Riding to live, living to ride | NevadaAppeal.com

Riding to live, living to ride

Appeal Staff Writer

Rick Gunn/Nevada Appeal Mario Rodriguez of Colorado Springs adjusts his shades at the Capitol Wednesday. He is part of a group of 13 Right Of Passage members that is cycling from Canada to Mexico.

Wednesday afternoon, a gang of young bikers with troubled pasts cruised onto the grounds of the Capitol, all of them wearing the same red cycling jerseys. They formed a semi-circle by the steps and posed with their machines.

They’re headed for Mexico and nothing is going to stop them. Nothing.

A woman walks by, attempting to squeeze through on the sidewalk.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” says one of the bikers, quickly moving his bicycle out of her way and apologizing for the slight inconvenience.

These are good kids.

Part of the Rite of Passage program, the 13 teens had been marked at one time or another as incorrigible or delinquents.

Recommended Stories For You

Their stop Wednesday was one of many in the middle of a 2,652-mile bike trip from Canada to Mexico to celebrate the organization’s 20th year of service.

Later that night, they spread their message about the power of making positive choices to fellow teens during a barbecue at the R.O.P. company headquarters in Minden.

Students from all six Rite of Passage schools in Nevada, California, Arizona and Colorado began the odyssey on Sept. 3, and plan on reaching their goal around Oct. 13.

Greg Townsend, unit manager at the R.O.P. facility in Ridgeview, is typical of the staff – adventurous and dedicated, emphasizing the culture of positive peer pressure the program fosters. He’s riding along with the teens.

“What we’re really celebrating is 20 years of believing in youth,” he says. “We’re celebrating 20 years of building character and self-esteem and holding kids accountable for their behavior.”

The program has reached an estimated 10,000 teens over its two decades in existence.

One of them, Javier Rodriguez of Fort Collins, Colo., enjoys the adventure of climbing steep mountains and then racing down the other side at speeds close to 60 mph. The unusually polite, well-spoken, 18-year-old says he plans on working hard when he graduates and returns home.

“I’d love to do something like this again,” he said.

The yearround Rite of Passage curriculum focuses on education, vocational training, athletics, community service and counseling.

The trip began in Blaine, Wash., a city bordering British Columbia, and will take the teens through Oregon, California, Nevada and Arizona. Trip highlights will include Yosemite, Patagonia Lake and a hike into the Grand Canyon at the end of the adventure.

Rite of Passage is a nonprofit, privately funded organization based out of Minden. For information or to contribute, contact Lynda Kyhl, business coordinator, at 267-9411.

Contact Peter Thompson at pthompson@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1215.


In an effort to study the Rite of Passage program’s success rate, The Center for Applied Research at the University of Nevada, Reno conducted an independent survey of graduates in 1998. The results of that study revealed 9 percent of respondents had been institutionalized following the program, and no participants in the study joined gangs following graduation.