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I have arrived back in western Nevada and will be officially setting out tomorrow. Thank you all for your incredibly touching and overwhelming support in my having to return to Nashville to say goodbye to Kittums. I can’t express my level of appreciation for each and every one of you and your sympathy / sentiments during these difficult weeks…

Before leaving for Nashville, I had the honor of having breakfast with a decorated Vietnam Veteran, Captain Dennis Vehe. Dennis and I, along with our mutual friend CPT Jerry Bell, enjoyed some nostalgia and commeraderie, and had a wonderful time getting to know each other. A thorn between two roses, I assure you…

CPT Vehe served as an Air Mission Commander of the Army Aviator Rotary Wing in the 128th Assault Helicopter Company and was in charge of the entire Combat Assault Operation while Airborne. He has 1,010 combat flight hours under his belt, and was awarded the prestigious Air Medal with Valor. He served 12 months in Phu Loi, Vietnam from Sep ’70 – Sep ’71. The photos he shared truly painted his stories to life.

It was intense and surreal to put his phone to my ear and listen to an actual audio recording CPT Vehe made while firing up his Huey before heading out on an assault mission. To personally be sitting next to him and watching his expressions while hearing that Huey and his voice from 48 years ago was riveting.  Every hair on my arms was standing at attention by the end. According to numerous Vietnam Vets, to hear the sound of those blades approaching was to experience solice, even in hell.

CLICK TO EXPERIENCE AUDIO

“One of the most beautiful sounds an Infantryman could hear. They were our Angels”, explained CPT Bell.  CPT Vehe also took these photos while in flight. One boasts a beautiful sunset-silhouetted Huey and in the other, he caught a 2.75″ rocket being fired from one of their c-model gunships during routine LZ prep fire.  Incredible. These images are invaluable and it is an absolute privilege to be able to share them.

While home, I received word that a cancerous tumor was discovered in CPT Vehe’s throat – a rare parotid malignancy…. He had begun chemotherapy in Las Vegas, close to the airport, and it was obvious for me to go visit him!  🙂  After many more laughs and stories, we shared a long goodbye…

My current status – heading north toward my leave-off point. There are reports of huge California wildfires that have crept to within 200 miles of my route. The resulting smoke has already found it’s way to me and is rather thick and worsening. My balaclava will be crucial.

One map set, 335 miles, and the last state out of 10 remains. One final massive climb over the Sierra Nevadas, then it is finally “all downhill from there”. Just a quick stop to see some friends I made while in Middlegate last month, then I am rolling out!

The Utah / Nevada blog post is almost complete – hopefully by this weekend. I cannot wait to play show and tell!  🙂

// NOTHING FOLLOWS //

Who Saved Who?

On Thursday, July 19th at 11am, I found out that my cat Kittums has cancer.  An aggressive lymphoma that had already reduced her to nearly half her body weight in only three weeks time.  The Veteranarian warned that she would almost certainly not survive until I finish my journey.  Kittums and I have been joined at the hip for 13 years and she may very well be the closest thing I will ever have to a child of my own.  It is baffling how illnesses such as cancer can just storm in and steal away something so happy and healthy that unbearably fast…  I do not understand.  All I know is that it was out of the question that she endure this process without me.

I immediately found a round trip plane ticket and arrived home in Nashville just in time.  My return flight to Nevada is on Tuesday, August 7th, and I will resume and complete A Vicious Cycle with only 385 short miles left to go.  I am preparing to say goodbye to Kittums while home, as she has such a very short time left to live.  I will be honest with you all: I am devastated to lose her.  This post is to honor her life, her love, and her memory.

Kittums has been by my side since coming home from my 14 month tour to Iraq, 2003 – 2005.  The sad truth is that a lot of my life before and shortly after my deployment is a vague, distorted blur.  I don’t know what it’s like to live without her because as far as my memory allows, I’ve really never had to.  I was a different person after returning from war and she has loved me without question or measure.  She has been my greatest joy, my safe place, my therapy, my light.  That little ball of fluff has been my rock behind the scenes.

Pets are family, and service animals deliver an unspoken understanding and level of healing that humans simply cannot.  They gauge your demeanor like mindreaders and will take in your happiness and pain as if it were their own.  You are their sole priority, their only focus, their entire universe.  Kittums has helped me power through more dark nights than I care to disclose.  Her light was always brighter than my darkness.  She is my confidant.  My constant.

