Scaring the Amish


Since its inception, the Jeremiah Bishop Alpine Gran Fondo has been a staple of my cycling season. The reason is because it supports fighting prostate cancer. Since being introduced by my late friend, Scott Scudamore, I have also become friends with Jeremiah and Erin Bishop, plus Robert Hess of the Prostate Cancer Awareness Project.


There was one problem this year. The world championships of professional cycling were being held in Richmond. This was the first time in 30 years the “Worlds” were here. Today was the only day to see the “trade” teams, Garmin, BMC, etc., in the team time trial. I wanted to do both.


I knew I could not do 100 miles and get to Richmond so I signed up for the “Valley View Challenge.” I know Erin was surprised when she saw my application but I explained that I was going to Richmond and wanted to support their ride. She understood.


We rolled out of town and I was at the front. As the peleton rolled on I was comfortably in the pack but new there was a turn coming up eventually. I pulled over, took some photos, then jumped back in the group and rode up to the turn.


I was on the road by myself then sat up and saw a rider from UVA coming. He joined me and we rolled to the first, and only rest stop. After a while we rolled out with a third. We were clearly in front when we came upon a young Amish couple on their bikes going to church. While Matthew and Luca* rode ahead, I slowed down to talk to the couple.


They were very personable. I introduced myself and they told me they were Keith and Julie Zimmerman and their young son. Somehow I happen to mention the Wenger name and Julie looked at me and said “that’s my maiden name.”


We came to a turn. The Fondo route was to the left. Keith and Julie turned right. I turned right with them. Matthew and Luca were up ahead and looked back and saw me going the other way. They turned around to follow me. One mile later we were at the church and I bid Keith and Julie a good day.


Matt and Luca weren’t sure where they were going and I laughed. “Well, you were going right until you decided to follow me.” I told them we would go exploring.


We went into Dayton and then did some trailblazing, getting back to Harrisonburg. We were first on the day.


It wasn’t the classic Grand Fondo right but it was just right. I spent a little time with Robert and Julie before heading on to Richmond for Worlds. And I thought how lucky I was to choose the short route on this day or I wouldn’t have been able to meet, and well, scare, the Amish.

When I got home, I contacted my 5th cousin, Daniel Wenger, who is the preeminent Wenger historian. I pieced together my information with what he knew and quickly proved she was a descendant of Christian Wenger (b. 1698). In Lancaster Co., Pa., we have two known Wenger lines. The other is Hans Wenger (1705), which is my line. It is presumed they are related, perhaps as close as first cousins, but no historian has been able to document that. DNA shows the lines are connected but we can’t yet say that we’re 5th cousins. Definitely my Amish cousins in name. I’m claiming them!

*Not their real names.


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