Golden Opportunity

Going from two wheels to water was a welcome change; one that hadn’t surfaced since crossing the Ohio River via ferry from Kentucky into Illinois. The ferry ride from Vallejo to the Fisherman’s Warf was fast and fascinating. The boat ripped through the San Pablo Bay into the San Francisco Bay, passing beautiful waterfront homes, Angel Island, and the infamous Alcatraz Island and Prison.

During the ride, I met a fellow Army Vet named Steven and his daughter. After bonding over a satisfying blend of both light and heavy topics, he invited me to join them for lunch. Steven is the West Coast Ambassador to the non-profit Friends in Service of Heroes and dedicates his days as an advocate for Veterans and their families.  He is so inspiring and genuine.  We had a blast. 🙂

I stayed at a very impressive Hostel on the bay called Fisherman’s Warf Hostel. The guys at the front desk and I played music together, sang, geeked out about gaming, discussed the universe, and talked at length about the many meanings behind my journey. Then they locked my bicycle and gear into a secure room – it was all so well organized… This place is seriously top notch and the amenities seemed endless. A total treat toward my trip’s end.

The rooms were organized into three main options: all male / all female shared rooms, co-ed rooms, or private rooms. The upstairs had several bathrooms available, gorgeous indoor / outdoor lounging areas, and Cafe Franco; a quaint restaurant with a creative menu and local craft beer.

I spent time with Amanda, a world traveler who basically blew my mind with the details of her experiences. What you gain and take away simply from interacting with similarly adventurous people is invaluable and everlasting. As you continue to expand your personal horizons, you become bigger and the world becomes smaller – in all of the best ways.

The downstairs of Fisherman’s Warf Hostel has a full kitchen with hiker/biker boxes, movie theater, outdoor lounge, and game room. The outdoor lounging area is gorgeous at night. It was way colder than I anticipated, so the heating lamps were everything…

It’s only a short walk away from enjoying the Bay via the Aquatic Park Pier. Staying here was very budget-friendly, and worth every single penny. I got bundled up, queued my music, and headed down to the water. My VFW balaclavas served as excellent makeshift pant legs, lol. The ways in which the VFW has supported me throughout my journey are endless, from the local clear up to the national level. I am humbled and forever grateful.

Oh, Golden Gate. You elusive, mysterious, seductive structure. I have traveled over 4,000 miles to see you for the very first time. Through 10 states and 4 time zones. Upon crossing you, I can officially claim that I have CYCLED Across America: Feet on Pedals every single inch of my route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Carrying everything I needed underneath me, using only my legs to power myself across the continent. Even in the wake of a near-death experience and ligamental injury in Colorado, never once did I walk my bike – no negativity, no fear. The mission, mere miles away from accomplished… It was time to tease myself with a first look at the finish line…

Golden Gate, as I slink underneath your shadows of symmetry, the reverence and anticipation for my bridge crossing continue to build. I watch as the locals approach you; as they utilize your structural prowess to ease their daily travels. I watch the tourists’ excitement – how fun to fly to your shores and be greeted by your iconic crimson towers. Fun and easy are delicacies that you so graciously facilitate, but I have traveled across America on a bicycle to experience your embrace. I have never seen you before in my life, but I have dreamed of you, fantasized about you, broken and rebuilt myself in order to meet you…

I cannot wait to lose ourselves together in the waves of haze that strut past your towers – this daily masquerade that you seem to not only tolerate but enjoy. You steadfast, beautiful compilation of physics and poise. You have my full attention. Your tension cables ease my angst. I look up at your towers with awe, but please understand that a rediscovered stamina now lives behind my smile. You and I were both built to last, after all. You represent my mindset, my hopes, my goals… Connecting the divided, stretching between shores, facilitating possibilities. Crossing bridges, new beginnings. I don’t want to rush – I never want this to end…

A couple of days before crossing the Golden Gate, I stopped into the War Memorial Building looking to make some meaningful connections. Right inside the front door was Paul Cox, Chair of the American Legion War Memorial Commission, who immediately invited me into his office to talk. I told him about my journey and he called Nelson Lum, Commander of the Cathay American Legion Post 384 in San Francisco. They made a few last minute calls to arrange some support.

Robert, the cyclist friend that I met near Sacramento, made a few secret calls after meeting me. One of those calls was to Dion Lim of ABC7 News in San Francisco. We got in touch and it was quickly decided that she and her crew were going to join me at the Golden Gate on Labor Day to do a story! I will cross on September 3rd, 2018; the date was set. Until then, I will be in Napa Valley…  I headed north to visit family and explore wine country with my Aunt Liz and Uncle, “SanFrancisco Tim“.

Labor Day is finally here and the time has come to end A VICIOUS CYCLE. I arrived at North Vista Point at 0800 – a notoriously breathtaking view of the Golden Gate bridge. Admittedly, I was not emotionally prepared for the platoon of support that was standing by… 🙂 <3

ABC7 San Francisco News, the American Legion Cathay Post 384 Commander, Chapter 82 Legion Riders, VFW members, and friends I had met along my journey all showed up to escort me across the Golden Gate and down to Ocean Beach to dip my tires into the Pacific. My heart was overflowing – I couldn’t believe the turnout with such last minute notice.

Approaching the bridge, it felt like my heart, mind, and body all joined forces in some euphoric synchronized swim. Even while peddling 250 pounds between myself, the bike, the gear – I felt weightless. Like some buoyant badass, riding into 9,000 feet of outstretched steel arms at over 200 feet above the waves.

