When Rod Broadbelt began leading hikes at Umstead State Park more than two decades ago, they were events not for the feint of foot. Rod had just retired to Cary, moving from the Philadelphia area where he was a member of a competitive hiking club.
Competitive hiking? you ask.
Yes, Rod would tell you. They awarded points for each mile hiked, and the points could vary based on the difficulty and elevation of the hike. At year’s end, awards were given to the hikers who had racked up the most points. Rod didn’t like the competitive nature of the hikes: Competitive hiking? That was an oxymoron in Rod’s book.
While Rod left the competitive hiking to the folks in Philly, he had trouble shaking the speed at which competitive hikers hike. Four miles an hour? At Umstead? On a 15-mile hike? It was second nature to Rod.
So when, a couple years into leading his monthly hikes, he decided to add a Ruins Hike, we all thought Rod would finally have to slow his pace. After all, the goal of the hike was, in part, to explore the human history of Umstead and learn about it’s pre-park past. To take a moment and reflect on life back when Umstead was rolling farmland. On his first hike, it was — and wasn’t — a surprise when we got to the first old homestead and, without breaking stride, Rod pointed to his left and said, “That was an old root cellar,” to his right and said, “That was the foundation of a house,” as the 20-or-so of us galloped to keep pace.
Rod eventually understood that the Ruins Hike was a different animal and slowed the pace (in part, by carrying a heavy tome called “Stories in Stone: Memories from a Bygone Farming Community in North Carolina” by Tom Weber, which documented the park’s past). Of the 12 monthly hikes Rod led, the Ruins Hike was probably his most popular.
Rod continued to lead hikes at Umstead even after being diagnosed last year with pancreatic cancer. When he died in March, the Triangle hiking community knew that an era had ended.
But not his Ruins Hike.
At a ceremony at Umstead honoring Rod shortly before he died, Umstead Park Ranger Billy Drakeford vowed to keep Rod’s Ruins Hike alive. He’ll be doing so this Saturday, leading a hike very much like the one Rod pioneered: about 10 miles, much of it off-trail. The key difference? Ranger Billy says the hike will be at “a leisurely pace.”
The hike starts at 8:30 a.m. and is expected to finish by 2. Bring snacks and water. And, in memory of Rod, wear something red, the color of his favorite hiking jacket. Space is limited; call 919.571.4170 to reserve a spot.
Also this weekend
Christmas Tree Lighting & Flotilla, Saturday, 1 p.m. into evening , Cliffs of the Neuse State Park, Seven Springs. This annual event at Cliffs of the Neuse has become quite a holiday spectacular spectacle, with canoes and kayaks and dinghies with trolling motors adorned with all manner of lights and decoration. Don’t have a boat but still want to be part of the flotilla? The park has a limited number of loaners. Daytime festivities, including crafts and food, from 1 to 4 p.m., evening festivities begin at 6 p.m., with the flotilla, on the park lake, at 7:30 p.m. Learn more and pre-register with the park here.
Winter Bird ID Hike, Sunday, 9 a.m., South Mountains State Park, Connelly Springs. Who would view spending the winter in South Mountains as snowbirding it? A bunch of birds from up north, that’s who. Come and find out just who these seasonal visitors are, how long they plan to stay and gain additional insights at this “introductory level and kid friendly” program. Learn more here.
GetHiking! this weekend
What are our GetHiking! groups in North Carolina and Virginia up to this weekend? Plenty, thanks for asking …
GetHiking! Charlottesville: Old Rag Circuit, Friday, December 6, 8:30 a.m., 1533 Rio Rd E., Charlottesville. Strenuous. 9.1 miles. Hike highlights: ranked one of the top 25 hikes in the world — great views and a rock scramble. Learn more here.
GetHiking! Triangle: 6th Annual I-Hike-for-Cookies Hike at Umstead State Park, Saturday, December 7, 10 a.m., Harrison Avenue at I-40, Cary. By eating and sipping first everyone gets to chat, then we burn off the calories on the guide-led hike of your choice: Company Mill ( 5.9 miles) or the Loblolly Trail to the Bike & Bridle Trail, then back by the lake (4.2 miles). Learn more here.
GetHiking! Charlottesville: Montebello Fish Hatchery to Spy Rock, Saturday, December 7, 9:30 a.m., 1415 Ray C Hunt Dr., Charlottesville. Moderately Strenuous. 7 miles. Hike highlights: Spy Rock — 360° views of the Religious Range, Mount Pleasant, The Priest, and Three Ridges. Learn more here.
GetHiking! Charlotte: South Mountains, Sunday, December 8, 9:30 a.m., 3001 South Mountain Park Ave., Connelly Springs. Strenuous. 8.5-9.5 miles. Learn more here.
GetHiking! Charlottesville: Brown Mountain, Sunday, December 8, 8 a.m., 4105 Lewis and Clark Dr., Charlottesville. Strenuous. 10.3 miles. Hike highlights: Brown Mountain Trail, Rocky Mountain Trail, Big Run Portal Trail, Big Run Drainage Area, Rocky Mountain Run, Unobstructed Views. Learn more here.
GetHiking! Charlottesville: AT and Old AT: Wintergreen Resort, Sunday, December 8, 11 a.m., Humpback Picnic Area: MP 8.5 Blue Ridge Parkway, Lyndhurst. Moderate. 5.5 miles. Hike highlights: Upper Shamokin Falls and Gorge, overlook. Learn more here.
GetOriented! Triad: Finding Your Way in the Woods, Sunday, December 8, 2 p.m., 6068 N Church St., Greensboro. Strenuous. We’ll start with a 30-minute map-and-compass introduction, then use that map and compass — and some Daniel Boone skills — to find our way in the woods. We’ll also do some off-trail exploring, with the goal of purposefully venturing off the trail, then rejoining it again. Learn more here.
Live the video
This week’s video takes us on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail along Falls Lake north of Raleigh. With 60 miles along the lake, and more than twice that through the entire Triangle (not to mention the entire 1,175 miles spanning the state), the MST is a great destination for holiday weekend adventure. Learn more about exploring the MST here.
More weekend options
Looking for more options for weekend adventure? Check out our GetOut! Find An Adventure resource page here.