First of all, I pass along happy birthday wishes to Walt, one of our crew members who has elected to celebrate down below on off days. He's a good neighbor, and I hope he's enjoying his birthday in the land of plenty.
I've often said that LeConte Lodge claims the best guests in the Smokies, which I earnestly believe. The past few days have been no exception. As promised Tuesday, I'd like to introduce you to Bill Watkins, an 85-year-old native of Gretna, La., near New Orleans. Bill came up with members of his obviously adoring family on Monday. Bill was happy to tell his story but didn't want his photo made, as his mother made some pointed comments long ago about people who plaster their photos everywhere in public.
I was folding some shirts in the office and count myself lucky to hear some of Bill's stories. To those of you who've visited the fine state of Louisiana (I was last down that way after Hurricane Katrina and am a fan of the unique culture and people), you don't have to be very observant to notice a distinct lack of alpine training areas.
However, that doesn't slow down Bill. He told me he walks up and down the levees to prepare for his annual hike up into the thin air of LeConte. To mix up his cross training, Bill also heads to a nearby three-story motel to walk up and down the stairs. I don't know the name of the motel, but as a professional courtesy I'd appreciate it if they'd continue to open their stairs to Bill so he can continue to visit us. I know their guests would like to visit with him.
The 2012 Watkins trip marked Bill's fifth hike up LeConte. He started when he was a spring chicken of 79, but had to skip a year for the small matter of a knee replacement. Bully for you, Bill. I'm proud to claim you as an honorary Tennessean.
The same night I enjoyed visiting with another guest (I forgot to get permission to use his name) who had been waiting for 33 years to stay at LeConte Lodge. He had last hiked up LeConte and stayed at the backcountry shelter in 1979. All the stars aligned in 2012 and he came to see us. He was thrilled with his visit to the lodge, and we were glad to host such pleasant and interesting company.
There was a question about bear activity left in the comments section yesterday. To answer, we have had several bear sightings on the Bullhead and Trillium Gap Trails over the last month. Crew member Austin also saw a couple of bears at the lodge one night about a month ago. However, we've had no trouble with bears at the lodge. I'd like to thank all our guests and day hikers for helping in our effort not to tempt the bears with tossed out food or drink or unattended backpacks. Please be diligent in following safe food behavior to help us keep the bears (and, in turn, our guests) safe.
Have a good day. Happy trails.