ChristianEncounterLogoA friend and her husband live on the Ranch, a Christian Encounter Ministries (CEM) ranch style facility located near Grass Valley northeast of Sacramento. CEM’s purpose is to help troubled teens heal from emotional, physical, and spiritual trauma in their lives. Their big fundraiser of the year is the Agony Ride, which takes place the last Friday and Saturday of each July. This year’s ride was the 32nd! The ride is not about the riders, but the teens that need help – and they take exquisite care of all riders.

The ride takes place 25 miles north of Truckee in the Sierra Valley on a Y shaped route starting in Loyalton to Vinton, down and up to Beckworth, and back down to Loyalton – a 38-mile course on country roads, repeated as many times as possible in 24 hours. The legs are 12, 13 and 13 miles respectively. The route has virtually no elevation gain, but the average elevation is 4900 feet. CEM hosts the ride at the Loyalton Elementary School, which is equipped to handle all your needs for 24 hours. The kitchen runs all hours with a pre-race lunch; sandwiches during the day; soup and stew at night; and eggs, potatoes, bacon, and pancakes for breakfast – and that’s on top of all the usual full service foods at the two other checkpoints. Water and Gatrorade are the fluids of choice.

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Making friends

The ride starts at 1:00PM on Friday and ends exactly 24-hours later. When your watch or Garmin shows 24 hours, you stop wherever you are on the road and are picked up and taken back to Loyalton. This year saw 93 riders start including several tandems and one recumbent. The youngest rider was 16 with many in their 70s. I saw one young girl on a cruiser style bike. While most had road bikes ranging from inexpensive to high end, others had hybrid bikes. All bikes and riders had to conform to safety rules with front and rear lights at night, and reflectors as required by CA law. Riders also were given orange or yellow safety vests with their name and number front and back. This made it easy to know everyone’s name as you passed them coming and going, and made for a very social ride.

Adults and teens “Saggers” manned the three checkpoints and racked your bike until you were ready to head out again, filled your bottles, brought you food, retrieved your gear bag – and helped with anything you needed. The teens cheered riders on the full 24 hours. Your gear bag could be transported from checkpoint to checkpoint if you wished. Riders were tracked on route boards so everyone was accounted for at all times. There were changing rooms for men and women, and sleep rooms at Loyalton. My guess is that 30% of the riders spent some time sleeping on Friday night. Doing that was an individual choice. My aim was to ride the whole night.

I initially knew one rider but made friends right from the start. You could ride solo or in a group. If you rode your own pace, you passed or were passed by other riders many times over. I rode most of Friday in several groups as my pace varied and some were too fast for me and others were too slow. On Saturday morning, most of my riding was solo, going in and out of checkpoints quickly.

The route was on county roads with little traffic. While much of the roads were nicely paved, there were sections with cracks, which lead to a jarring when you rode over them. While it became more bothersome later in the ride with sore sit bones, it was simply something to tolerate. Daytime temperatures on Friday were hot, in the high 80’s but by the end of Saturday, it hit 90. Weather reports forecast nighttime temps in the low 50s, but in reality it hit a low of 37 – much colder than I had expected. A rider loaned me his Gore-Tex leg warmers, which saved me until sunrise. Next year I’ll be prepared with heavier cold weather gear in case temps drop. Motorcycle riders who constantly rode the course looking for riders needing help also supported the bike riders.

Going solo

Going solo

I had spent Thursday night in Reno to be there early enough on Friday morning. I got a good 12 hours of sleep, which helped me stay awake and ride the entire night. At night, all riders must ride with a minimum of one other rider for safety’s sake. That rule cost me close to an hour when the six riders I completed a lap with decided to sleep, as did the next two riders. I had to wait until other riders came in and were ready to go out to join them. While this was discouraging, I could see the value in this safety rule.

After all riders were brought back to Loyalton, a nice lunch was served, followed by an awards ceremony. All riders received a nice T-shirt and a custom jersey was available for order – mine looks great. Those raising pledges over certain amounts received additional awards.

My training began in January when I signed up for the ride. Because it is a fundraiser, riders need to turn in at least $300 in sponsorship. Some sponsor themselves for the minimum, but the majority does some degree of fundraising. Since I am retired, I could do the training miles I felt necessary to ride well. In the four months before the ride, I rode 2300 miles – but my longest ride was only 67 miles. My initial goal was 250 miles and my stretch goal was 300 miles. When the clock struck 24 hours, I settled for 276 miles. Other riders ranged from less than 100 miles to four who rode 329 miles. I was in the top 15% of all riders. Many who set 100-mile goals rode 150 and many exceeded their goals.

The Agony Ride was well supported, well managed, and fun. I plan to ride again next year and reach the elusive 300-mile mark. If you are interested in supporting a great Christian non-profit that helps teens, please consider this for 2015. The dates are July 24-25. For more information, go to www.christianencounter.org/agony-ride.

John Vonhof