Archive for June, 2009

Build It and They Will Come

June 22, 2009

By Ed Chasteen

             This field of dreams is in Iowa. Iowa County. Wisconsin! Alex Jordan built what was to be his private retreat. Where he could go and be alone to study and think about art. His passion. A few friends came to visit. They told their friends. Carloads of people started coming. And kept coming

            He began to charge admission and use the money to build more buy more art. More people came. He built and bought. Like Topsy the place grew. Fired by his scatter-shot imagination, his building and buying went in all directions. Eclectic is too limited a word to describe the lack of theme found here. Every human sense is engaged and assaulted.

            The House on the Rock. That name gives no hint of what’s in store. It belies the sensory overload and the overwhelming of all conventional understandings that live here.

            No matter how far you’ve traveled or how much you’ve seen, you have never seen anything like the House on the Rock. So says a sign I see at the House. I found no reason to disagree.


First Day of Summer Ride, Saturday, June 20, 2009

June 22, 2009

By Ed Chasteen

             Must be a dozen or so bike-friendly routes from Liberty to Smithville, winding, hilly roads everywhere. Several of the 20 riders who show up at Biscari’s this morning at 7:30 have ridden various ones. And when we all get to breakfast at Lowman’s shortly after 9, we discover that we’ve not all followed the emailed directions I sent to everyone earlier in the week. Twenty-five miles by the route I’d planned, some found a shorter way of about 20.

            Six first-time riders show up this morning. Roberta Lowman has reserved the big round table in the no-smoking section for us. We join two smaller tables to it. Pitchers of ice water and glasses await us. Our waitress comes quickly. She fulfills her mission with dispatch and good humor. Our food is soon set before us. We swap stories of family, friends, jobs, the road, summer plans. Biking to breakfast whets the appetite razor sharp. And not just for food. The news of our lives flies around the table. Knowing that our time at table is short and the lure of the open road on our bicycle strong, gives our time together an ethereal quality not usually found on ordinary days.

            Around the table this morning sit Dan, Graham, Lyle, Frank, Monte, Tony, Mike, Petra, Lela, Deb, Mendy, Seth, Steve, David, Diana, Rodger, Ed. Louie, Steve and Craig we’re with us at Biscari’s to start our ride. But for different reasons could not be here in person for breakfast.

            Every Saturday morning we bike to breakfast. Everyone who hears about us is welcome. Go to for our schedule and stories about our rides

The Usual

June 8, 2009

By Ed Chasteen


            No Interstates come anywhere near these places. An eclectic assortment of vehicles travels these roads: bicycles, motorcycles, horse-drawn Amish buggies, farm machinery of all shapes and sizes, 18-wheelers bringing goods and groceries; taking tons of corn to market, pickup trucks with work to do down these gravel side roads.

            At the intersection of J-40 and V-64 in Van Buren County, two buildings sit on opposite sides of the road kitty-corner from each other. Neither draws attention. No sign stands in front or above either. The bigger building is the Amish school where some 30 children learn basic reading, writing and arithmetic. The smaller building has a small sign lettered in black on the glass door: Lebanon Store Junction Café 1-319-397-2447.

            Two hours up I-35 from Liberty and two hours east on Iowa 2 has brought son, Brain, and me to Bonaparte Inn B&B, our home for four nights while we Bike The Villages of Van Buren. For 27 years now from Keosaquah, the county seat of Van Buren County, a ride by this name has occurred. I have come many times. But Brian and I cannot come together then, so now we come in early June for our own variation on a theme. Using their maps, we expand the ride and double the miles. Bonaparte, Bentonsport, Keosaquah, Pittsburg, Lebanon, Cantril, Leando-Douds, Birmingham, Selma, Milton, Vernon, Stockport, Farmington, Mount Sterling: collectively, the Villages of Van Buren. Not very big. Not far apart. Some along the banks of the Des Moines River. Steep climbs and rolling hills to reach the others.

            Our second day we come to Junction Café. No cars or people about. Brian and I take booth #3. Deb, owner, waitress and cook, takes our order. Grilled cheese sandwich and ice tea for me. Oatmeal  and ice tea for Brian. One other patron comes in the hour we spend.

            Cantril is our destination today, to visit Dutchman our goal. The heart of the Amish community, this little village and this giant store draw folks from afar. The Jalipino Eggs in a jar and the Vanilla Peaches pique my interest. Bundles of work gloves, bins of seeds to plant, hanging baskets of flowers to buy! Dutchman has it all. And the people have come to get it. Brian stands in line to buy three bananas and a pair of socks.

            Our third day we miss a turn coming out of Keosaquah and climb a monster hill to Pittsburg, its boarded up General Store off to our right and a view of the river back behind at a distance through the trees. We find ourselves at mid-morning back at Junction Café, seated again at #3. When Deb comes, I order “the usual. “And you want oatmeal?” She asks Brian.  Deb has worked here 10 years. Owned the place for four. Open seven days a week for breakfast and lunch. “Tough now, she says, “sometimes I have more bills than customers.”

            Croton does not appear on the Villages of Van Buren map we carry. But when Brian and I come across an inviting road coming out of Farmington and running along the river, we want to know where it goes. Five miles later we come to a modest monument announcing “Croton, site of the fartherest north battle of the Civil War, August 5, 1861” Two hundred yards later brings us to the boarded up General Store. Just beyond, the road turns to gravel and we turn around.

