We came here seeking doughnuts. No, not the dunkin’ kind; calling those toroids doughnuts is like calling Chef Boyardee Italian food. No, we’re here for the real deal. And we’re willing to ride to find them. Thoroughbred From the rolling waves of Kentucky Blue Grass come some of the finest thoroughbreds in the world bred on picturesque horse farms in the Bluegrass region.
The trip starts in the heart of thoroughbred country, Versailles, KY (pronounced Ver-sails). Actually, it almost doesn’t start at all. Our accommodations at A Storybook Inn are so posh and refined that I feel like Lord Grantham of Downton Abbey, and I don’t want to leave. It doesn’t hurt that innkeeper Elise Buckley is exceedingly generous and filled with tales of the old home.
After a sumptuous breakfast, we leave Versailles and make our way through Lexington in the rain, stopping at two doughnut shops within an hour. The roads aren’t all that memorable, but the doughnuts are. Doughdaddy’s is good—very good, in fact among the best I’ve had in months. But Spalding’s, right across the street from a giant belching Jif Peanut Butter plant, is the best doughnut I’ve had in years, possibly ever. Hand-made and fresh, it has a sweet, crispy outside and a soft, flavorful inside. They’ve been doing it this way since 1929, and by the looks of the constant flow of customers, they have built up quite a nice reputation. With any luck, I’ll be 90 years old and flapping my gums at anyone that will listen about the doughnuts at Spalding’s. That’s how good they are.
Sandy and I continue away from Lexington and east toward the hills. Eastern Kentucky is hilly but not quite mountainous and has some great twisty roads that cling to the hollers. Unlike many mountain roads though, these don’t have a discernible rhythm; they break left when you’re expecting them to break right, and they dance the Macarena when you’re expecting a Lindy Hop. It’s challenging, fun, and sure keeps you on your toes.
We stop for lunch at a restaurant in Jackson and chat with the locals who act as if they’ve never seen a grown man in a hi-viz Aerostich one-piece suit before. We’re clearly not from these parts, but the people are friendly; and within minutes, we’re sharing recipes for favorite dishes. Later, as we’re suiting up, they snap a couple of photos of the aliens they met at lunch.
The road continues to serve a near relentless assault of apexes as we aim for the southeast corner of the state near where Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee meet. It’s pitch perfect pavement, and it’s all ours. There are very few cars and no motorcycles to impede us. Finally, near the end of the day, we climb Pine Mountain—one of the few times we gain any elevation. We pause at the top, take a couple of photos, and admire the mountains and valleys stretched to the horizon. We chat with an old miner, who’s up here with his bike and admiring ours. He tells us stories of life in the mines—tales we won’t soon forget.
The sun’s chasing the horizon, so we saddle up and head down as the Kawasaki and Yamaha carve graceful arcs through the bends. With the sun gone, we feel our way to the old Benham Schoolhouse Inn, built in 1926 by the Wisconsin Steel Corporation (aka International Harvester) for coal camp children. Flush with cash, they spared little expense to erect a top notch facility and paid extra to draw good teachers to the area. The school closed years ago, but the building has been recycled. I’ve fallen asleep in a classroom before, but not quite like this.