Residents of San Benito County are mourning the loss of Jim Ostdick, 70, who distinguished himself with a life of public service and a love of travel and adventure. Ostdick taught at San Benito High School, wrote three books about his travels around the United States, was an Adopt-a-Highway volunteer, served on the board of directors for the R.E.A.C.H. San Benito Parks Foundation, and wrote extensively for BenitoLink on the region’s natural history and hiking trails.
Ostdick had just returned from his sister’s funeral a few weeks before. Family and friends became concerned when, starting on Nov. 6, texts and calls to him went unanswered. He was found in his bed on Nov. 9 during a wellness check conducted at his trailer located at the Mission Vineyard Mobile Home Park in San Juan Bautista.
“I had texted him a joke about Dwight Howard’s signing in Taiwan,” said his brother, John Ostdick. “Basketball was always a surefire way of getting a response from him, so when I did not get one, it set off alarms. Jim did not just fall off the earth unless he told everybody that he was doing that.”
Jim was born in Fullerton on Dec. 5, 1951, the fourth of Leo Francis and Marie Coughlin Ostdick’s six children. His family moved several times, following Leo’s job with Hunt’s Foods, first to Denver, Co., and then to Dallas, Texas, where Leo died of a heart attack.
“Jim was a good brother,” John said. “We had our sibling rivalries, but he was always there for me. He had a special relationship with my dad, who died when Jim was 10 years old. It was very traumatic and hard for him to come out of, but he did, and he flourished in his own way.”
Jim took up basketball in high school, and his team won the state championship during his senior year, winning 31 games in a row. But his greatest interest was in nature and earth sciences—and anything that could get him out into the world.
“When he left Texas and came to California, he kind of went in with both feet,” John said. “He moved to Bakersfield to get his master’s degree, then to Seattle, and finally down to Santa Barbara, where he taught earth science and coached the girl’s basketball team. Somewhere in there, in his 30s, he rode his bike from Canada to Mexico.”
In 2001, Ostdick began walking the entire Pacific Crest Trail, the first of three epic journeys through America that he would turn into books. He traveled the trail in sections as time permitted and completed the journey in 2019.
“While hiking the Pacific Crest Trail,’ John said, “he came to know all the Trail Angels, the people who would magically pop into vision when he was out of water, stuck in a storm, or occasionally lost and give him whatever he needed. Jim became one of those people who embraced and balanced his body, his mind, his heart, and his spirit, and came to believe in doing service to others.”
Ostdick moved to San Juan Bautista in 2005 and began teaching at Hollister High School. He immediately started a student organization, the Outdoor Club, which was dedicated to cleaning up the trash that accumulated along the San Benito River.
He began his next long journey in 2013, bicycling the perimeter of the lower 48 states, which he chronicled in his book Palomino and the Dream Machine.
His next trip was a coast-to-coast walk across America, starting at Cape Henlopen, Delaware, in 2016 and ending at Point Reyes seven and a half months later. He collected pledges based on his miles, and the resulting donations were given to R.E.A.C.H. to establish a parks endowment fund.
Ostdick was active with REACH, serving on its board of directors from 2015-17. Current member Anita Kane remembers the organization taking over his Adopt-a-Highway work while he was out on biking and hiking journeys.
“I learned about roadside trash pickup from Jim,” she said. “I started doing it, and now friends also do it now because of him. And he would join us on things like the Moonlight Walk along the De Anza Trail, where he would set up a little station and talk about the moon and astronomy. I can’t think of anyone who met him who looked at geology and nature the same way after.”
He wrote Palomino Nation: My 2016 Crazyass Walk Across America to document the trip, and following its publication, he wrote a series of articles for BenitoLink on local geography and hiking trails.
His third and final book was 2020’s Walks Far Man: In Step with History on the Pacific Crest Trail, which reflected Ostdick’s interest in the Indigenous people of California. He credited near-neighbor Laynee Reyna with inspiring him to write the book.
“He would bring me doughnuts on Sundays, and we would talk about the various tribes in North America,” she said. “I had seen a movie called ‘Walks Far Woman,’ so I named him ‘Walks Far Man.’ Jim was the manifestation of a truly nice person.”
When he wasn’t hiking, biking, picking up trash, or helping people to understand the environment and history around them, he was a steadfast promotor of local businesses and activities.
“He was so much more than just a customer for us,” said Lolla owner Sarah Griss. “We all just cared so much about him. He was an integral part of our community, a friend, and a mentor to us. He was just special and sweet—I can’t say enough good things about him. It’s an immense loss for everybody who knew him.”
Some community members, including Griss, have begun discussing ways to celebrate his life with a public event and hike, with plans to be announced toward the end of the month. As all of his relatives live outside of California, the family plans no local memorial service, and his ashes will be scattered privately.
“There won’t be a gravestone for him,” John said, “but if there were one, it would have a quote from Maya Angelou on it: ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’”
Jim Ostdick on BenitoLink:
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