San Juan Bautista resident Jim Ostdick started his journey toward a third book with a focus on his adventures along the Pacific Crest Trail, but his experiences along the 2,650-mile route opened his eyes to a story far beyond his own hike.
Ostdick’s book Walks Far Man: In Step with History on the Pacific Crest Trail was released Friday on Amazon. It follows his prior works Palomino Nation and Palomino and the Dream Machine. Palomino Nation was about his walk across the lower 48 states from coast to coast and Palomino and the Dream Machine centered on his bicycle ride across the country.
For his third book, Ostdick started his walk along the PCT in 2001. Family issues prevented him from finishing in a continuous hike, but he returned in sections and completed the long jaunt by 2009.
Ostdick has made a habit of blending his introspective personality with a love for nature. He’s a retired San Benito High School earth science teacher whose enthusiasm for fitness has evolved from being a basketball junkie, to avid runner, to bicyclist. Hiking, though, has been a constant for decades.
He recollected how he became familiar with the iconic PCT while working on his masters thesis in the 1990s studying groundwater flow in Indian Wells Valley.
“I spent the better part of three years on that thesis, and got to know the trail and met people walking the trail,” Ostdick said. “It kind of got me hooked.”
The more he hiked and the more he researched after he got home, he had a better understanding about the Native American dynamic along the trail. His book takes readers on a dual journey as he weaves between his experiences on the PCT and interrelated indigenous history.
“I had a few experiences on the trail early on that kind of made me wonder, Is there something going on here that I don’t understand?” he said.
Sure enough, there was plenty of history to share. He mentioned how many authors have written books about the Pacific Crest Trail ‒ he reads as many as possible so he can “relive the journey” ‒ but that basic theme felt repetitive. Incorporating indigenous culture, he said, got his fire burning.
“I really got into it,” he said. “My stories are still there. They’re funny for the most part and interesting to read with ups and downs. A lot of fun was had. Maybe people enjoy that part and then learn something from the other part.”
That sense of enthusiasm developed over the course of the hike.
“The more I got into it, the more time you spend outdoors sleeping in the dirt under the stars, in the rhythm of the moon cycle and things like that, the closer you get to the natural world,” he said. “You realize this is reality. It made me curious about, Did other people take this same journey or parts of it?”
He recalled how most people know about the Donner Party and European-American settlers migrating across the country into California for the Gold Rush. The trail, though, is just 100 years old or so, and he wondered whether there were other trails that led to the PCT.
Along with extensive research on trade routes and movement of tribal bands, Ostdick held meetings with local indigenous people since finishing the section hike. He learned about existing, long trails connecting Alaska to South America used by a variety of tribes such as the Plains, Pacific Northwest, Navajo, Hopi, Chumash and Yokut tribes. Overall, he studied about 30 tribal bands, he said.
“It just sort of snowballed into this, What would it be like to study the trail in terms of the native people whose lands the trail traverses from Mexico to Canada? Who were these people?”
He went on: “I learned from this whole study the stark difference between the way that Native American cultural traditions and religion view the world versus the way that European-American Christianity views the world. It couldn’t be more different.”
The book is available in electronic and print formats. A former student of his, Shawn Monique Del Gado, was the cover artist.
“Shawn’s very talented,” he said. “She’d never done a book cover before but she liked to try.”
He also included maps and photos to enhance the experience. Overall, he believes the book may change readers’ minds about the way they think of hikers or hiking.
“It’s a pretty crazy thing to try to hike 2,650 miles on foot,” he said. “It’s an adult portion.”
Walks Far Man: In Step with History on the Pacific Crest Trail is available at this link. Readers can also find Ostdick’s prior works Palomino Nation: My 2016 Crazyass Walk Across America and Palomino and the Dream Machine: A Retired Dude’s Bicycle Tour Around the Lower Forty-Eight United States.