Today Iím looking forward to riding through Baxter State Park and seeing Mt. Katahdin, the end of the Appalachian Trail and the highest point in Maine at 5,286 feet. During that summer in 1981, I climbed Katahdin. On the top there were a few markers, pillars made from stacked rocks. I took a small diamond shaped stone and hide it inside the monument. I dreamed of coming back the following summer with my father. We would climb the mountain together and Iíd retrieve my hidden treasure. But I never got the chance to go hiking with Dad.
After my five weeks in Maine, I flew back to LaGuardia Airport where my parents were to meet me. But when I arrived, my mother was there alone. "Whereís Dad?" I asked. "Weíre meeting him in the city at a doctorís office," mom replied.
So thereís my father in a fancy Fifth Avenue doctorís office, but something is different about him. Itís the glasses, which heís never worn before. He hasnít been feeling very well. His vision has suddenly worsened and he keeps thinking he is hearing things, a symptom he has had for almost a year. A brain scan a year before revealed nothing, but today he will have another, with more advanced equipment.
Iím already, at this early age, interested in computers, and Dad thinks it would be cool if I could watch the brain x-ray in progress. So I sit in the control room with the radiologist and the Cat-Scan operator. Through the glass, my father lies down on a platform that slowly draws him into the huge machine. We watch the pictures appear on the monitor in shades of gray. The sections slice by, one after another as the scans move up Dadís head past his eyeballs.
And then thereís something different; a spot growing larger and larger on the left side. And suddenly itís enormous. Even a thirteen-year-old knows there is something terribly wrong. A nurse ushers me out of the room and suddenly my entire familyís life is changed forever.
Two days later my father had brain surgery at NYU Medical Center and a tumor the size of an orange was removed from his skull. My dream of returning to Katadin was quickly forgotten.
So now Iíve come back, and I reach the sleepy town of Patten by late morning. Iím thinking of Dad as I turn up route 159 to enter the park about 10 miles down the road. A sign catches the corner of my eye and I turn around to read it:
BAXTER PARK RULES.
MOTORCYCLES PROHIBITED! I canít believe it! I call the number and speak to a park ranger who doesnít really know why the rule exists but she confirms it is true. Perhaps we can blame those loud Harley Davidson bikes for this one. Sheís very sorry and so am I. Katadin rises out of the plain in the distance, taunting me. I have no option except to turn around. My dreams are dashed once again.
I may return here someday, to climb the mountain again and find my diamond shaped stone. To look across the open plains and see the ocean miles away. Perhaps Iíll be a father myself some day and Iíll come here with my son. Weíll stand at the peak together and survey the glory of nature. Weíll breathe the crystal air and ponder the wonder of life.
Donít ever stop dreaming.
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