A local adventurer is walking east-to-west across the United States this year to connect San Benito to the nation’s historic trail system. Jim Ostdick, a retired San Benito High School teacher, plans walk more than 4,000 miles on the American Discovery Trail as a fundraiser to create a regional parkway in San Benito County.
The parkway is the focus of the Recreation, Exercise and Community Health San Benito Foundation’s REACH Across America project. Ostdick will take a train departing from California on Feb. 16. He will set out Feb. 21 from the East Coast. “If I’m successful and I can hike 20 miles a day, I will finish in late October,” he said.
When asked about the reasoning, Ostdick said, “The goal is to connect our community and drive interest from outside people to come in and see that it’s an amazingly beautiful place. To show off what we have, from agriculture to geology.”
One roadblock to San Benito’s parkway project is funding, which is where REACH Across America comes in. “They need to raise an endowment fund,” said Ostdick. “The need is there in order to push the building of the San Benito River parkway and regional park. In order to push that forward, there’s a need for an endowment fund to provide for the maintenance for these facilities.”
Inspiration to share
Part of Ostdick’s motivation to become the frontman of the project is his experience as a teacher at SBHS. “The whole time that I taught there, year after year, I would hear the same thing form a large number of the students: There’s nothing to do here.” He noted an equal number of students kept active and were in sports. “There’s a big population of young people who don’t have the same opportunities or guidance. They need something positive, and we need to step up and make something for them.”
Additionally, the locale itself causes Ostdick to want to share it. “I live in the city of history, San Juan Bautista. Here we have the mission and we have the history. We have a very active historical society here and in Hollister. We have the San Benito County Historical Park, an underutilized, great park.”
Ostdick went on to talk about the region’s geology, saying, “There’s the whole geologic history of the county, which is famous around the world. Students from all around the world come here to do the earthquake walk in Hollister, to see the missions and to see where the San Andreas Fault runs through here.”
He noted, “There’s a lot going on for people to come and see. If we connect all these things with this trail, I think it ties it all together and provides opportunity for growth and business.”
When asked about the long-term benefits of the parkway, Ostdick said, “Those of us who like to dream would love to see the recreation trail connect Gilroy to San Juan. We would be then be connected all the way from Gilroy to Tres Pinos, which would be nice. Those of us who like to ride would love it if we got to safely ride all the way to Gilroy and back.”
Though the American Discovery Trail goes through more than one dozen national parks and one dozen national forests, Ostdick described the trip by saying, “It’s not so much as a wilderness hike as a hike through towns, communities, and recreation trails connected by rural roads and some wilderness trails. It’s a lot of road walking.”
There are two ways to cover the trail. “The trail goes continuously from Delaware, to Cincinnati, Ohio,” said Ostdick. “After that it splits. You can choose a northern route or southern route. The northern route takes you through Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. The northern and southern routes join back up in Colorado.” From there, the trail goes through Colorado, Utah, and Nevada.
“You come to Tahoe, then across the Sierra, down to Sacramento, then end up in Point Reyes,” he said.
The massive journey makes planning critical, Ostdick said, “You have to cross the Appalachians, Rockies, and Sierras all at the right time. You don’t want to be too deep in the snow. If you’re going to do it all in one year, you have to leave by the first of March. You’ll be hitting cold weather, some snow probably, and a lot of rain on the East Coast. But that sets you up for summertime crossing of the Rockies, and getting across the Sierras before the snows come.”
The journey will begin on Feb. 21, in Cape Henlopen, Delaware. “I will begin walking across through Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and into Ohio,” Ostdick said. “And then right past Cincinnati, I will get on the northern route of the ADT, go through Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, through Nebraska. I have a cousin who lives outside Omaha, and she going to give me a couple of days of rest and relaxation.” From there, he’ll depart up through Denver across the Rockies.
One of the many challenges Ostdick noted was crossing Utah in the summer. “The towns are pretty far apart and there’s not as much surface water. So I the logistics of this are hard. You have to carry a lot of water.” To solve that problem, he will use a utility jogging stroller.
Other considerations include getting supplies to himself, including new shoes and food. One method he’ll use to take care of that will be to mail himself items to pick up at resupply points.
“Once I get to Lake Tahoe, I’ll be pretty happy,” he said. “A group of San Juan residents are going to meet me there and walk with me for a day or two and have a celebration.” From there, Ostdick will cross the Sierras into Sacramento, over Mount Diablo into Oakland before going to Point Reyes.
Ostdick, who goes by the nickname of Palomino, came to San Benito High School in 2005, and retired in 2012. “I taught Earth Science to ninth-graders and loved it,” he said. “I enjoyed that job as much as any job I’e ever had.” Before coming to the area, he had more than 20 years of teaching experience, mostly at private and Catholic schools.
Ostdick has been part of other outgoing groups to get others involved in the area. “When I was at San Benito High School, we started a club called the Outdoor Club,” he said. “Our mission was to remove all the illegally dumped trash in the riverbed. Over the course of about six or seven years, we pulled out more than 22 tons of trash. And those kids were unbelievably committed to do that work and enjoyed it.”
“There’s still an Outdoor Club, and now there are smaller clubs that other teachers lead in elementary schools, continuing that tradition,” Ostdick said. “There are still clean-ups going on. A few members of the original Outdoor Club are joining REACH, now that they’re young adults.”
Regarding his home base, Ostdick said, “I think San Benito County is just a unique place in California. We’re not overwhelmed by a large population. We still still value the land. There’s still an attitude toward preserving history and respecting what has come before us and what we can leave behind. I think it’s worth fighting for, too.”
The reachacrossamerica.org site will have a blog and map feature, “Where’s Palomino,” to help people track his journey as it happens.
At 64, Ostdick has had the experience with long treks to inspire confidence in his journey. “Just since I turned 50, I have ridden the West Coast from Seattle to San Diego on bicycle,” he said. “I have walked the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. It’s 2,650 miles.”
As if that weren’t enough, he went on to say, “When I retired from teaching a couple years ago, I rode my bike across the country from Oregon to Maine.” He’s also completed a ride from St. Augustine, Flor. to Boston, Mass. “I wrote a book about that.” He said his published journal is available on Amazon for all who are interested in reading about his trek.
As for the financial target for REACH Across America, Ostdick explained that setting up as large of an endowment fund is the goal. “If it’s 4,800 miles, and we can get 20,000 people to pledge a penny a mile, that’s $1 million. That’s pretty ambitious for a little foundation and county like ours. But each of us probably knows a handful of people who could afford $48.”
When asked about expectations, he Ostdick said, “I think there will be really good community support.”
“They’ve already had some donors,” said Ostdick. “There’s a way to pledge a certain amount of money per mile or a lump sum donation,” he said of the website.
When asked about the flow the money, Ostdick said, “All the money that’s raised through REACH Across America and San Benito Foundation goes to the endowment fund. None of the funds you give for the trail go to me. REACH Foundation is all volunteers. All the money that goes into the endowment fund goes there. There’s no middle man.”
Those interested in supporting REACH can go to reachacrossamerica.org to find out more information and to make pledges.