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.
Monday — never an easy time for the outdoors enthusiast. After a weekend of adventure, returning to the humdrum work-a-day world can make one melancholy. To help ease the transition, every Monday we feature a 90 Second Escape — essentially, a 90-second video or slide show of a place you’d probably rather be: a trail, a park, a greenway, a lake … anywhere as long as it’s not under a fluorescent bulb.
Today’s 90-Second Escape: Wild Umstead
Since the late 1990s, Rod Broadbelt has been leading a hike at Umstead State Park in Raleigh every month except for November (when he takes his show on the road to Raven Rock State Park). And every March, he leads his “wilderness hike,” advertised as being 98 percent off trail.
The hike is a great opportunity to see a side of Umstead you probably haven’t experienced. There’s a surprising gorge early on, a stand of impressive beech trees midway, old road beds throughout that transport you to Umstead’s pre-park past.
This year, Rod will hold his wilderness hike on March 8. It’s currently booked, but you can get on the wait list. And you may well want to after spending 90 seconds on this Wilderness Hike from two years ago.
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Note: This post was amended on Sept. 23, 2015, to reflect my more recent discoveries in great rainy day gear.
I awoke to gray skies, a steady rain and temperatures in the upper 50s.
Perfect day for an off-trail hike.
Alas, only nine other folks shared my feelings for Rod Broadbelt’s annual Wilderness Hike at Umstead State Park. The hike, 98 percent of which is advertised as being off-trail, has in the past attracted more than three times as many hikers. Through the Raleigh Recreational Hikers Meetup alone, at least 25 people were signed up. Yet the prospect of 10 miles in the rain off-trail apparently dampened the spirits of the masses. The weather only made me that much more excited. There’s something more intimate about the forest when it’s dripping wet, especially in winter. The season’s drab brown leaf-littered floor takes on a coppery glow, gray tree trunks take on a metallic sheen and the close, wet air adds an intimacy, a coziness if you will that makes hiking the woods a more personal affair.
I was excited by the weather for another reason: I’ve got the gear for it. Trust me, if I didn’t I would have stayed snug in bed, stirring about the time the hike was returning to the trailhead. I hate being wet. But the seductive allure of a cozy, gray rain forest has forced me to seek a solution. That’s why I have the essentials for staying dry in the rain:
Waterproof/resistant shell. You can spend $500 on a shell absolutely positively guaranteed by the manufacturer to keep the rain out and let your body breathe — and you’ll still get wet if you don’t carefully manage what you’re wearing underneath. Despite advances in breathable rain gear, I have yet to hear anyone rave about a particular garment. If the temperature’s much above 70, there’s a good chance you’ll produce more sweat than any miracle fabric can vent. That said, one of the best recent advances in the fight to stay dry is the Patagonia Supercell Rain Jacket. The jacket is endorsed by Lindsey and Andrew, with Great Outdoor Provision Co.’s store in Greenville, who will be relying on the Supercell to keep them dry on their upcoming assault on the entire Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Say the duo: “This jacket is comfortable, breathable, and GoreTex makes it truly waterproof! This is great for backcountry endeavors because of the oversized hood (can fit a helmet underneath) and the harness-friendly pockets. So you can access your jacket pockets without taking off your pack. The pit zips help ensure that you won’t get too hot during the summer. And the colors are pretty awesome!” Retails for $269.
Rain pants. You can spend a bundle on rain pants as well, but, for me at least, sweaty legs aren’t an issue. A pair of coated $99 Patagonia Torrentshell rain pants keep the rain and related trail slosh out. I wear regular hiking pants underneath; at hike’s end I peel off the rain pants to keep the car seat dry and clean on the drive home.
Pack. I get especially giddy over rainy day hikes now that I’ve added the Mountain Hardwear Scrambler OutDry 30 to my arsenal. Designed for rock climbing, the pack has a retro simplicity that keeps it light and the OutDry coating means you don’t need to keep a wary eye on the sky so you can slip your pack cover on in time. Retails for $130.
Hat. I wear a waterproof ($20) ball cap, mainly to keep the rain off my glasses. If the rain picks up, I flip my rain jacket hood over top.
