I know Allyson profiled some of John's and Bonnie's courtship and engagement last year. However, I did want to pass along a few happy recollections I have of the first day they met. Just to set the stage, John and I had just started our first season on the LeConte Lodge crew in March 2010.
That year marked one of the most brutal airlift and opening periods in lodge history. I had just finished a wrangling job in Alaska and the top of LeConte boasted more snow on the ground than Anchorage. We ended up hiking up Alum Cave Bluff Trail on March 13 (I think) in two feet of unbroken snow as we reached the steep sections nearing the top. In some places the snow had drifted so deep on those dangerous sections of trail that the safety cables were buried beneath.
Up at the lodge, the regular crew and our airlift workers were digging trenches between cabins as we tried to get ready to open on time in spite of the tough conditions (we accomplished that goal thanks to some great help). Within two days after hiking up and reporting for duty, we were buried with an additional foot of snow--piling up to three feet in places around the lodge. Even the graybeards, who've been hiking LeConte longer than many crew members have been alive, conceded that this was the most difficult season-opening weather they'd seen. There were places around the lodge that had more snow on the ground at that moment than we received all last winter of 2011-12.
As part of our rookie chores, John and I were sent out to work on the most dangerous sections of the Alum Cave Bluff Trail. Most of these spots were not for the faint of heart--the depth of snow drifts often sloped down to a perilous dropoff. Where the snow didn't present difficulty, ice marked the Alum Cave Bluff Trail's carpet of choice. It was tough work shoveling thousands of pounds of snow and chipping ice until your bones ached, albeit under some bluebird beautiful skies. None of it bothered John, though. The Michigander kept right on shoveling and swinging--like John Henry, the steel-driving legend, instead of John Northrup.
At that time, we were short one crew member and all of us unloading box after box of t shirts and bags of flour in the snow were looking forward to adding the 10th and final person. Bonnie hiked up to interview to become the last piece of the 2010 LeConte Lodge crew puzzle. None of us knew anything about her. My first recollection was that at least she had some grit. Only about 10 percent of the U.S. population would have even been physically able to brave the conditions and interview during such a demanding day hike. She seemed thoroughly undaunted. Bonnie had lunch with us before interviewing. She ended up being hired with a report date later in the spring.
I remember John and I headed back out into the white to work on the Alum Cave Bluff Trail some more after lunch. I vividly remember how pretty the view of Clingman's Dome was on that crystalline day. Following her interview, Bonnie headed back down the difficult trail toward Georgia. When Bonnie passed, John was no longer paying much attention to the view of Clingman's Dome.
We were all glad to have Bonnie finally report to the lodge. To make her feel at home, we'd invite her up to watch sunset on Cliff Tops with us when we'd finish our supper chores. She would usually graciously accept. She did sit a little closer to John than the rest of us.
While I didn't predict a wedding immediately, by late summer 2010, you didn't have to be a crystal ball-toting fortuneteller to see where things were headed for John and Bonnie. They still do plenty of fine work for us in their third season on LeConte, and we're happy for them. We also pass along our regards to their families, who we've had the good fortune to meet up at the lodge. Allyson and Chris will attend the wedding and may pass on some good news of the festivities next week when they return to LeConte.
Switching gears a bit, I also wanted to pass along the story of Ben Connally, a day hiker from Gadsden, Ala., I met a few days ago. Ben counts 82 birthday candles on his cake now and still climbed the Alum Cave Bluff Trail in under four hours. He first started hiking LeConte about 64 years ago when he attended Auburn. On his most recent trip, Ben made reservations for a sit-down lunch in the dining room with his son Mark and grandson Michael--three generations of Connallys under the LeConte Lodge roof.
Ben also told me of a time many years ago when he arrived in Gatlinburg later than he planned. After inquiring about a room at a sold-out local lodge, the proprietors began calling around to their friends in town. Finally, Ben landed a bed on a screened-in porch of a private home. Gatlinburg operates a little differently now.
As for the weather, we're still living in the cloud with rare patches of blue opening above us. It rained lightly Friday evening, only 0.03 of an inch. The thermometer topped out at 62 Friday and remained a mild 50 degrees for the low.
Happy trails and a wonderful wedding day to John and Bonnie.