When Don DeBusk and Janna Rowan biked from Michigan to Texas last summer to raise money for a deaf-blind organization, they were just friends.
A month later, they became a couple.
Next month, DeBusk and Rowan will take another long bike trip, this time from DeWitt, Michigan, to Nashville, Tennessee, to raise money for care packages for overseas military personnel. They’ll be stopping in DeBusk’s hometown of Hope on Sept. 9.
“When we did the trip last year, we knew we wanted to do more,” DeBusk said. “We had already decided we wanted to do something for the military. Tennessee seems to be a pretty good place, and we have some friends that are down there, so it makes it nice.”
DeBusk, 45, a 1988 Hauser High School graduate who now lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Rowan, 41, who lives in DeWitt, are country music fans and met a few years ago through mutual friends in the country music business. They became friends, and in 2012 both caught the cycling bug.
That year, Rowan pedaled 1,700 miles around Michigan. DeBusk accompanied her for part of the trip.
“I just got on my bike for the first time since I was 15 when I was 39 years old,” Rowan said. “When I was finished, I looked at my odometer, and it said 1,700 miles. I said ‘That’s about how far it is to Texas. I can do that.’”
So Rowan, an interpreter for the deaf who also works with the deaf-blind, decided on a cross-country trip for 2013. In April, she asked DeBusk to join her.
“When we first started biking, I was biking off and on, but not major,” DeBusk said. “She decided to do something more with her biking, and that’s when she came up with the trip to Texas. At that time, we were just friends, and she hadn’t decided what she was going to do.”
Three days into the trip, Rowan’s then-boyfriend called and broke up with her.
Undaunted, Rowan and DeBusk pedaled on. They covered 1,216 miles over 25 days, with two days of rest, before ending in Fort Worth, Texas.
Along the way, they were chased by a pack of German shepherds and shaken by cars getting over to give them room, only to veer into oncoming traffic, making those cars swerve to miss them.
Rowan said the pair were relieved to be able to ride on interstates in Texas because they had more room on the shoulder of the road, traffic was going in one direction and the hills weren’t as steep. DeBusk said this year, they’ll be riding through more hills and mountains.
DeBusk and Rowan are scheduled to begin this year’s 10-day, 600-mile journey on Sept. 5. They plan to make their way from Anderson to Hope on Sept. 9, and stay in Hope through Sept. 10 before continuing south.
One of DeBusk’s friends helped him rent the pavilion at the shelter house on the Hope town square for a celebration at 4 p.m. Sept. 9.
The pair plan to stay with friends or family for about half of the nights on their trip and have raised enough money to stay in hotels the other half.
“It turned out better to have a room, because then you get your laundry done and get a continental breakfast,” DeBusk said. “If we camped, you’re in the elements and the weather, and the time breaking down and setting up would cut into our riding time.”
DeBusk said he and Rowan try to be on the road by 7 a.m. on the days that they ride. The time they finish is usually determined by the frequency and length of their breaks.
“We promote while we’re riding,” DeBusk said. “We could take a 15-minute break, and it could be an hour before we get back on the bike — which is a good thing, because then, you’re getting the word out.”
Following last year’s trip, which raised $3,700, Rowan started cycling2give. She is the chair for the organization, and DeBusk is the co-chair. They are trying to gain nonprofit status.
“One of our goals is to make this organization so big in the next five years that we can do something for other charities such as Lou Gehrig’s disease, colon cancer, autism, breast cancer, and then also to be able to cycle for individuals,” Rowan said. “Say there is a family with a sick kid. We just want to be able to choose who we’re pedaling for.
“We also want to be able to have more people cycling,” she said. “If we could have somebody in the northern part of Michigan and have somebody down in Detroit cycling for something, that would be really cool.”