            On this road a couple miles out of Farmington on our way to Croton, we had seen two concrete walls parallel to one another, each about a foot thick, eight feet apart, six feet high and 12 feet long. Lettered on the end of the wall facing the road: HORSE WASH. As we ride back to Farmington, two beautiful horses stand between these walls, one tied to either side. A middle age man and woman are spraying both horses with jets of water and wiping them down with something from a bottle.

            Up the road a little piece, we stop our bikes to gaze at a pasture full of horses, big and tiny. Mares and foals! Two dozen mares and as many tiny horses shadowing them on spindly legs. A little later over all-you-can-eat catfish at the Bridge Café in Farmington, Brian is talking to Maura back in Kansas City on his cell phone and mentions the mares and foals. Maura’s brother is a large animal vet in Philadelphia. He has told her, she says, that horses have their young in May. And we’re here to see them on June 5, a sight that those who come to the official Villages of Van Buren Bike Ride can never see.

            Too early yet to plan next year’s ride. But odds are we’ll do the usual.

Three Times

June 6, 2009

By Ed Chasteen


            Rain, fog, snow, ice, bone-chilling cold: so most every Saturday since Christmas had dawned in our town. But not today! Saturday, May 30, 2009! Our 7th Annual Greater Liberty Ride for MS. Light enough by 5:30 this morning to take a few spins around the parking lot on my new bike. Well, not wholly new. New tires and tubes, new chain, new chain-ring, new handlebar wrapping. And Dave cleaned everything. Not a speck of dirt or grease anywhere.

            Only Rick is here when I drive up right at 5. He stands in front of the bike shop. Bob comes soon, then Dave and Alex. The last three are Biscari Brothers, owners of the bike shop that bears their name and hosts our annual ride. Pickups and vans roll up. Tents and tables go up. Cars carrying bikes of all descriptions! The parking lot fills. Scattered raindrops fall about 6:30. By starting time at 7, sun breaks through. And we’re off. Riding east into a glorious morning.

            Four hundred riders I’m expecting, more by better than half than we’ve had before. This year for the first time the Missouri Farm Bureau has partnered with us. McDonald’s and Price Chopper have for our previous six annual rides supplied all our food and beverage needs. The Farm Bureau this year is soliciting monetary sponsors, staffing our rest stops, handling registration, cooking and serving hot dogs and burgers after the ride in the food tent they set up here in the parking lot, and coordinating everything and everybody.

            Our planning committee has met on many Monday evenings since early February to plan today’s ride. For about 90 minutes each time we worked it out. Route, cost, raffle, SAGs, rest stops (location and number), food, safety, publicity, T-shirts, goody bags, permits, and a host of other details. The MS Society and the Kansas City Bicycle Club let us use their equipment. Lowe’s and Sutherland’s donated road marking paint.

            Now we ride. The two routes travel the same road for the first few miles. Across the parking lot over to Brown Street. Turn right. Then right again at the Library. Over to Withers and turn left. Then left on Holt to Birmingham Road. Right on Birmingham to Ruth Ewing. Left on Ruth Ewing, across 291 Highway and bend right onto Liberty Landing Road to Old 210. Left on old 210. First rest stop where old 210 meets new 210. Right on new 210. Then at the top of the Missouri City hill, the 38-mile route turns left onto Stillhouse Road and goes to Excelsior Springs. The 70-mile route continues on 210 to Richmond.

            My son, Brian, and I take the Stillhouse turn and ride to Excelsior Springs. Slow as I am, some of the 70-mile riders will have ridden to Richmond and made their way back to Excelsior Springs before we get there. This is the second rest stop for the 38-mile route and the fifth for the 70. I had announced by email that we would raffle the three new bikes and dinners for two at HIGH NOON. Brian and I head back to Liberty about 9:45. We’ll be back well before noon. But my legs turn to rubber in the hills and wind and the warmest day yet this year. It’s 12:30 when we roll in. We raffle at 1.

            “How many riders did we have?” That’s my first question. “A hundred eighty-two.” Someone says. And I think of a line from a poem I learned in college: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” And this is heaven. Not just this day itself. But everything that led up to this day and now will come after. The planning of it. The doing of it. And now forever in my mind as I reflect on it. Heaven! Three times!!!

            A little bit of heaven this day has been for another reason. My church, Second Baptist here in Liberty, just got a new pastor. His first day with us was Easter Sunday. His wife’s mother, Beth Scarborough, came to visit. I met Beth. And learned she was diagnosed with MS in 1998. We talked. I told her about our annual Greater Liberty Ride for MS. I promised to do something special for her.

            This is it. I rode our Greater Liberty Ride for MS this year in Beth’s honor. I will ride the MS Ride this September for Beth. I knew in the instant of our meeting that Beth lives above and beyond whatever the condition that prompted the cane in her hand. Joy is visible in her face. Her bearing is that of a victor, one at peace with life, at ease in her own skin and with other people. I suspect Beth will journey often from Waco to Liberty in the years just ahead. I find that a most pleasant thought.

            Blessings upon all of you who rode and all who worked to make the ride possible.