Walking Across America: Ostdick makes it home after nearly 4,000-mile trek

Retired high school teacher, Jim Ostdick, completes walk across America to raise awareness and money to promote connecting San Benito County to a national recreational trail

After nine months on the road, Jim “Palomino” Ostdick was finally back home in San Juan Bautista on Monday, Oct. 10. The second place he stopped to visit was the Mission Café to be with friends over a plate of eggs and hash browns. The first place he stopped was Mission San Juan Bautista in order to say a prayer for getting him home safe after walking more than 4,000 miles across America.

Ostdick, a retired San Benito High School teacher, is no stranger to trekking across America. But last time he did it, he was on a bike. This time, he hoofed his way through seven pairs of shoes along the American Discovery Trail beginning in Cape Henlopen, Delaware, and ending at Limantour Beach at Point Reyes, Calif., all to raise awareness and money in order to connect the county to the nation’s historic trail system.

As he sat with four friends, waiting for breakfast, Ostdick related how his journey began. He said as he was riding his bike around the country a couple years ago, he discovered a sign in Delaware that read, "American Discovery Trail," and was intrigued. When he returned home to San Benito County, he said the board members of the Recreation, Exercise and Community Health San Benito (R.E.A.C.H.) Foundation asked if he would be interested in joining the group's board. Ostdick attended a few meetings, and there were discussions on how they might start an endowment fund for parks and recreation in the county.

“I said 'I want to do this walk, anyway; what if we do it as a fundraiser and try to get pledges?'” he recalled. “I started planning it, and once I start planning stuff, I usually do it.”

As trails go, the American Discovery Trail is somewhat of a misnomer. While it is a trail in some places, often it isn’t as it meanders through cities, small and large. And it’s not exactly a trail one takes if they’re interested in the shortest route from coast-to-coast. Ostdick discovered along the way he had to break his own trail in order to get to the West Coast before bad weather set in over the Sierras. As it was, he didn’t escape bad weather at all.

The American Discovery Trail Society has been working on the trail since 1989. It offers intrepid trekkers a digital turn-by-turn guide with GPS coordinates across more than 6,800 miles and 15 states. It is the only non-motorized recreational trail designed for hiking, biking and even horses across the entire country.

“The exact route is 4,800 miles if you go according to their route,” Ostdick said. “I knew at my age I wasn’t going to be able to complete that whole thing in the timeframe I had. You have to start in the spring and your goal is to get over Sierras before it snows. So, I set a goal of doing 4,000 miles, and as I got into it, I realized that by following their turn-by-turn instructions sometimes you’d go 50 miles to the north to see this really cool, historical covered bridge or something. As nice as it was, it wears on you.”

Ostdick said he strayed off the official trail and started using the technology he was carrying, a smart phone and Google Maps, to determine his own way. All told, he said he ended up walking just over 3,300 miles.

Always a fitness buff, Ostdick said he prepared for the trip simply by doing what he normally does: he regularly hikes the de Anza Trail that begins in San Juan Bautista.

“I also use the farm roads, the cross country track at San Benito High School, the Pinnacles and other local trails, varying them so I don’t get bored,” he said.

When strategizing where he would sleep and eat along the way, Ostdick said he didn’t quite have to resort to living off the land. He said the trail goes through small towns, RV parks and campgrounds for much of the way every 20 miles or so, though sometimes less, or a lot more in the western states.

“The eastern half of the country, you come across places pretty regularly,” he said as he held up his smartphone. “I did everything with this. With the Internet and a smart phone, you can plan things out pretty well. I used this for my blog, for mapping, communications, GPS, everything. It’s amazing. If a young person were listening to me now, they’d say, ‘duh.’”

Ostdick described his typical day as 20 miles of walking over six to eight hours. One of the most important traits was to be flexible, he noted.

“Every day presents a different weather challenge, traffic issues, or topography challenges,” he said. “You go through different climates and micro climates. The hardest section was Nevada. I was basically walking along Highway 50—which I call the loneliest road in America—and it’s mountain range then desert, then mountain range, and then desert again.”

All along the way he met "great people," Ostdick recounted.

“No matter what anybody says about the United States of America, the people of this country are incredible,” he said. “They’re kind, generous and loving. I never met anybody who didn’t treat me with respect.”

As for the most memorable terrain during the trip, he remembered with fondness the 200 miles walking and camping beside the C&O Canal Towpath along the Potomac River. He said he enjoyed every day walking beside the canal, even when it rained.

“It’s like a long, narrow national park,” he said. “The Potomac River is way more beautiful, bigger, faster, and stronger than anything I ever imagined. The Poudre River and the canyon in Colorado was gorgeous leading up to the Continental Divide and crossing down into Steamboat Springs. I had just crossed Nebraska and burned up, so going up through the Rockies was sensational. Utah is an impressive state, and the best was crossing into California, then Lake Tahoe was amazing.”

Ostdick came into California on Highway 50 and then hopped onto the Tahoe Rim Trail for a few days to get away from traffic. When he got on the trail he remembers being thankful that he made it before first snow. Or so he thought.

“On the second day, I was at about 9,000 feet and it started to snow,” he said. “I thought 'I’m here, but I’ve got to get out of here before it gets serious.' It was nice going all the way down the west side of the Sierras. I had not spent much time in Sacramento, and I was very impressed with Old Sacramento. It’s beautiful and people were exceptionally nice to me there.”

Besides wearing out seven pairs of shoes, Ostdick said he had to adapt his clothing all the way.

“It was February on the East Coast and I figured it was going to be cold at night sleeping in my tent,” he said. “I had my down bag and sleeping bag liner, a parka and a jacket, and I needed them along the Potomac. Then spring came, or so it seemed. It got warm and nice during the day, so I didn’t really need the parka anymore. I mailed my parka home and I got to West Virginia and it snowed. I had to go to Walmart and buy a cheap jacket. Then in Ohio, winter hit like crazy. I was walking in snow and it was below freezing.”

He described his arrival at Limantour Beach as the perfect beach day.

“The temperature was perfect, the sun was shining, people were out there waiting for me,” he said. “Don Pidd and Claudia Fisher and other board members met me there. Don actually walked the last 10 miles with me. He said that was the longest walk he had ever done and he was just going to sit and watch football the next day.”

In the final stretch back to San Juan Bautista, there was still the matter of money and how much was raised. Ostdick said he has to talk with the board to figure out what the tally is, but he thinks it will be far less than what he was secretly hoping for in what he described as a “crazy notion.”

“Let’s say if I walked 4,000 miles and you pledged a penny a mile, that would cost you $40,” he said. “If we could find 25,000 people in San Benito County who would pledge a penny a mile that would be $1 million. That was a crazy, dreamer idea, but you’ve got to shoot for the stars.”

He said he has been told it would be more realistic to be happy if $20,000 were raised.

“They’re probably right because they’re more realistic than me,” Ostdick said. “But I’m not sure I would have been able to complete this trip if I didn’t have those crazy, dreamer ideas. That kept me going and we’re not done. There’s still time for people to pledge. There are still people out there in Silicon Valley who might get wind of this. If you never ask, the answer is always no. Maybe someone is out there and toward the end of the year needs a tax break. I’m still optimistic.”

For more information or to pledge, go to Reach Across America.

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]