The Legion Riders blocked traffic and surrounded me with thunder as we stormed the San Francisco streets. The elevations of this city are relentless, and I cycled up incline after incline; my final climbs before reaching the edge of America. We crested and curved, then it appeared… The Mighty Pacific Ocean. As we flew down the cliff toward the sand, my smile took over my entire face. My cheekbones barely allowed for my eyes to widen and well, and my jaw nearly got caught in my spokes. One more challenge remained: pushing my steel framed Kona Sutra and gear through 800 feet of loose sand to the surf.

The push was crazy difficult and I could feel muscle failure approaching as my tires sank and the sand cut each step in half. I closed my eyes and listened to the waves pounding the shore. They grew louder and louder, both the ocean and the voices of encouragement. My body was honestly at its breaking point. I opened my eyes and glanced down at my feet cutting through the sand and my mind flew back to Basic Training, then to my Iraq deployment… when I felt most capable, most relevant, most alive.

Then in a roaring rush of adrenaline, fire, and realization, I was reminded that I AM still that person – and I AM still mentally and physically capable of great things and that I DO deserve to be here. As I began evoking my Brothers and Sisters who did not survive their wars either abroad or within, a second wind came over me that could have sunk every ship in the Bay. I let out a yell that was echoed by dozens of others, then I destroyed the rest of that push to the surf. Stopping shy of the water, I threw off my shoes and socks, exposing those meritorious tan lines.  I took one last look around at the love and support surrounding me.  ……..Eyes front, Sarah.  It’s time to finish this.

The ocean and I rushed together at equal speed, both taking in one more deep breath before finally crashing into each other. As the water swirled around my ankles and poured through my spokes, I felt them ALL. I felt our Fallen. I felt the friends I’ve lost – that we have all lost and are continuing to lose. I felt everyone that believed in me, my fellow Veterans and their support, my loved ones. Everyone, everything. Every single reason that I still want to live flooded into my mind, washing away my sorrow and filling my voids to the rim. The sacrifices my friends made in combat… The friends I have lost to suicide since. Their faces and smiles swarmed my mind and tore into my core, and in that moment, I was certain beyond all doubt that I had made them proud. That I had honored them. That I had properly represented my fellow Veterans and the United States Army. That healing and peace are truly possible for everyoneWE HAVE TO HONOR THEM BY LIVING.  I cry typing this, even now.

As I waded in from the water, the Legion Riders met me and put their hands on my bike. The President, Cory, looked at me and said, “Mission Accomplished, Sergeant. We will take it from here.” Then they began carrying my bicycle back to the steps for me. I barely got out an affirmative nod and cracked a broken “Thank You, Brother”, then we walked back through the sand together.

Jerry Bell, fellow Big Red One brother, drove from Nevada to present me with the Quilt Of Valor on the beach. After CPT Bell read some very touching and powerful words, Paul and Nelson draped the quilt over my shoulders. Afterward, my Aunt, and San Francisco’s Retired City Public Works Manager, Liz Lerma, performed a beautiful Chicano / Navajo prayer ceremony. It was stunning… Veterans, our family is larger than any one of us can ever comprehend. Today has changed my life forever.

After interviewing with ABC7, we went out to celebrate at Mona Lisa in downtown San Francisco. After a heartfelt toast, I kept it classy by slamming my champagne , then accidentally shattering the glass on the table. Can’t take me anywhere… The President of the Chapter 82 Legion Riders looked around and said, “Can we keep her?” and everyone cheered, haha. The celebrations continued into the evening, then I had the most thorough night’s sleep of my freaking life.

The friendships and connections made today and throughout this journey will last a lifetime. Every day that you are alive is seasoned with promise and laced with opportunities to undo your own damage and improve upon yourself. You must be so very careful with whom you share your adventures in life. Our days are numbered, but your impact can be infinite.  This journey was an opportunity of a lifetime and its healing changed my head and my heart.  I don’t know how to begin thanking you all – I hope my eyes can deliver a glimpse of my gratitude.  Your love, support, and encouragement planted a unique level of accountability and drive inside of me that I’ve never experienced before.

The generosity, warmth, and support that I received throughout America forever changed me. Each act of kindness would result in me asking, “How can I ever thank you enough – or repay you?” The response was verbatim from Atlantic to Pacific: “Just pay it forward…” And that is EXACTLY what I am going to spend my days doing. Alongside the completion of my journey, I have been building a Non-Profit Organization that I have named Waypoint Vets. After discovering first hand how much healing happens while detaching and being active in nature, I want to facilitate opportunities for other Veterans to ‘beast and bond’ together at no cost to them.

Waypoint Vets is officially in the Formation stages, an Executive Board is in place, and we are awaiting 501c3 approval.  The planning and logistics for solid, dynamic, and (frankly) awesome adventures are well underway.  I am adamant about making a real difference for my fellow Veterans, and I believe those best equipped to help us ARE us. I don’t believe there is any One Answer for our combined issues, as Veterans are all very different books sitting on the exact same shelf.  But what I Can do in my lifetime is Contribute to the Solution. To organize some sort of ‘mini-exfil’ for these vicious cycles.  ….And to be blunt: We as Veterans have an Obligation and Duty to our Fallen and Each Other to step up, keep living, and keep fighting- together.

If you would like to contribute to the building and launching of my Non-Profit, Waypoint Vets, please click here.  If you have any questions, want more information, or would just like to reach out – please feel free to contact me any time for any reason.
#VeteransUnite #HonorTheFallen

// NOTHING FOLLOWS //