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Couple plans coast-to-coast bike tour in son’s memory

  • Clifton, Arleen and Charlie Read in 2013. Charlie died from sudden unexpected death from epilepsy in August 2016. contributed photo

  • Clifton and Arlene Read Richie Davis—Richie Davis photo



For the Gazette
Wednesday, May 31, 2017

SHUTESBURY — Clifton Read had been talking for years with his wife, Arleen, and their neighbors about a cross-country bicycling trip that would take him back to Glacier National Park, where he worked summers while in college.

“It’s been a dream of mine,” said Read, an avid cyclist.

Over Memorial Day weekend, he took part in an annual 70-mile “Tour de Quabbin,” a ride that began 33 years ago as an informal event and has brought together 30 to 55 neighbors and friends year after year.

About three years ago, the Reads began poring over maps, trying to make arrangements for what they imagined would be a trip from the Seattle area to Boston.

And then their 16-year-old son, Charlie, died last Aug. 15 from sudden unexpected death from epilepsy, after years of cycling adventures with the family.

Now, the Reads — together with nearly 20 other riders — are planning for their 3,712-mile trip from Anacortes, Wash. to begin June 18 as a “Coast to Coast for Charlie” benefit.

“We really put things on hold for a couple months, and we had to think, could we do this ride, should we do this ride?” said Read.

Not only did they decide they had to do the ride — which they’d expected Charlie might be part of — but that instead of doing it as a benefit for a water-related cause, it should become a benefit for sudden unexpected death from epilepsy research.

“After the death of a child, there’s a loss of a sense of purpose, where you become unmoored in a way,” said Arleen Read. “This ride, for right now, anyway, has filled that role in our lives. It’s filled that missing piece.”

After turning their house over to house sitters, the Reads and neighbors plan to load gear — including Charlie’s bike — into their cars, which will become support vehicles for the nine-week C2C4Charlie Ride that will raise money for the Epilepsy Foundation’s Sudden Unexpected Death from Epilepsy Institute.

Beginning with nearly a dozen initial riders, they will do a ceremonial dip of their bicycles’ rear wheels in Puget Sound, about 80 miles north of Seattle. Then they will head through the Cascade Mountains into northern Idaho and through Glacier National Park, across Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

They will ferry across Lake Michigan through Michigan, along the north shore of Lake Erie in Ontario before crossing back into this country at Niagara Falls and along the Erie Canal Bike Path.

Then they will go across Massachusetts, and in a ceremony planned for sometime before Aug. 12 in Boston, dip their front bicycle wheels into the Atlantic.

The 20 planned cyclists — with a core of seven — plan to camp for about 70 percent of the trip, with stops at hostels, churches and motels the rest of the way. It’s the longest ride the Reads have ever done, by far.

Charlie — who would have turned 17 last Wednesday — “was meant to be part of this ride, although it was a challenge to figure out how this was going to work out,” his mother said. “There are not too many 17-year-olds who would want to spend their entire summer with people their parents’ age.”

Charlie loved sports — especially baseball, hockey and bicycling — said the Reads. He played junior varsity baseball and hockey, and he and his friends got a bicycling club started at Amherst Regional High School.

When he was just shy of 11, Charlie even managed to do the Tour de Quabbin, with its overall 3,400 feet of elevation, afterward telling his sixth-grade class, “I felt like I could do anything,” according to Arleen Read. “It was huge for him. I think bicycling was liberating and confidence-building for him.”

Through e-mail solicitations and a Facebook page, the Reads said they’ve already raised more than one-third of the $10,000 fundraising goal set by the Epilepsy Foundation’s Athletes for Epilepsy program, of which the C2C4Charlie ride will be a new “Gear Up for Epilepsy” signature event. But they say they hope to go well over the $10,000 goal, and are already looking forward to future — if more modest — annual fundraisers to help identify the risk factors and ways to prevent the 7,000 sudden epileptic deaths of teens and young adults each year in this country.

A benefit kickoff event for Team C2C4Charlie will take place Friday evening at Shutesbury Athletic Club, with dinner begining at 6 p.m. and dancing beginning at 8 p.m.