On Feb. 1, 2018, Glenn Koster took his first steps from South Miami Beach, Florida, on a mission to spread a message across the country: that everyone can do something to help children in foster care.
Sixteen states, five mountain ranges, eight pairs of shoes and more than 9.1 million steps later, the 63-year-old Kansas pastor ended his trek in Westport on late last month.
He was met at the Observation Tower by eight representatives of the South Beach Regional Fire Authority, led by Capt. Darin Vander Veur; Westport Police Cpl. Kevin Chaufty; and Leslie Eichner, executive director of the Westport/Grayland Chamber of Commerce, among others.
Speakers on one of the three emergency vehicles on the scene blared “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” and “On the Road Again” as Glenn reached the tower. But he wasn’t finished just yet. After a brief chat with everyone there, he and his wife, Charlcie, locked hands and set out down the sidewalk together toward the beach. He sat down on one of the large rocks at Half Moon Bay, peeled off his shoes and socks, and strode triumphantly into the surf.
No words were necessary; the exhilaration on his face as the cold waves rolled over his feet said it all. After 19 months, it was finally done.
This is a cause very dear to him because he is “a double product of the foster system.”
Abandoned at age 6 in Michigan, he was quickly adopted — only to be pulled out of that home 13 months later due to abuse and neglect. He was moved to a loving home, but his foster father died. He then went to another foster home where he had a dozen siblings, and in August 1965 the Kosters adopted him. Finally, he was home.
When he was in his 30s, he decided to find his birth parents and get some answers. He started by tracking down his first foster family. He met and was able to reconcile with his former foster mother; but she didn’t know who his birth parents were, and the records were sealed.
Glenn said that while they were talking at the American Legion in Clear Lake, Michigan, a bartender chimed in: “I think I have your answer. I know who your father is. He doesn’t live here anymore, but his sister does.” So he gave Glenn her contact information.
From there, he found his parents and siblings. (He had been one of six children; three of the boys were abandoned.) After getting the whole story of the financial difficulties that led to their actions, he forgave his father, who was indifferent. But he reconciled fully with his mother and remains in contact with his siblings to this day.
Glenn knew he would never be allowed to adopt because, like his birth father, he is an alcoholic. (He’s been sober since 1989.) But he did work for a while with a Texas agency that helped people reconnect with their birth parents — “before the internet, and before Ancestry.com.” He’s volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters in Kansas, and he speaks in public as often as he can — from his pulpit at the Church of God and elsewhere — about ways to help children in foster care.
How it came about
Glenn wanted the walk to cover the entire nation, at least figuratively, to symbolize the fact that this issue affects people all over the country.
“Foster kids don’t have it easy, so I didn’t want to take an easy walk,” he said.
He strived to map a stair-stepped diagonal route that would equal the shortest east-west distance plus the shortest north-south distance of the continental U.S., which he calculated at 4,274 miles.
He was originally going to walk from Seattle to Miami, but switched directions for logistical reasons. He then decided to go beyond Seattle to make it a true coast-to-coast walk. After some deliberation, he settled on Westport as his endpoint.
He set out 19 months ago, and things went mostly smoothly for the first half — notwithstanding a few weather delays, including a couple of tornado warnings. But when they reached Chadron, Nebraska, the parking brakes failed on the Pace Arrow RV that served as their pace car and their home.
That — combined with some health issues and the fact they were on pace to hit Sturgis, South Dakota, at the same time as its massive annual motorcycle rally — led them to put the walk on hold for a while. So, on July 19, 2018, they returned to Kansas to regroup and recover.
In May 18 of this year, with his health restored and the brakes fixed, they returned to Chadron and Glenn resumed his trek.
A few sporadic issues came up with the brakes, but they were able to address those along the way; and Glenn’s health held up through the end.
In the end, he walked the entire coast-to-coast route, with the exception of two excessively dangerous stretches totaling about 100 miles. The first was from East Glacier to West Glacier in Montana, and the second was White Pass in the Washington Cascades.
