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Part 6 - Mt Wachusett
As we roll out of Athol the greenery deepens. Sunlight is salsa-dancing on the pavement in front of us. Fatigue wrestles with reality. A lone tree barely standing waves back and forth in the wind in the field off to our right. A swamp bleeding into open water signifies the start of Harvard Pond.
The rollers are starting to take a toll on our legs, just as Dick Ring said they would. He even laughed about it. “Oh just you wait,” he said, when I questioned the difficulty of the route. “Keep pushing on up and over those hills out there and eventually your legs are going to feel like they’ve up and turned to wood.”
After a short stop in the town of Barre, just a quick one to catch our bearings, we begin in earnest the approach to Mt. Wachusett. At the entrance to the park it takes us a minute to regroup before heading up the two-mile “climb to the clouds”.
It’s apparent that we’re really climbing and gaining elevation for the first time today when after a few turns we notice patches of dirty snow hiding from the sun under trees and embankments, and the temperature drops. The cool thrill ends as we ride past the tree line and into the summer sun beating down hot and bright without obstruction.
At this point it becomes clear. That while on paper the ride didn’t look so tough in practice, it is, over and over again. And even if you know it’s coming, Mt Wachusett, at mile 85 feels like a sucker punch. Maybe that’s why Art Longsjo and Dick Ring ended their version of this ride, now our ride too, with miles of sustained climbing. One last blow to finish you off. And whatever, it really is the perfect way to end the day. On top of the only mountain in the world, as far as the eye can see, with only a seven-mile downhill, give or take a few miles of rollers before home.
Dick Ring continued to ride the rollers until a ripe old age. But he would ride them alone because in 1958 Art, who was just 26 years old and at the top of his class, was killed coming home from a stage race in Montreal when the driver of their car lost control- cutting his promising career and his friendship with Dick tragically short.