I have a lot more photos and stories to post from my visit to Pearisburg, Virginia in the days ahead but I want to detour today - on a bike - to one of the next states over: Delaware.
The Amish settlement outside Dover, Delaware is rich in history and tradition. I’ve never been to this community before but I would love to go one day. We have a section about Dover in our upcoming cookbook, Amish Cooks Across America. The signature event of the community is the annual Amish Country Bike Tour, held the second Saturday of September.
Cindy Small is the tourism director for Kent County and she is just a delight to talk to, she's not full of the typical canned comments from a tourist person. I wanted you all to experience a conversation with her about the area’s Amish first-hand via a podcast, but so many of you have told me you prefer print over pod that you won. Here are some excerpts of my conversation with Cindy Small. Cindy's comments are in italics, while mine are in bold.
AMISHCOOKONLINE: How did the Amish Country Bike Tour get started?
Cindy: “It actually began 26 years ago as a club ride. There was a small bicycle club called the Diamond State Bicycle Club that started a bike tour. In a couple of years time the popularity was so immense that volunteers couldn’t handle it anymore. They’d have to discontinue it or find a partner to run it because it needed a lot of organization and better management, so that is our Kent County Tourism got involved. Over time it has grown and grown and grown.”
Cindy said that for much of the 1990s the event averaged around 1000 participants but as word of mouth has spread recently over social media and in the cycling community the numbers have really blossomed. Last year 1751 cyclists came to pedal their way through Delaware’s bucolic Amish country.
Cindy stresses that this is a "bike tour" not a "bike race", so cyclists don't come to compete, they come to enjoy the Amish ambiance and historical flavor of one of our smallest states. There are five different distances that participants can pedal: 15, 25, 50, 62, and 100 miles. This variety of courses attracts anyone from the casual cyclists to the Tour de France wanna-bes. All of the courses cruise through the Amish community. The irony is that the Dover Amish communities – like many settlements elsewhere – don’t permit bikes. Ben Miller,however, a member of the Amish community, leads the cyclists out of Dover with his buggy (see above photo), adding a fun flair to the start of the tour.
AMISHCOOKONLINE: So how did it become the “Amish Country Bike Tour?"
CINDY: “How it got started was geography. They were looking at “where could this bike tour go that wouldn't be on major highways and they wanted to make sure it all stayed within Kent County. The prettiest roads to cycle down happened to be the ones to go through the Amish communities. So the organizers thought: "wouldn’t it be neat if we could get the Amish folks involved."
AMISHCOOKONLINE: Were the Amish receptive to the bike tour?
CINDY: We made an arrangement with the Amish community that they would lend us their schoolhouse and schoolyard as a food and rest stop. People love going out there. A lot of our cyclists have never had an Amish experience. Many of the people who come to the bike tour just pedal to the school-house, eat their pie and pedal back.
The pie (blueberry, cherry, pumpkin, and apple) is made by Amish and Mennonite bakers from Byler's, a local country store. Meanwhile, Amish residents can be seen sitting on fences, waving to the cyclists. Others just go about their business in the fields.
AMISHCOOKONLINE: Tell us more about what makes this tour unique?
CINDY: Cyclists bring their cameras and take photos of farms, big teams of horses pulling plows during harvest time…And the tour begins in Dover, which is the capital of the first state in the Union. It's where the U.S. Constitution was first ratified. .Dover is where the country started and is a very historic town in itself. Cyclists get a well-rounded visual from behind the handle bars, pedaling past colonial and Victorian homes and then out into Amish country.
AMISHCOOKONLINE: So you don't have to be an Olympic caliber cyclist to do participate?
CINDY: One of the reasons people like coming here is because it is so flat. Anyone can do it. You could try rolling a quarter out here and it wouldn't go anywhere. But it's also fun to see people challenge themselves. Something we hear all the time from people is that they came prepared to do do 25 miles and they end up doing 50 because they said there was so much to hold their interest that they just kept on riding. People underestimate what they can do. We have families who come and more elite cyclists, it's a great mix.
AMISHCOOKONLINE: Tell us about the ice cream!:)
CINDY: An Amish man makes homemade ice cream and comes to the headquarters, so when people get finished with the ride he is there with homemade ice cream for sale. A John Deere machine makes the ice-cream—never seen anything like it. the machine itself is yellow and green and you see this thing and you can’t see how it has anything to do with ice cream looks like a piece of farm equipment…moving parts and pieces…runs on gasoline-engine ice-cream making He tows it into town behind the horse and buggy, gets the motor running, and somehow this contraption makes homemade ice cream (chocolate and vanilla)