Local to embark on second cross-country tractor trek for Parkinson's
April 30, 2023 at 5:00 a.m.
Last May, Mike Adkinson of Whatcom County braved a 1,700-mile journey from Washington to northern Minnesota in his John Deere tractor. Exposed to the elements, he faced rain, snow and scorching sun — often finding himself wholly soaked and covered in mud by the end of each day’s travels.
Now, he wants to do it all over again in May.
Adkinson, 77, didn’t embark on his 2022 tractor trek just for the pure fun of it; he set out to raise $50,000 for Parkinson’s research after his older brother, Dan, was diagnosed with the disease the previous year.
With a 6-by-4-foot trailer emblazoned with “Tractor Trip for Parkinson’s” in tow, he succeeded — raising more than $56,000 and gaining the support of more people than he could have ever expected in a trip spanning three weeks.
“So many people supported and helped the whole thing,” he said. “It was a great, unbelievable experience for me.”
This year, Adkinson is upping the ante by doubling his fundraising goal and tacking another 1,000 miles to his second tractor trip, for a total of 2,700 miles. He plans to depart from Minnesota this time, and meander his way to Washington, making stops in Waterloo, Iowa — where the John Deere Museum is located — and Yellowstone National Park.
The trip is set to begin from Minnesota on May 15, weather dependent — it’s not quite springtime yet in the midwestern state, and Adkinson has to wait for snowy conditions to clear.
Adkinson, a self-proclaimed beer lover and Bellingham brewery regular, also teamed up with North Fork and Kulshan breweries this year to create a special “Tractor Trip” IPA in support of the cause. The IPA will also be on tap at The Loft in Bellingham, Birdsview Brewing Company in Concrete and the Corner Pub in Bow.
Eric Jorgenson, North Fork head brewer, said Adkinson is “like family,” and it was a no-brainer to do something to support him and the trip. Not only is Adkinson a longtime regular of the brewery, but he also grew up in the house directly behind the brewery — the very same house Jorgenson now lives in.
"One day he was just in [the brewery] and said, ‘You know, I grew up in your house,’” Jorgenson recalled. “That’s a really neat connection I have with him, and how we got to know each other.”
When Jorgenson was completing renovations on his home, he peeled back a piece of paneling, only to find the words “Mike was here” inscribed on the other side.
“It gave me goosebumps,” Jorgenson said.
Jorgenson is good friends with Wes Finger, the head brewer of Kulshan Brewery, and the two hatched a plan to collaborate and brew an IPA to support Adkinson and his trip.
The beer will be on tap at both breweries in the coming weeks, with a hesitant launch date of May 15, when Adkinson plans to begin his journey.
Adkinson documented last year’s journey on social media, providing updates on which town he plans to roll through next. As he traveled, news outlets picked up his story and created a cascade of anticipation, with each small town looking forward to his arrival. More than once, he was greeted with a welcome party of fire trucks and local police, escorting him through town with lights ablaze.
Upon his arrival, he only had one question: “Where’s the nearest brewery?”
He wanted to sip on a cold, refreshing beer after a long day of travels, he said. More than that, though, Adkinson enjoyed getting to know people wherever he went.
“The bartender would see my tractor and say, ‘What are you doing with that?’ and within five to 10 minutes everybody in the [bar] would know what I’m doing,” he said. “So, then people would bring up money [to donate] or tell me stories about their uncle that has Parkinson’s, or just a variety of things. It was wonderful.”
At the end of the night, Adkinson would check himself into a hotel and wash off the dirt, mud and grime that accumulated on him throughout the day’s travels. If he had the misfortune of getting drenched in a rainstorm that day, he would use it as an opportunity to warm up and get dry.
For Adkinson, the rough parts of the journey dulled in comparison when he remembered what it was all for.
“I got off the tractor one day and [my joints] were so stiff and cold, and I was down in the dumps a little bit,” he said. “But then I thought, I gotta put up with this today and maybe tomorrow, but my brother and millions of people with Parkinson’s have to get up every day and have to deal with this.”
Donations can be made online.