At the age of 64, when many people dread having to walk across a parking lot, Jim Ostdick walked across America.
That bears repeating: Jim Ostdick. Walked. Across. America.
Not metaphorically, not symbolically.Literally.
He started on the Atlantic Ocean in Delaware in February 2016 and finished with his feet in the Pacific surf at Point Reyes, north of San Francisco, seven and a half months later. If you keeping score, he walked 3,322 miles on two 64-year-old, twice surgically repaired legs.
And, then, from there, he walked home to San Juan Bautista.
The story is told in Ostdick’s new book “Palomino Nation: My 2016 Crazyass Walk Across America,” in which he gives the blow-by-blow on his walking journey, which was a fundraiser for the local parks-preservation non-profit REACH San Benito.
“I averaged just shy of 20 miles a day,” said Ostdick over coffee not far from his home in San Juan. “If you’re constantly thinking about these big numbers (of miles) and how far you have to go, it’s not constructive. You have to break it down. Hikers far more skilled than I am would tell me break down into five-mile walks. Then take your shoes off, eat a little bit, drink something and rest yourself.”
The walk across America is just the most dramatic of Ostdick’s bucket-list activities in the service of getting outside and enjoying the natural world. On Saturday, April 28, he will gather with a group of fellow outdoors lovers for a Moonlight Walk on the De Anza Trail, just outside of San Juan.
Through his walking and his books—as well as a series of pieces on the on-line resource BenitoLink—Ostdick proselytizes a lifestyle he articulates as simply, “Put yourself into contact with nature on a regular basis,” and, on a more mystical plain, “Get outside to get inside.”
The goal on the moonlight walk—it’s the night before the full moon—is to, says Ostdick, “shock the system into realizing that you belong here on this planet.” Those participating are permitted a flashlight but, “put it in your pocket, and don’t pull it out unless there’s some kind of emergency. Rely on moonlight to see, let your eyes adjust, shut up and don’t talk, let it all sink in.”
Just in case walking across America isn’t enough credibility, the 66-year-old geologist has also bicycled all around the U.S. (A previous self-published book documented his bicycling adventures). He had walked the length of the Pacific Coast Trail (in chunks, over the course of several years). And generally, he has been touting a number of unique walks all around San Benito County, since retiring as a teacher from San Benito High School in 2013. It’s all part of a general effort not only to make his retirement years as vital as possible, but by his example to combat what he calls “nature deficit disorder.”
Such a malady might be more of an issue today than ever before thanks to ever-deepening dependence on mobile devices and the addictive behavior they encourage. Tellingly, Ostdick began his walk just as the insane 2016 election season was hitting full stride and was largely on the road during the whole spectacle.
“It was an election year, and people were at each other’s throats,” said Ostdick. “But still, unfailingly, wherever I went, people were happy to see me, and friendly in support. Of course, I’m white. I don’t present a threat to people. I’m polite and I was walking for a cause. But people thought it was cool. They were always offering me sandwiches, water, a camping spot in their yard.”
Ostdick—whose trail name is “Palomino”—began his odyssey at the trailhead of the American Discovery Trail at Cape Henlopen in Delaware. He stuck mostly to the ADT, but improvised to save time here and there as well. One of the things that surprised Ostdick as he wandered into the American interior was how invisible the Native influence was. “The eastern part of the country is so densely populated, and there’s all these historical markers and history of the Revolution and the Civil War. But there was no mention about the people who came before all that, really until I got to Missouri. Farther west, it was much more prevalent.”
The vast flatness of the Great Plains in Nebraska was difficult and his feet finally rebelled in the Rockies. “I had to just stop in Steamboat Springs (Colorado), and take four days off.” But wise use of lanolin and a product known as Bag Balm—a salve designed to soothe cows’ udders after milking—kept the blisters away, and he kept moving forward.
Eventually, on Oct. 1, 2016, Ostdick reached Limatour Beach at Point Reyes, where a small circle of friends and supporters awaited him. Dazed and elated, he stumbled shoeless into the Pacific; a photo of that moment is on the front of his book about the walk. The plan was to drive back to Sonoma where the conquering Ostdick would be treated with a steak dinner.
“Well, I sat down, just to dry my feet off to put my shoes back on. And suddenly, I just crashed back on the warm sand. I could just feel all this tension seep out of me back into the earth. It was kind of like—I’m not exaggerating—the earth telling me ‘Welcome home.’ Behind my sunglasses, I just started to cry. There I was 64 years old, blubbering about my mom and dad, crying like a baby.”
Incredibly, Ostdick took another 10 days and walked south from mission to mission until reaching San Juan, where he did what he often does, have breakfast at the Mission Café.
Ostdick was born in Orange County in the days before Disneyland. He had moved from place to place, he said, before discovering San Benito County in 2005, and has now lived longer in San Benito than any other place before it. He is an unabashed evangelist for the rural beauty of San Benito. “You take a bike ride out to Pinnacles, south of Tres Pinos, and all that’s still the old California, what it used to look like (before urbanization). I want people to appreciate what we have here, that other places (in the Bay Area) have already lost.”
He is not interested, however, in taking up residence as San Benito’s trail guru. “I’ve got this jones about traveling,” he said. “I really have a hard time sitting still for very long.”
In that spirit, Ostdick is dreaming up new adventures, maybe Alaska, maybe Route 66, maybe re-creating the Underground Railroad route through parts of the Old Confederacy. On the near horizon is a bike ride north to south along the eastern edge of California and Nevada. It’s a trip that for most people would be the physical accomplishment of a lifetime. But for a man who just walked across America, such a trip is a footnote.
“I’m getting old,” he laughed. “We’ll see how I feel, but a three- or four-week bicycle trip, going 25 to 40 miles a day sounds good. It’ll be part of a full lunar cycle. I love being in rhythm with that. It’s one of those things, while you still can, you just gotta do it.”
Moonlight Walk on the De Anza Trail
Saturday, April 28, 7:30pm
The trailhead of the Juan Bautista de Anza Trail, San Juan Bautista
RSVP requested at 831.601.5154 or at reachsanbenito.org