Beyond the ordinary: Agony Ride fundraiser goes virtual |

Beyond the ordinary: Agony Ride fundraiser goes virtual

Jennifer Palmer
Submitted to The Union
Not many couples would choose to be involved in a grueling fundraiser such as the Christian Encounter Ranch’s Agony Rider mere weeks after their wedding. But then, Chris Palmer and Sharon MacLean aren’t an ordinary couple.
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Now more than ever, CER needs Agony riders and volunteers to partner with them as they seek to overcome the cycles of brokenness, one story at a time. To learn more call 530-268-0877, email, or visit

Sharon MacLean’s wedding is less than a week away. Happening as it is in the middle of a pandemic, it won’t be an ordinary wedding.

But then, Sharon isn’t an ordinary bride.

She handcrafted her flowers out of felt. She bought her dress online for $17, then augmented it with a $5 curtain picked up at a local thrift store. And, with only days remaining before she says “I do,” she’s logging hours and miles on her bicycle.

Her impetus to ride doesn’t come from a passion for cycling or a desire to be toned and fit for her wedding. Seven weeks after Sharon and her fiance, Chris Palmer, tie the knot, they plan to ride together in Christian Encounter Ranch’s 38th annual Agony Ride, a fundraiser in which cyclists collect sponsorships and go as far as they can in 24 hours. Chris and Sharon each aim to complete 300 miles. 

Not many couples would choose to be involved in such a grueling fundraiser mere weeks after their wedding. But then, Chris and Sharon aren’t an ordinary couple. 

“Ours is a true Agony love story,” Sharon said. “Our first time meeting was at the Agony Ride 10 years ago. It seems fitting that we ride together this year as a small way to say thanks.”

And the Agony Ride isn’t an ordinary fundraiser.

As Chris put it, “The Agony Ride is one of the most beautiful examples of love that I have ever experienced. Regular people go out and ride hard for 24 hours, putting themselves through incredible hardship, exhaustion, and pain, because each dollar we raise helps CER transform lives.”

CER is no ordinary organization. Residents ages 16-25 come to the 86-acre property in Grass Valley to receive spiritual guidance, love, counseling, schooling and an opportunity to recover from the wounds inflicted by society, family situations, and their own poor choices. They come to find healing, restoration and hope.

But even as COVID-19 reveals the need for places like CER, it’s also pushing the ministry to be creative. With the need for increased sanitation and the potential for continued social distancing restrictions, this year’s event won’t be an ordinary Agony Ride.


During a normal year, a few hundred people attend the event, which is held in the Sierra Valley on the last weekend of July. This year, organizers still plan to hold an in-person ride, provided they can ensure a safe event that adheres to local public health guidelines at the time. However, they’re also offering something new: a virtual option for those who are unable to participate in person.

The purpose behind the virtual option is two-fold: the first is to expand the potential financial impact of the ride during a time when people’s ability to give and to participate in person might be hampered. The Agony Ride brings in about a quarter of the ministry’s annual budget, enabling it to offer some measure of financial assistance to every resident who comes. The second reason is less obvious but no less important: to foster creative community and connectedness even as people are physically distant from each other.

“We’re encouraging outside-of-the-box thinking, especially for families and children,” said Caryn Galeckas, event director. “Pick a 24-hour period and ride for as much or as little of that time as is appropriate. We’re excited to see what people come up with, and how they connect to the in-person event through social media and the new app currently in development. One key aspect of the ride is the deep fellowship that occurs as we serve one another. We don’t want to lose that aspect.”

Tom Kern, who retired last year after 38 years of service at CER, plans to participate in the virtual Agony Ride on the American River Trail near his home in Folsom.

Reflecting on the ride, he said, “It’s an honor to ride in Agony 2020 because God has given me a love for youth, and particularly the youth at Christian Encounter. Through the Agony Ride, each participant rider, helper and sponsor has the privilege to partner with CER. Together we help them fulfill their mission. This year I am thankful that I will be joining the riders virtually, in light of COVID-19 conditions.”

Jennifer Palmer is a member of the Christian Encounter Ranch Board of Directors.

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