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Wild Roads: Kentucky
Derby day deserves a can't-miss opening act. By Michael Benoist

Day 1
The road to the Kentucky Derby begins with a climb—or, more accurately, the thousand-plus climbs in the Red River Gorge. In spring, chances are most of its sandstone routes will be rain-slick. To find the dry stuff, enlist a local climber through Red River Outdoors for a daylong clinic. At night, soak your weary tendons at one of Red River Outdoors' ten cozy, jacuzzi-equipped cabins.

Day 2
Raft a series of splashy Class IIIs and a raucous trio of Class IVs through the Cumberland River's Big South Fork Gorge with Sheltowee Trace Outfitters. Wet and weary, stow your gear at river-guide-favorite Tobes Motel. Sweet Peas, across the parking lot, serves up soup beans and warm cornbread.

Day 3
Mammoth Cave National Park's Wild Cave Tour is a six-hour, five-mile (eight-kilometer) scramble, crawl, and duckwalk up slick cave walls, through nine-inch-high crawl areas, and amid a garden of gypsum flowers. After your subterranean mud bath, eat like a Neanderthal at Cave City's Sahara Steak House.

Day 4
Sign on with Double "J" Stables for the Wet Prong of Buffalo Loop—a 12-mile (19-kilometer) ramble on horseback that drops 800 feet (244 meters) into a wooded, stream-veined valley. Ride your steed hard, stable it wet, drive your saddle sores north to Louisville, and dress up for the Derby on May 7 (infield tickets are available on race day).

  1. Red River Outdoors: $125 for a two-person, daylong climbing clinic; $119 for a cabin; www.redriveroutdoors.com
  2. Sheltowee Trace Outfitters: $80 for daylong raft trip; www.ky-rafting.com
  3. Tobes Motel: $54; +1 423 569 8581
  4. Sweet Peas: +1 423 286 7100
  5. Mammoth Cave National Park: $46 for Wild Cave Tour; www.nps.gov/maca
  6. Sahara Steak House: www.mammothcave.com/sahara.htm
  7. Mammoth Cave Hotel: $36; www.mammothcavehotel.com
  8. Double "J" Stables: $50; www.doublejstables.com
  9. Churchill Downs: $40; www.churchilldowns.com

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April 2005

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