Day 43: Monday, August 3, 1981
Manhattan to Perry: 68 miles
There was no mail for us at the Manhattan post office. Jack's wife Lena had sent the Bikecentennial maps for Pueblo-to-Ste. Genevieve to Jack in Granby, but we had missed them there. Jack put in a forwarding order to Manhattan, but they never arrived. Perhaps they went to Manhattan, New York. We didn't really need them for the trip, since we've been off the Bikecentennial route, but Jack didn't want to lose them.
Wamego is 15 miles east of Manhattan. John runs the alfalfa dehydrator there. Back in 1969, we were two of the 18 members of Squadron 1, Flight 1 of Officer Trainee class 69-05 at Lackland AFB.
Jack and I stopped to say hi to John. He gave us a two-hour tour of the plant. There's a lot more to drying alfalfa than meets the eye. The farmers harvest the alfalfa and let it dry in the sun. Then they pick it up, chop it a bit, and haul it to the plant, where the moisture content is lowered from 50% to 15% in a gas-fired tumbler-type dryer. Hammer mills then pulverize the alfalfa, and moisture is added to the "flour" so it can be formed into pellets. The pellets can be fed directly to animals, or they may be bought by other companies to make other feeds or even kitty litter. The plant also produces a corn-alfalfa pellet which is fed to livestock. Because the operation is so energy-intensive (electric and gas bills are about $10,000/month each), the utility rate structure plays a large part in governing operating procedures.
John took us out to the Wamego airport for a look at his Cessna 120. It's the same type of plane as the one I was working on a few years ago in Albion, and really looks sharp. John left the natural aluminum finish, and it's a lot of work to keep it polished.
It was noon by the time we left Wamego. US 24 into Lawrence is mostly two-lane and is heavily traveled, especially east of Topeka where it parallels the Kansas Toll Road. Some trucks use the route to avoid paying tolls; others are forbidden from traveling on interstate highways by crazy ICC regulations. Although we used the old road as much as we could, we couldn't avoid the new road for the majority of the distance. Skirting Topeka, we passed several huge grain elevators; just one of them had a capacity of over 11 million bushels!
Jack had had some good times in Topeka 40-odd years ago, and was interested in seeing the downtown area again. But we didn't find a campsite until we were 20 miles east of town, and Jack wasn't so attracted to his old haunts that he wanted to add 40 miles to the trip.
Our last night in Kansas was spent at a picnic area along the highway. A police car drove through at midnight. We weren't supposed to camp there, but he probably let us stay because we were bicyclists and didn't have anywhere else to go in the middle of the night.
Overall, Kansas has been a boring state: no scenic variety, strong south winds, slow going. The roads have varied from smooth, with wide, well-maintained shoulders, to rough, gravelly, poorly-maintained roads with no shoulders at all. The people have been nice, though - no complaints there. As we come east, Kansas has become more populated and tree-ful, with larger towns closer together. In fact, extreme eastern Kansas reminds me a lot of Michigan.
Both Jack and I have people to visit in western Missouri. Then we'll cut across to Ste. Genevieve on the Mississippi River, where we'll rejoin the TransAmerica Trail. We've covered just about 2600 miles in 40 days on the road, giving an average of 65 miles/day. That's better than we had expected. Here the trip is more than half over, and I haven't gotten very far with any good-looking girls (or any bad-looking ones, either). But that's kinda hard, when you go to bed and get up with the chickens.