Wool socks. I remember having to enroll in group outdoor retail therapy the first time I dropped $20 for a pair of socks. Until then, I probably hadn’t spent $20 on athletic socks in my entire life. (Hey, I can score tube socks 6 for $6!) But what a difference a great pair of socks make: They get wet, they dry out. No more wet foot/blister guarantee. Lots of good options with American roots to chose from, including
Fits, Farm to Feet and Smartwool
Monday — never an easy time for the outdoors enthusiast. After a weekend of adventure, returning to the humdrum work-a-day world can make one melancholy. To help ease the transition, every Monday we feature a 90 Second Escape — essentially, a 90-second video of a place you’d probably rather be: a trail, a park, a greenway, a lake … anywhere as long as it’s not under a fluorescent bulb.
Today’s 90-Second Escape: A Wilderness Wander at Umstead.
Saturday morning dawned gray, rainy and cool. The perfect day for an off-trail trek in Umstead State Park. Umstead is a 5,700-acre forest in the heart of the Triangle. The land that would become the state park was put aside beginning in the 1930s, depleted farmland that had been drained of its productivity. The federal government began buying out local farmers; the land began reverting to its pre-European invasion state. Today, Umstead is an 80-year-old forest with only occasional signs of its civilized past.
Twenty miles of hiking trail crisscross the park, and I’ve been on all of them hundreds of times. But Saturday, the objective of octogenarian Rod Broadbelt, who’s been leading monthly hikes here for 14 years. Few people know the backcountry of Umstead better than Rod. C’mon, let him take you on a quick tour.
Go short, go long, go fast: Those are among your options this weekend in North Carolina.
Whenever I run across someone who’s just been to Goose Creek State Park for the first time, their first comment is, “Wow! Why didn’t I know about this place?” Maybe it’s because it’s off the beaten path (it’s between Washington and Bath off a lesser traveled stretch of U.S. 264). Maybe it’s because it doesn’t have a famous landmark at it’s core (the dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, Bear Island at Hammocks Beach State Park). Maybe because it doesn’t have easily accessed recreational opportunities, such as the rental canoes at Merchants Millpond State Park.
What Goose Creek does have, thanks in large part to well-located boardwalk, is hiking through a classic coastal swamp, complete with Spanish moss-draped oaks, black gum, tupelo, red maple, bald cypress, wax myrtle — so much plant life, in fact, that you could get overwhelmed. Unless you were in the company of seasoned naturalists who can help you figure out who’s who among swamp denizens. Saturday, from 9 a.m.- 2 p.m., you’ll have that opportunity on a Sierra Club-led hike through Goose Creek. Participants are advised to bring lunch, water and “good walking shoes” (meaning sensible, not fashionable). Call Ernie Marshall at 252.916.5462 for more information and to sign-up.
No doubt you look in this space every Thursday and think, “How come I can never find any good 20-mile hikes?” Think no more, for on Saturday there will be a 20-miler at Umstead State Park. The hike is led by Rod Broadbelt, known to local hiking insiders as the man who introduced marathon take-no-prisoners hikes to the Triangle. When Broadbelt moved here in the 1990s from the Philadelphia area, he scouted around for a good hiking club that led stout hikes. No hiking clubs, no stout hikes — so he started one of his own. Once a month, he leads a hike of no less than 8-10 miles at Umstead State Park (with the occasional road trip to Raven Rock State Park).
Saturday’s 20-miler is all on blazed trail (not always the case with off-road Rod) and shorter options of 4.5, 6, 9, 11, 13, and 17 miles are offered (basically, Rod tells you when to turn around and how to get back). Hike starts at 8 a.m. from the far left corner of the Umstead parking lot off Harrison Avenue at I-40. Expect to return by 4:15 p.m. Questions? Call Rod at 919.363.6611 no later than 7 p.m., or email him at email@example.com.
After a hike at the coast and one in the Piedmont, let’s pick up the pace with a run in the mountains. That would be the Valentine Run 5K and Youth Fun Run in Black Mountain, hosted by the local parks & rec. The race is Saturday at 2 p.m. ($30). Afterward, stick around and explore Black Mountain, a fun and occasionally funky mountain town.
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Those are GGNC’s thoughts for an active weekend. Find out other ways you can get out this weekend by browsing our super calendar, a collection of events calendars from throughout the state, below.