Rod Broadbelt officially retired today from more than two decades of leading hikes, almost exclusively at Umstead State Park. And not just hikes, as anyone whoever tried to tag along on one of his hikes would attest, these were no-holds-barred hiking extravaganza’s: lace up tight, hold on to your Tilley and try to hang on. Even into his mid-80s, Rod was no Sunday stroller — he was an unabashed steamroller, leaving hikers half his age in his dust.
But time eventually slows everyone’s pace, and Friday morning Rod was honored by the Umstead Coalition and Umstead State Park with a ceremony dedicating, ironically, a bench in his honor. I’m pretty sure it was the first time the 200 or so gathered had ever seen Rod seated.
Umstead Ranger Billy Drakeford recalled that when he first arrived at Umstead and wanted to learn a little park history, he went to Rod’s house, and, over tea, learned all about Rod’s annual Ruins Hike, a largely off-trail affair exploring Umstead’s human past. “I stole my ruins hike directly from his,” Drakeford confessed. Drakeford’s story lead to a tale about the first time Rod led the Ruins Hike. When the group came to the first crumbled foundations, Rod, without breaking stride, pointed left and said, “There’s a ruin,” pointed right and said, “There’s a another ruin.” That hike eventually became more introspective.
But on most other hikes, be it his shorter 8-mile summer hikes or his 21-mile march from one end of the park to the other and back, Rod maintained a steady and brisk pace, a pace he kept into his mid-80s.
To a soundtrack of spring peepers, it was announced that Rod’s Ruins Hike would live on, from here on dubbed the “Wear Red for Rod’s Ruins Hike,” in honor of the red jacket Rod was rarely without. It will be in late winter, when the daffodils are in bloom. “Daffodils,” Rod’s daughter Cheryl explained, “are Dad’s favorite flowers.” Daffodils, planted by early homesteaders to spruce things up, continue to persevere and thrive more than a century after the root cellars, the barns, the log cabins, and the mills they graced have faded from the scene. They aren’t native to the area, but they quickly established a home. Like Rod.
When it was Rod’s turn to speak, he thanked his family, his gathered friends and, above all, the God he’d always placed his faith in, and who, Rod noted, was responsible for such a wondrous place as Umstead. He added: “I sure hope God has hiking trails for me.”
And maybe a hiker or two who can keep pace.