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December 28, 2010

Target within sight; summit within reach

Daily Star

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It was snowing and windy, and the road was icy, running between desolate, snow-covered fields in the town of Plainfield. We were climbing a long hill, up in God's country, looking for a microwave tower.

"See what you can find on the radio; I don't dare look," Uncle Chet said, his gloved hands clenching the wheel in his Ford Ranger. He wore a maroon jacket and an old gray bombardier hat.

I lowered the volume, searched for something good, early rock, blues, jazz, anything but commercial drivel.

"When are you going to get a four-wheel drive?" he asked pointedly.

"As soon as this ride is over," I said. "If we make it."

We came to a crossroad and slowed to a crawl as we tried to read the dang sign through swirling snow.

"`Bassett,"' I said. "That's not it. Keep going."

"What are we looking for?"

"He mentioned a few names. I'm not even sure which one it's on. Hughes, Armstrong and something Pond Road."

"Something Pond Road," Uncle Chet repeated.

"I couldn't hear him; he was on a cell phone. Maybe 'Allen' Pond Road. I told him I needed a photo, and he said, `Don't go, unless you have four-wheel drive.' Then I lost the call."

"And called me," he grumbled.

"You want me to drive?"

No reply. We continued to climb as the sky started to darken. I turned again to the radio, went through the FM band to NPR, in the middle of a story on WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange.

"There's a hero," Uncle Chet said as we inched along. "And you know they're trying to tear him down, put him out of business."

"You mean the rape charges?"

"That would be one way. And I bet they'll find another crime he's guilty of, for damaging the security of the United States by letting its citizens know what their government is up to, what their public servants are doing and thinking and e-mailing."

"I'd like to cover that trial," I said.

"Assange is being painted as a saboteur by a government that …" he paused as we approached Little Hughes Road, one our source had mentioned.

This lane led back into the woods and up, up, as the light was fading and with it, my chances to take a decent photo of the new microwave tower atop Noah's Rump.

About a mile in, we came to a fork in the road. Straight, or left? Straight or left?

"He didn't mention this," I said.

"Left takes us up," Uncle Chet said and cranked the wheel.

In a series of rolling dips and rises, this road took us higher until we broke out of the woods and saw the tower in the distance.

"Hallelujah," he said.

"Who needs GPS?" I said.

"Or even a map," he said.

Soon we found Adams Pond Road, a turn to the right. This was a long, narrow corkscrew to the summit, with little room for error. But we made it, and there, in the fading daylight, was the object of our quest.

"Why don't you park over there, where I can get a picture through the window," I requested.

"You're not getting out?"

"Can't in this weather, with company equipment."

"Talk about lazy," he said, but backed around so the tower was on my side.

I lowered the window, took three quick photos, two horizontals, one vertical, then lowered the window and brushed the snow off my lap.

"Do I dare say `mission accomplished'?" I asked.

"No. That phrase has been ruined," he said. "But after Obama's last week, I think you can still say: `Yes, we can."'

Cooperstown Bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears every other week. For more of his columns, visit