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Citrus duo rides mules to Ohio for cancer research

Published:   |   Updated: March 6, 2014 at 03:33 PM

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BROOKSVILLE - It takes a lot of patience to give someone a piggyback ride for 2,500 miles.

It's the perfect job for mules Barney, 10, and Molly, 12, who embarked this week on a nearly five month, round-trip journey from Crystal River to Vickery, Ohio.

It also takes a lot of patience to ride a mule that long, as Bethany Vara, 24, and Garris Barton, 30, have elected to do in the name of cancer research and awareness.

"We're just under Gainesville right now," Vara said on her cell phone Wednesday, mule hooves clicking in the background. "The journey is divided up into legs - the first being up to South Carolina - and sectioned out so it's not just one huge trip, but closely set, smaller trips."

South Carolina is where Barton is from, and the couple's destination, Ohio, is Vara's birthplace, according to their website. Although Vara has many family and friends in Hernando County, she said, she was raised in Crystal River, which is where their journey began.

"We wanted to do a ride and originally we had just jokingly been talking about going cross country, and the more we talked about it we realized it'd be a great way to raise awareness to a cause," said Vara. "Both of us have family affected by cancer."

Vara said she started the organization People Helping Across America, or PHAA, as a way to spread information on ways to live healthy and raise funds for those who have fallen victim to various health concerns.

Ever since she was a child, Vara said she has enjoyed volunteering in events and organizations, and putting her passion for animal care and helping others together just made sense.

That goes for rescued mule, Molly. Barney, Vara's other mule, is a loyal animal who was once used as a riding mule for autistic children. He sees himself as the protector of his herd, two legged members included, according to Vara's website.

Barton was raised in a small town called Elgin, South Carolina, and grew up hunting, fishing, and camping with his dad and the boy scouts.

This helped him develop a love for the outdoors and for nature and starting at age 19 he spent two years in East Africa serving a mission for his church.

There he learned to step out of his comfort zone, try new things, and developed a love for others, according to PHAA.

For more information about Vara and Barton's journey, go to or contact them via email at

Vara also said interested followers can go to their Facebook page.

(352) 544-5271

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