When they reached East Glacier, a Glacier County Sheriff’s deputy strongly advised against him walking through that area, citing grave fears for his safety. “We listened to Deputy David Spotted Eagle,” said Glenn.
At White Pass, they needed no outside counsel to make their determination. “In the first 4 miles there, my life was in danger several times,” said Glenn. “So I called and said ‘Come pick me up, we will drive to Packwood. I will not walk this stretch.’”
A great team
After seven years of marriage and 19 months of this project, the Kosters have teamwork down to a science.
Each evening, after posting a detailed daily update (with photos) for his 750 Facebook followers, Glenn would work on a walking plan for the following day. He established a route and an endpoint using Google Maps, choosing several strategically spaced “safe stops” in between — places where Charlcie could easily park the RV to meet up with him along the way.
In the morning, Glenn would set out with his map, smartphone (with WeatherBug app) and Bluetooth headset. Charlcie hung back in the RV, keeping herself busy with books, puzzles, games and the couple’s small dog. (They adopted “Walker, Kansas Ranger” last year, during the walk’s hiatus, so she’d have some company during the day.)
Every hour on the hour, Glenn would call home base. If they failed to connect by the 90-minute mark, they’d regroup at the next “safe spot” on the map.
At the end of the day, they would meet at the designated point to settle down for the night. Sometimes it would be a church parking lot, with arrangements made in advance; often, it was a large Walmart lot. “We love Walmart,” Glenn said with a grin.
No wonder: He and Charlcie met at a Walmart employee Christmas party in Hutchinson, Kansas, where both of them worked part time for extra money. They dated and wrote poetry together every day for months, and they were married within a year. Glenn proposed to Charlcie in the Walmart jewelry department — where he had first laid eyes on her.
“It didn’t take long to realize we were a good match,” said Glenn.
Better than they even imagined at the time, as it turns out.
“I’ve always wanted to travel across the country — just get in an RV and go,” said Charlcie. “He didn’t know that, but God did.”
Glenn talks about several moments during his trek that raised his spirits and made it all worthwhile.
He was invited to speak at several churches along the way. (He never walked on Sundays; instead, he and Charlcie would attend a local service.) He wrote a poem in 2005 called “I Belong,” and he often reads it when asked to speak.
“Almost every church we’d decide to go to, inevitably there was someone there who was adopted and always wondered whether they belonged,” said Charlcie. “Just the working of the Lord — it’s amazing.”
Several encounters on the road also seemed preordained, Glenn said.
One day, as he was walking along Nebraska Route 38 (a two-lane highway), traffic suddenly thinned out to nothing. The only car he could see for miles stopped, and the driver asked if he needed a ride. Glenn said no, he was walking to Washington; and the man put his car in park to listen to his story.
“We talked for about 10 minutes, and the guy said: ‘I don’t normally take this route to work, but I was running late. And now I’m gonna be even later! But I had to meet you. My wife is the newly elected president of the Nebraska Association of Foster and Adoptive Parents.’
“We talked a little more after that,” said Glenn. “The whole time we were talking, nobody passed us. And no sooner had he pulled away, then the traffic assumed a normal pattern.”
The final one occurred this week: Lt. Eric Delgado of the South Beach Regional Fire Authority had walked into a neighbor’s garage to ask a question when he heard part of an interview Glenn had on K-LOVE radio. That inspired him to gather his cohorts to greet Glenn in Westport, and he was part of the small group that witnessed the completion of the walk on the beach.
“I was in the right place at the right time to hear about it,” he said. “It was meant to be.”
As you read this, the Kosters are heading back home to Hutchinson, where their RV park is holding a space for them.
“It’s been an exciting walk, but I’m glad it’s finally done,” he said after finishing Aug. 28.
Their first order of business is attending the Kansas State Fair, which opened this weekend. After that, Glenn hopes to find a Church of God pulpit.
“That’ll be my next big adventure,” he said. “We’re looking forward to settling into a different life.”
“I’m just happy to be giving up driving duties,” Charlcie said with a laugh.