The days begin and end with Kittums delivering smiles to my face and unwavering love, especially during my long stretches of isolation and seclusion.  She has been my daily go-to for peace, warmth, and refuge.  I don’t know how I can ever thank her enough, aside from pouring my love and gratitude into all of her remaining moments.

On the nights I am able to get tired, she positions herself centered on my chest until I fall asleep.  Her body warmed my heart and her rhythmic purring calmed my mind.  Before closing my eyes, for as long as I can remember, I would ask her: “Hey Kittum?  What did I ever do before you?  What will I EVER do without you…”

As I wept over her, she mustered up the strength to reach out and wrap her paw tight around my finger.  She pulled my hand into her chest, and looked directly into my eyes.  Suddenly, her message for me entered my mind as clear as day… She said, “Live Like My Love Made a Difference.”  So we made some keepsakes…  <3

On Tuesday July 31st, cancer took Kittums – she passed away in my arms shortly after I took our photo.  She stayed strong and fought to live until I got home to her, and remained so loving and beautiful, even though her very last breath.  It’s sobering, holding a small wooden box in my hands that used to be my best friend.  Less than an hour after she passed, I recieved this Facebook memories notification from 4 years ago, on this exact day.  Unreal…

Some of her ashes will accompany me on the remainder of my journey. Upon reaching the Pacific, I will scatter them along the shore and watch the waves sweep them away.  Last night, I created a tiny 1.5″ tall glass vile, which will help ensure her safe transport to my finish line: The Beautiful Golden Gate Bridge.

She was so very much a source of strength and love throughout my adult life.  I highly recommend a service pet for anyone who lives with daily social, mental, or physical ailments.  It is almost supernatural, the way they ease your soul and fill the voids in your mind, heart, and life.  Kittums showed up as a stray, but I’ve questioned every day: “Who Saved Who?”

I already miss you every minute.
…thank you forever, Sweetheart.

A Vicious Cycle post coming soon!

// NOTHING FOLLOWS //

Sands of Time

Utah’s terrain will leave you feeling convinced that you’ve left our planet.  Mezmorizing extraterrestrial backdrops contrast the barren foregrounds.  Mesas and mountains are lined up like a fleet of freeze-framed battle ships crashing through a sea of sand dunes…

As I made a dent in the Beehive State, temperatures hit the hundreds, resources were scarce, and signal was nonexistent.  Preparation and hydration have become key to survival and it can get a little scary.  But I needed this.  In some ways, I feel this perceived torture is not only deserved but desired, and it is indeed graduating into a new found will to live and lust for life.  Comfort and convenience leave NO room for appreciation.  Some would call this quest crazy or take an opportunity like this for granted, but one man’s trash is indeed another’s treasure.  The right kinda wealth.

I spotted some loose rocks on the side of a mesa and formed them into a giant heart, clearly visible from the road.  Maybe this little bit of Sunshine can coax a smile or briefly lighten an emotional load… You really never know when someone has decided that it is going to be their last day on earth.  Be kind.  Kindness can turn wolves into shepards.

Over time, white wings began forming on my back like a Rorschach inkblot.  Salt from sweat, serving as evidence of this grueling, but necessary ride – climbing onward and upward.  An expedition such as this is the healthiest Hell to endure.  Detaching, braving the elements, and facing the unknowns alone.  Using your body to power yourself across the continent.  Trading your vices for victories.  Breaking chains and cycles.  Rewiring and repairing your own mind.  Using your demons to earn your wings.

80 mile intervals without a hint of human.  Perhaps a powerline or two will slice apart the landscape in passing, but that is all.  Another day, another mountain.  Summit after summit.  Scenery, sweat, and silence.  My 2004 Iraq deployment instilled a new found gratitude for silence.  Nothing manifests a deep seated appreciation for the sounds of peace like the sounds of war.

Mesa Farm Market…  A beautiful farm and store oasis nestled between Hanksville and Torrey, UT.  The owner, Randy, said he had been running it since the day he could walk.  Every item was fresh from his farm and made with labor and love.  When asked for insight pertaining to his lifestyle, he responded, “It is heaven and it is hell.”  I smiled and flashed back over the months, “the most beautiful outcomes are raised by contrasts.”  His eyes softened and he returned my smile, then gave me a short tour.  Our talk was brief, but deep – it was nearing noon and I had to beat the heat.

