My wife was in Waverly, Mississippi for a little R&R with her cousin. I was in Hutchinson, Kansas for a little R&R of my own. It’s where I ended up on a Saturday afternoon after an end-of-the-season, spur-of-the-moment motorcycle ride at the end of October.
It was one of those weekends where you take off knowing there was no time frame. You didn’t have to be home by a certain time for supper. There was no breaking into a cold sweat knowing that my wife, Terri, was at home waiting for me to return at a specified time.
Life was good. It was about to get better as I headed out Sunday morning. The sun was just starting to break the skyline as I came out of the hotel and began loading up my 1998 Honda Magna. It’s a good traveling bike. It more than proved itself on the 5,000-plus mile trip this past summer to Seattle, Washington and back.
The air was brisk, but the temperature wasn’t cold. It was one of those last good weekends of the year. The plan was to take Highway 61 north out of Hutchinson to McPherson, take Highway 56 east to Junction 77, and then north on Highway 56/77 to Herrington. That’s where I planned to eat lunch, and then decide what route to take home.
It’s amazing what you can see, the things you can feel, and the aromas you can smell on the open road. I could smell autumn in the air, and see the changing of the seasons in the trees and brush I passed on the side of the road.
Not far out of Hutchinson, I passed a rather strange, but artistic yard landscaped in western figures. It reminded me of something those guys on public television would film on their show. I stopped to take some pictures. There were two houses in back of the western scene that shared one driveway. I started walking towards the houses to talk to the people about the sculptures. I figured it would be a good story. But a dog, and I’m not sure from which house it came, convinced me that my best option would be to turn around, get on my motorcycle, and head back down the road. Holding my hand out and saying “nice doggy” certainly didn’t make the dog start wagging his tail.
About 20 miles south of McPherson is a town called Inman. It’s not large, but has a thriving Main Street. I had stopped to get a little something for breakfast, but couldn’t find a café that was open. I noticed a large mural painted on the side of one of the buildings where the local dentist had set up shop. It depicted the history of Inman, and it appeared the town had emerged from an exciting past. I was admiring the painting when I noticed something in the back corner of the adjacent vacant lot. From a distance, it appeared to be some kind of a marker that resembled the headstone for a grave.
As I walked closer, I realized it was a marker for a grave. Engraved on it was a picture of a cat, and inscribed was “Inman Sam.” In small letters was the name Glen Thomson. Sam had lived from 1979 to 1990, a good long life for most outdoor cats. I’m assuming Sam was an outdoor cat, and that he somehow belonged to the town folk in Inman. But I don’t know, because no one was around to ask.
You can spend only so much time in Inman, especially if you’re not eating, so I climbed aboard and headed towards McPherson. It’s a much larger town than Inman, but not as big as Hutchinson. There’s a photogenic courthouse and square in the downtown. The town was named after Major General James B. McPherson. There’s a large statue of him next to the courthouse wearing his military uniform and sitting atop his steed. McPherson was the “Commander of the Army of the Tennessee.” According to the plaque below him, he was born in Clyde, Ohio, November 14, 1828 and fell “In the Service of his Country at the Battle of Atlanta, July 22, 1864.” Nowhere could I find his connection with the Kansas town McPherson.
There are places to eat in McPherson, plenty of them, but by then, I figured I would wait until Herrington and just eat lunch. After filling up the Magna with gas, I headed east on Highway 56, and as soon as I reached the open road, I encountered a sudden demonstration of the Kansas wind. It came from nowhere, out of the south and nearly blew me across the highway’s centerline. Traveling east was challenging the rest of the day. I learned a lot about leaning into the wind.
Thirty miles later, I was at a town called Canada and Marion County Lake. The town was billed as having an historic adobe house, so I rode through town to see it. It was white, and in the town park. It has been turned into a museum. There’s also a windmill there.
I was more impressed with Marion County Lake. It appears to be a nice recreation area for people who fish, camp, walk, ski or swim. It was too windy to ski or fish, and too cold to swim. So I stopped at a shelter area just to take in the sun and the view.
Back on the road, it wasn’t long before I was going north on Highway 56/77. With the wind behind me, the ride was much smoother. There might not be a lot of curves in Kansas, but the scenery isn’t that bad. The fences, limestone, the prairie, and the small towns, there’s a lot to be said for the wide-open spaces of the state.
I rode through Herrington, looking for a place to eat. I turned off the main street and was going to turn around when a sign in an old building caught my eye: “Pan fried chicken.” That’s all it took. I parked the Magna and walked into The Mansion Restaurant. It’s not a large place. The building appears as if it used to be a boarding house. The people were friendly, the service was great, and the chicken? Well, whenever I’m close to Herrington, I’m going to stop. And did I mention the homemade pie? Even if they didn’t have fried chicken, I would stop for their pie and a cup of coffee. In fact, The Mansion Restaurant would be worth a day trip, and I will be going back there next summer. As I waited for my food, and then as I ate my pie and drank my coffee, I studied the map.
Out of Herrington, I headed east and fought the wind on Highway 56 to Highway 149, and went north to White City, where the oldest house in the town was built in 1877 and used as a post office. I don’t think anyone lives there now, though.
Out of White City, I took Highway 4 east to Dwight where I picked up Highway 57 east to Highway 177 and then south to Council Grove. There, I stopped and filled up with gas, and then headed all the way home on Highway 56.
Once home, I took my son, Justin, his wife Heather, my daughter, Jessica, and her boyfriend, Logan, out to eat. We had a good meal and a good time. It was a fitting end to a great weekend of riding, one of the last good weekends of the year.
Spring can’t get here soon enough!
Story and photos by Chuck Kurtz