean strapped to their backs and caged in bottles on their bikes.
Riding the Katy Trail from Sedalia to Jefferson City adds more than 20 miles in distance but eliminates the hills and the traffic. But we arrive on the wrong side of the Missouri River. The bridge has no bike lane. It’s nearing 6 o’clock when the last of us arrive and our police escort can lead us over. We’re late for the dinner prepared by CURE-Christians United for Racial Equity. Our tardiness is no problem. Good food and cold drink in giant quantity await. Then we all share stories of the better world we see and struggle to make real. Then to bed next door at the YMCA.
Highway 94 and the Katy Trail parrallel each other most of the way from Jefferson City to St. Louis. The trail is shady and flat, but the surface is softer than the road and rough in places. The road is hard and hot and mostly flat, but here and there climbs out of the river valley up and down long hills. Marthasville sits to either side of the trail about 60 miles east of Jeff City and is our destination for this Sunday night.
“What time is it?” Mike asks. “Ten thirty,” I say. “They begin services at eleven.” Mike is pointing to a church sign off to our left in a little town. We’re riding 94. “We were passing by and wanted to come to church,” I say as we enter the sanctuary where an older adults class is meeting. They welcome us and want to hear our story. When services end at noon, a kind woman gives us money for lunch and tells us of a café in the next town seven miles away.
With no appointed time to arrive and no program planned for tonight, today’s ride has no urgency, and the last of us arrive shortly before dark. Four years running we have stayed here in the community center just beside the trail. What gracious hosts. Dinner is waiting. After an air conditioned night sprawled in sleeping bags on the floor breakfast comes.
At last an overcast day. And a tail wind. The trail runs another 35 miles and ends in St. Charles. But the new plan is to leave the trail at Matson and take 94 into St. Louis. Tonight our ride across Missouri will end with an overnight stay at the Herbert Hoover Boy’s and Girl’s Club in a derelict section of abandoned factories.
Dale Ahle will pick me up, and we will drive back to Liberty. After a rest day in St. Louis, the Bike-Aid riders will head for D.C. They arrive on August 18 and will meet with their Congressional Representatives to share with them the picture of America they have developed in their nine-week ride across the country.
Brian and I miss the Matson exit. So do three women riders. We are almost in St. Charles and decide to continue. We’re starving. We find a pizza place. We call to let the others know where we are. The last of the boys and girls go home at five o’clock and the noise level in the Club drops dramatically. We are all in by seven. Dale is coming for me at eight.
Suddenly I’m surrounded by riders. Someone has a pie. Another has a half-gallon of Bryer’s Vanilla Ice Cream. All during our five days across Missouri, riders would come up to me. “Do you have a story for me?” They would ask. I did. I told them. But why were they asking? I was glad they were. But such constant requests for stories had never happened before.
Bryer’s Ice Cream was one story. I had told them that I’m usually too excited and too busy at our Human Family Reunions to eat. So when it’s over, I go home and eat a whole half-gallon of Bryer’s Vanilla Ice Cream.
I had told stories to them about riding my bicycle alone and without money from Orlando to Seattle to LA, looking for that spark of goodness and genius I see in all people. I had told them about starting HateBusters when a Klansman was elected to the Louisiana Legislature and being invited by the governor to come help the state redeem itself.
I had told them about the protesters who came with hate signs when a black speaker was invited to William Jewell College. I didn’t want anyone to think I agreed with them. I made myself a sign and joined them. My sign said, “THESE GUYS ARE NUTS”. The crowd started to laugh. The protesters got in their cars and left.
When several of the riders invite me to ride on with them to Washington, I know that during our week together we have become friends. These idealistic and naïve good people have recognized our kinship. When people tell me that I am naïve I say “Thank you. I mean to be. If someone isn’t, all of us might quit believing in the goodness of people and the virtues of loyalty and fairness. I choose to believe. And to act out of that belief.”
Dale comes. I hug everyone I can reach. Brian wheels my bike out to Dale’s van. We have been on the road a while when Dale asks, “Did anyone ask you to tell them a story this week?”
“YES! How did you know?
“I told the two girls who stayed with Julie and me. I told them Ed knows some great stories you need to hear. Ask him.”