HISTORY OF THE RIDE
The Michiana Bicycle Association (MBA), founded in 1974, is the sponsor of the Amishland and Lakes Bike Tour. Michiana is the local name for the region centered on South Bend, Indiana. So how did it end up hosting a ride two counties to the east? The story goes that members of the club encountered someone from the Central Indiana Bicycle Association, the sponsor of the Hilly Hundred, who suggested that we do a ride in Amish country. The next year MBA put on the first Amishland and Lakes Bike Tour. And, the rest, as they say, is history.
FORTY YEARS AT HOWE
The name Amishland and Lakes reflected the general layout of the routes at our original start location, Howe Military Academy. Day one toured Amish country, and day two went up to the kettle lakes area of southern Michigan where one also encountered a few hills absent in Amish farmland. One advantage of this location was that riders could stay in the dormitories and there was also tent camping on the grounds of the Academy.
THE MOVE TO LAGRANGE
In 2016, after the now-closed Howe Military Academy ran into financial difficulties, the start location moved ten miles south to Lakeland High School in Lagrange. Lagrange is the county seat of Lagrange County so we were now in the center of Amish country. The move to Lakeland required shifting our dates to the last weekend in July (at Howe it was always the first weekend in August). In 2016–2017, we experimented with a one-day ride that focused mainly on the Saturday Amish country routes. In 2018, by popular demand, we returned to the two-day format. The day one routes retained the traditional layout touring Amish country, with the longer routes taking in the cluster of lakes south of LaGrange. Because we were now ten miles further from Michigan, we developed all-new day two routes. Day two routes head east, into the Pigeon River nature preserve, the Wall Lake area, and, on the return from Mongo sag stop, more Amish farmland. After the 2017 ride, we discovered that the 4H fairgrounds, just across the road from the Lakeland High School, has camping facilities, and we began offering that option the following year.
THE AMISH FOOD STANDS
We’ve discovered that many of our riders assume that we arrange for the Amish stands. We would like to take credit for them, but the credit must go to the Amish themselves. From what we have been able to figure out, the Amish observed the ride going by on the same weekend every year and on their own decided to set up stands selling root beer floats, pretzels, baked items, and other fare. This unrecognized relationship worked great until 2016 when we switched from the first weekend of August to the last weekend in July, and the Amish stands failed to appear! Because we had never had any direct contact with the people who put up the stands, it never occurred to us to inform them. Our riders love stopping at these Amish stands so we knew we had to find a way to bring them back. For 2017 we publicized the new dates widely throughout the Amish community. This effort was successful, and the stands were back in 2017. That year we made a point to identify the owners of the stands so that we could keep them informed about the ride.
Over the years, the ride has gained a loyal following with groups traveling from the throughout the Midwest, including the Toledo, Detroit, southern Michigan, Dayton/Cincinnati, Louisville/Lexington, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, and Chicago areas. Because of the distances involved, many of these riders arrived on Friday and demand arose for a Friday ride. In the Howe years, this started as an informal route, but eventually became a regular Friday option. During the two years that we used a one-day format, we also dropped the Friday rides. Upon returning to two days, we began offering a new Friday option riding the beautiful rails-to-trails Pumpkinvine Nature Trail. From Shipshewanna—the westernmost point reached on our longer day-one routes—this trail covers sixteen miles, traveling even more Amish country including Middlebury to Goshen.
Amishland and Lakes Bike Tour success is the result of the cooperation of its hosts, sponsors, and the Amish community, the support of excellent volunteers, and the participating riders. We appreciate all the feedback we receive and strive to make Amishland and Lakes better each year. If you have a suggestion, please email firstname.lastname@example.org