Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sad Week on the AT

This has been a sad time on the Appalachian Trail. and within the Appalachian Trail community.  Last week, June 15, a thru-hiker in his 20's, named Parkside (Paul Bernhardt) passed away.  After hiking 20 miles he reached Pierce Pond in Maine and died shortly after he dove in for a swim.  Unfortunately, only folks form Northern New England may be aware that waters in this area are a frigid 40 degrees.  The AT community is heart broken and shocked and many condolences have gone out to Parkside's family on White Blaze and other forums connected with the hiking community.

Parkside was one of the first thru-hikers to start this year, #11, having set out on February 17th from Georgia and he walked close to 2,000  miles. He was only 150 miles form Katadhin.
He loved the trial and hiking so much, just recently he had written to his mother to ask her to send him his passport so he could keep hiking into Canada.
Mary wrote a great blog on her son,  
and you can see how much she loved him - and worried from time to time. My heart breaks for her and Paul's family as I read it in small bits to keep from crying.
The hikers he was with, along with the whole class of 2012 thru-hikers are grieving, and now they are appealing to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to make Parkside an honorary 2,000 miler.
Paul's mother also has written a eulogy on her blog  and I've just learned that Paul's ashes will be carried by those who hiked with him to Katadhin. It's a fitting tribute to this brave and remarkable young man.  Please read his mother's eulogy.  You will be touched by her love and astounded by what a truly unique and exceptional young man Paul was. Paul was an extraordinary man and now leaves an inspirational legacy.

June 21, 2012

Paul unfortunately died in a water accident on June 15. He drowned while swimming in Pierce Pond in Somerset County Maine. The cause of the drowning was most likely cramps. Possible causes of the cramps could have been the 20 miles he walked that day, the cold water, or low Potassium.  No one knows for sure.

We talked to the hikers who were there at the end. Basically, he pitched his tent,  and decided to go down to the pond for a swim. He was alone and did not inform the others at the shelter. He swam out about 35 yards and most likely started to cramp. He screamed out for help a few times. The hikers in the shelter heard him and rushed down to the pond. They saw him go down, and he never surfaced again. Two of the hikers, Achilles and Carpenter, made multiple attempts to find him, but couldn't. Rescue workers retrieved his body around 11:30 P.M. My husband and I were notified the next day.

"Today is the funeral. Yesterday we had a wake for Paul. I met friends from high school, college, and the neighborhood boys he  played baseball, football, and basketball. An army of caddies and a few members from the country club he worked at for the last five summers came to pay their respects. He was loved by many. We heard story after story how much Paul affected lives. He truly was a beautiful person.

Below is the eulogy I intend to present today at his funeral. I will do my best to read it with pride and dignity. I'll ask Paul to give me strength.

Thank you everyone for coming to the church today. My family and I appreciate your kind words and support during this time.

Paul as you all know was a really awesome kid. He meant so much to you all and to us.  In February when he left for the Appalachian Trail, I was fearful of something happening to him.

I envisioned crazed intruders at the campsite, hungry bears, poisonous snakes, or a tick biting him and infecting him with Lyme disease.  I knew he was at risk and it scared me to think of him helpless. As time went on, I started relaxing more, feeling more comfortable, as he became more experienced. He was so happy, so I was happy. Comfortable. Unfortunately, the pond-the cramps in his legs - took him away from us forever.

After the news about Paul, all I could feel was sadness-a great sense of disappointment-not for us, but for Paul. He had less than 150 miles to go after hiking over 2,000 miles. He had about two weeks to completion.

For four months, he had been walking-hiking-towards this goal to reach Katahdin Mountain in Baxter State Park in Maine.  He didn’t get to complete his goal. And I know how much this would frustrate him.

Paul didn’t like to do things half way. When he put his mind to something, he would go all the way. He was a purist about things. For instance, when he was a kid he was on a “Bad News Bears” kind of team. I remember him coming home with a pitcher’s net and practicing for hours in the backyard to improve his pitch. When he realized it was more than good pitching his team needed, he decided to motivate his teammates. He would come to games with his pockets full of quarters and would offer them to anyone on the team who caught a ball or made a good play. He tried to motivate them and make them care more about the game.

During his middle school years, baseball was his passion. He was consumed 100%. He knew all the stats for all the Yankee players and more. He read large books about the History of Baseball, the History of the Yankees, biographies of Derek Jeter, Satchel Paige, and Joe DiMaggio. In the bathroom to this day, is a Baseball Trivia book he memorized.

The games up the block with the Weeks Lane crew were played all summer long and drove the neighbors crazy.  Each game was intense, loud, and like a World Series every day. Paul helped organize the games and players.  When he would come home, he organized and played the Fantasy Baseball game on his Xbox.  Paul was a committed individual at a young age.

At 16, he told me about his plans to save money, get a license, and buy a car. On his 17th birthday, we were in a Brooklyn chop shop together buying his first car. He proudly handed the car dealer his $7,000 in cash he had saved from working at the club for two years. He knew the car type and color he wanted and wouldn’t give in.
Despite all the heeded warnings from his father and uncles, he went ahead and bought it. It actually turned out to be a pretty good car for the past three years. His main reason for having the car was to get him to and from work. He set that goal and made it happen.

The Fresh Meadows Country Club was an important part of his summers for the last five years. He was committed to working at the club. While other kids were at the beach, hanging out, enjoying their days off, Paul was at the club six days a week, sometimes from 6 AM-8PM. He worked his butt off caddying, helping the starter, parking the carts, and cleaning up the bag room. He was awarded a caddy scholarship, which helped to pay nearly half his tuition at Hunter College. He was a responsible kid who took his job seriously. And he continued to save his money to support his goals.

When he got his mind set on walking the trail, he of course, did not want to just be a section hiker, he felt the need to be a thru hiker. This meant he had to complete the whole trail from Georgia to Maine.  For about a year and a half before, he trained daily in his room working out to a P90X video, becoming a full vegetarian, and walking or biking to many beautiful places in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan.

He read books, journals, and countless info on line about the trail. He again had a goal and it was full steam ahead.

Along the trail, he had met so many amazing people, such as fellow hikers, hostel owners, townspeople, and trail angels who provided him with food and shelter. He loved meeting the people, as much as, he loved the incredible beauty of the natural world he was surrounded by.

So because of Paul’s commitment to do things all the way, and to honor his dedication to completing the Appalachian Trail, his beloved hiker friends; Cat Woman, Swivel, Spiral, Germanator, Achilles, and Drop Out have agreed to take some of his ashes with them to Katahdin Mountain to ensure that Paul will achieve his goal.

Thank you everyone."

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