Father set to finish ‘Kevin’s Last Walk’

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On July 1, Barry Adkins marks the end of his journey bringing his son Kevin's ashes to his favorite place - the Flathead Valley.

His epic trek called "Kevin's Last Walk," designed to warn youths about underage drinking, began in February in Gilbert, Ariz., as a way to heal from losing his son in 2005.

Kevin Adkins was just 18 when he died from alcohol poisoning.

By sharing his family's tragedy, Adkins hopes to spare other youths the potentially fatal consequences of alcohol.

"I've talked to about 6,000 people, primarily students," he said.

Adkins, his wife, Bev, and Linda Ravicher of the Flathead Valley Chemical Dependency Clinic have organized a family-centered day of remembrance and fun to celebrate "Kevin's Last Stop" in the Flathead Valley.

The July 1 event begins at 10 a.m. when Adkins invites the community to join him for the final three miles of his walk to Majestic Valley Arena north of Kalispell. Shuttles will take participants from the arena to the start of the final walk.

Festivities include HoofBeats in Harmony Drill Team, speakers including Adkins, free lunch, 4-H animal exhibits, musical entertainment, rodeo entertainment and a children's rodeo.

Adkins took a day off from walking recently to promote the event, make two school presentations here as well as to update the community about his progress toward his July arrival.

So far, he has walked more than 1,100 miles, reaching Helena late last week.

"I've worn out three pairs of shoes," he said with a laugh.

After initially walking five days a week through deserts and mountain passes, he switched into high gear, walking seven days a week, averaging 14 miles a day. Although he trained before leaving, Adkins, 48, said he still gets sore every day.

He nearly got knocked out of his Brooks Addiction Walkers by a recreational vehicle on a narrow stretch of road in Utah. He escaped calamity by jumping into the ditch.

Adkins said his reception by people and schools along the way has been friendly.

"It really confirms your faith in human nature," he said. "Ladies bring us brownies."

Men bring jerky. Both offer support and good wishes.

Adkins said he has no problem finding forums for his message. People stop him along the way and ask him if he could make an unscheduled presentation at their school.

Strangers also share their personal stories of loss and sadness from alcohol abuse.

"'Kevin's Last Walk' is really everybody's story," he said. "Everybody knows someone who was killed or has an uncle whose alcohol abuse destroyed his family."

His audiences have varied from 30 to 1,200. Adkins considers speaking to 30 just as important as 1,200. If he saves one life with Kevin's story, he said, he considers his journey worthwhile.

No matter where he speaks, teenagers pay attention.

"The kids are really well-behaved," he said. "If you can hear a pin drop in the room, you know they're listening."

He brought his message recently to middle-school students at Bigfork and Swan River schools. Peter Loyda, principal at Swan River School, was extremely impressed by the presentation.

Loyda said his fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade students, staff and some parents were captivated by Adkins. The principal sent a copy of a letter of appreciation he composed after the presentation.

"I cannot express in words how pleased I am about your passion, courage, love and honor for your son Kevin," Loyda wrote. "Turning this tragic event into a positive learning experience for our youth, parents and staff has made a lasting impression on all of us."

His family's story about losing Kevin, a fun-loving cowboy who competed in rodeos and FFA, drives home the message how even one encounter with alcohol invites tragedy into many lives.

Adkins said his son, like many teenagers, thought bad things happened to other people.

Anxious for independence, Kevin had moved into his own apartment the day before his death. He was partying with about 20 people who started drinking beer, then moved into competition drinking of harder stuff.

At 2:30 a.m., Kevin left a voicemail for his sister, telling her how much fun he was having and that he had downed six double shots of Jack Daniels.

Some time later, he passed out. His friends, unaware of the medical emergency, shaved his legs and head as a joke.

Kevin would have laughed - if he hadn't died from alcohol poisoning.

His blood-alcohol level reached .36, but even less - as low as .25 - has been known to kill.

Adkins plays Kevin's recorded last message as a way to get his own message across. Intoxicated with alcohol, his son had no idea that he had poisoned himself and inflicted a sadness that would never leave his family.

"I talk a lot about responsibility," Adkins said. "One person could have prevented the tragedy that took Kevin."

When parents ask him for advice, he tells them to make sure their children get out and do things that they enjoy. He said it's important to raise youths who like and respect themselves.

He tells teenagers that alcohol provides a gateway to other drug use. According to Adkins, most young people first try drugs when under the influence of alcohol.

Ravicher said parents need to get the message that alcohol poses as great a threat as drugs.

"So many times I hear from parents, 'Well, at least it's not drugs,'" she said. "More people die from alcohol-related causes than all others combined.'"

Studies show that youthful drinkers face a four times greater risk of having a dependency or abuse problem in the future if they survive their early drinking. Last year more than 5,000 died in the United States.

Ravicher said that over the last 22 months, 19 youths in the Flathead have gone to emergency rooms for potential alcohol poisoning. She said "Kevin's Last Walk" goes far beyond billboards with the message that alcohol destroys young lives.

Adkins said the walk for Kevin has delivered the healing that he, Bev and his other children envisioned.

"To know that something good is coming from his death," he said. "There is no pill, no therapy better than that."

To follow Adkins' progress, check www.kevinslastwalk.org.

Reporter Candace Chase may be reached at 758-4436 or by e-mail at cchase@dailyinterlake.com

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