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.
Motorcycles & Gear
2013 Yamaha FJR 1300
2013 Kawasaki Concours 14
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.
We used to send our men into the mines
to harvest seams of coal.
Lying on your back to eat your lunch
is a hard way to get a paycheck,
but it’s honest work.
Now they’re just ripping the tops off the hills
with explosives and earth movers.
Most of the jobs are gone
and they aren’t coming back.
The morning is cool and crisp as we leave Benham, and I spend the morning lost in thought as we carve up the twisty asphalt. Coal casts a long shadow on the region. The boom years are long gone, and all that remain are small towns built up when the money was fat and ramshackle single wides or shacks tucked into hollers when the money was thin. We set up a shot by a train trestle, and as Sandy heads up the road, I strike up a conversation with a man across the street. He’s friendly and helpful by offering up other photo ops nearby. Farther along, we stop at a coal processing facility with silos and conveyor belts as high as the sky; and as we ride I think about the signs yesterday on 476 warning motorists of blasting. This, sadly, is life for many in eastern Kentucky in the era of mountaintop removal. We stop for a quick bite to eat in London and then head west.
Post-lunch riding is mellow; we’re out of the squigglies. The mountains of eastern Kentucky give way to a rolling landscape, and trees to fields and farms connected by small towns and straighter roads.
In Danville, at The Cottage Bed & Breakfast, we meet Chris Kubale, quite possibly the most enthusiastic person I’ve ever met. The Cottage is part of a farm that’s been in the Kubale family for generations and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. We talk, tour, and watch a golden sun set over the noble barns.
We ride to downtown Danville in the fading light. It’s a tidy little town with interesting shops and restaurants. Danville is known as the “Birthplace of the Bluegrass” because the state’s first constitution (separating it from Virginia) was signed here in 1792. Filled, we head back to the farm.