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Agony ride raises money for youth

This weekend, 86 riders from all over Northern California will congregate in Sierra Valley for the 24-hour Agony Ride.

Money raised will help fund Christian Encounter Ministries, a Christian-based ranch south of Grass Valley that offers hope to youth headed down a dark path.

One of those young people is Brian Nightingale, 18. When he first came to the 80-acre ranch, he was struggling with drug and alcohol abuse. Spending 17 months away from negative influences helped give him a positive new direction, he said.



He graduated last year.

This year marks Nightingale’s first Agony Ride, and he hopes to peddle 240 miles.




“When I was there, people rode for me, they rode for us as a group,” Nightingale said. “Now I want to do the same for the kids there. I want to ride for them.”

This year’s fundraising goal is $100,000, said ranch executive director Mike Petrillo. Last year’s 25th anniversary event drew large crowds and $140,000.

It’s the ranch’s main fundraiser. A smaller one is the yearly “You Spin, They Win” event. They and individual donations provide about 85 percent of the ministry’s funding; parents of students provide about 15 percent.

Wind, distance, heat and cold

Begun 26 years ago, the ride posed a grueling challenge for bicyclists: The route ascended from Death Valley, the state’s lowest point of elevation, to the highest at Mt. Whitney. The ride was moved to Sierra Valley 21 years ago to attract more local participants, Petrillo said.

As many as 200 people volunteer for the event. Volunteers maintain bicycles, track riders, cruise the road at night and provide radio communication between stations. A crowd of about 200 to 300 spectators gather at the finish line, Petrillo said.

Based at 5,000 feet elevation, the ride is centered in the 50-mile stretch of the Sierra Valley ringed by Sierra Nevada peaks. Tremendous vistas and moonlit rides are some of the highlights.

The biggest challenges are the distance, wind and fluctuations in day and nighttime temperatures.

All levels of riders participate and log 50 to 300 miles. The record was 371 miles by a Nevada City man two years ago.

“You can feel the dedication of the riders. They’re going to go as much as they can in 24 hours,” Petrillo said.

Spirit and chores

The ministry was founded in 1970 south of Grass Valley as a family environment with an emphasis on spirituality. It combines Bible study, one-on-one classroom instruction and college intern support.

A strong work ethic is developed from afternoon chores like removing star thistle and blackberry bushes, caring for livestock and keeping irrigation ditches clear.

Each summer, students travel to the mountains for two-weeks of backpacking.

“There are lots of life lessons that can be taught along the way,” said Steven Monck, a deputy sheriff in Glenn County who spent 1982 through 1984 on the ranch.

Prior to his time there, he was a hostile, not-so-nice guy who was spending time with the wrong crowd, Monck said.

His daughter recently graduated from the school, and this year he plans to ride 100 miles with his daughter’s boyfriend, a pastor.

“It’s one of the most worthwhile things for kids I’ve seen,” Monck said. “My life would be a whole lot different if I didn’t go to the ranch.”

To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail lbrown@theunion.com or call 477-4231.


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