Forty years later, Tour de Quabbin rides on

By MAX BOWEN

Athol Daily News Editor

Published: 05-30-2023 5:17 PM

It was a cold and rainy Memorial Day when Clif and Arleen Read, along with Clif’s brother and future sister-in-law, launched the Tour de Quabbin.

Though the ride didn’t have the ending they had planned, with the weather preventing participants from finishing, it’s continued on for 40 years on Memorial Day, rain or shine, benefiting a number of causes and forming a strong sense of camaraderie.

Clif, speaking on Tuesday, said that Monday’s ride went very well under ideal conditions. The tour circumvents the Quabbin Reservoir and has stops along the way. It began in the early morning with 30 people in Shutesbury and went around the Quabbin Reservoir, stopping halfway at the Hardwick Winery in Hardwick. Clif said the owner, John Samek, has been a longtime supporter of the tour.

“They throw open the doors and embrace us coming there,” said Clif. “We appreciate them hosting us.”

The second half of the route is when the ride gets harder, with steep, rolling hills, going along the eastern side of the reservoir, along Route 122, into Wendell Center and ending back in Shutesbury. Clif estimated that the ride is 65 miles with an elevation of 4,800 feet. Approximately half of the over 40 riders completed the route. He said the ride has never been canceled and only postponed once due to severe thunderstorms.

Clif said the founding of the ride was a “spur of the moment” idea and in the first year, heavy rains prevented them from finishing. The second year there was an intense heat wave with temperatures of 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Still, they carried on each year, seeing old friends and making new ones.

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“We‘ve originally done it with family and friends,” he said. “Word spread and we have people who love to bike. It’s a way for folks to reconnect and meet new folks and it’s a wonderful tradition. The camaraderie and tradition continues.”

Along with a great workout and the bonds formed, the ride has also been a fundraiser for different charities, with people contributing what they can to benefit organizations dedicated to bicycling safety and local land trusts. The Read’s son Charlie was the youngest participant to finish the ride at 11 years old, but he died in 2016 due to Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy.

Since his death, the ride has supported the Epilepsy Foundation, with Clif and Arleen also doing two coast-to-coast rides of 3,700 and 4,200 miles to raise awareness and funds. These rides followed a 4,290-mile route called the Northern Tier and were organized by the Adventure Cycling Association in Montana. Some members of the Tour de Quabbin participated in a portion of these rides.

“Charlie thought this was what everyone did on Memorial Day,” said Clif. “When he finished that he felt he could do anything, which was empowering for him.”

The Tour de Quabbin sees a lot of regulars, said Clif, and each year brings a few new faces. At Monday’s ride, a 72-year-old finished the route, and for many, it’s an event they look forward to. The Reads are enthusiastic riders, and have been on teams for the Great American Ride, which supports the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. It’s a virtual ride, and cyclists accumulate the miles on their own between April 1 and May 31.

“We have a lot of fun doing those things together,” said Clif.

During the COVID pandemic, the regular ride wasn’t held, but people were encouraged to traverse the route on their own, either alone or in small groups.

“It continued right on through,” said Clif.

 Max Bowen can be reached at 413-772-0261, ext. 265 or at mbowen@recorder.com.

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