I love this lifestyle of bare minimum.  Having to carry everything you own – an effective rule in deducing necessity.  My entire self-supported gear load, including bags and tent, is under 24 lbs total.  Self sufficiency is a powerful gift that you can give to yourself, and turning nothing into something is extremely satisfying.

One of the toughest rides of the west was the climb into Boulder, UT.  The grades varied between 8% and 14% that day and the heat hit three digits.  I made it to Hell’s Backbone Grill and was greeted by my server Kasha, who is also a cyclist. We talked for a while about A Vicious Cycle and when it came time to bring my bill, she instead brought a note.  It simply read: “Enjoy Your Ride”.

On top of it all, Kasha offered to join me the next day on my ride to Escalate!!  I was so incredibly excited and flattered she would do that with me.  I mean, she IS in a magazine – and one of the most beautiful souls I have ever encountered.  Then the staff all yelled, “Go Sarah!!” from the back porch as I rolled out after dinner.  My heart melted…

That night, I stealth camped under a lawnmower shed in the city park, narrowly escaping their underground sprinker system.  It was like an episode of American Gladiator getting to the port-o-john dry, lol.  The next morning, I was invited to breakfast by a large group of Yale Alumni!  We had a blast and they sent us off in style.

The stretch between Boulder and Escalante was likely the most intriguing and magical landscape thus far.  About 13 miles from Boulder was the delightfully unexpected Kiva Koffeehouse, which was built directly into the side of a mountain.  After eating lunch with Kasha, I met a few Veterans and enjoyed some bonding time.

Escalante Outfitters is a full service campground equipped with tent spots, cabins, restaurant, gear store, showers, and laundry. Down the street, Escalante Mercantile offers all natural local ingredients; including the smoked salmon filet, cream cheese, fruits and hummus that I excitedly purchased.  I set up my camp, spent time with some awesome people and ate like total royalty at my little picnic table.

I stopped just shy of Tropic, UT and stayed at Cannonville KOA.  The next half hour consisted of laughing with the staff followed by a job offer by Karen & Judy.  🙂  I set up camp, then spent quite a bit of time down the road being formally educated by a local on the intricacies of Mormonism.  It’s always interesting to learn the foundations of different faiths.  The next morning, Judy invited me into her home for coffee and a quick hangout.  She told me about an upcoming waterfall that was only a short hike off my route.  Totally doing it.

While paying my respects at the Tropic Veteran Memorial, I was greeted by a retired science teacher.  As I fine tuned my gear, we talked for almost two hours about my journey, concepts and theories of life, nature, and then he and his son treated me to coffee.  Plus, one of the best post office experiences ever.  People are genuinely great – everywhere.  Spoiler alert, America: We are NOT as divided as we may think. Not even close.

Between Tropic and Bryce lies Mossy Canyon and Trail, just as Judy said.  It was a half mile hike or so back to the waterfall and cave.  It was a blast, meeting and going on spontaneous adventures with other Veterans, familes, and groups.

After cresting my summit near Bryce, I got to secretly treat Marine Vietnam Veteran Tom and his wife Pat to a slice of Bryce Canyon Pines‘ famous pie.  I heard a “pssst!” and when I turned around, Tom shot a straw wrapper right at me.  The waitress blew my cover, haha.  But it was the best ‘thank you’ EVER.  I loved hearing about his service – Vietnam Vets always leave me hanging on their every word.  I kept the straw wrapper, too.   As evidence…  🙂

The day prior to my 35th birthday, I rolled into Panguich, UT (or Penguin Sandwich as I call it).  I contacted a local guide named Scout, who was touring with the Yale alumni.  She scooped me up and we headed to Zion for my birthday – bicycle, gear, balloons and all.  We instantly connected and our first conversations were incredibly thought provoking…

On our way toward Zion, I met Chuck, a Navy Veteran who had been living on the road via his motorcycle for over 18 months.  He even gave me a shout out on his YouTube Channel!!  We’re obviously kindred spirits – and a little crazy…  View Our Clip

Scout took me to some of her secret hideaways within the petrified sands of Zion National Park.  We felt like kids again, running barefoot along the silky smooth surfaces – care free and laughing.  It was blissful.  I do always try to be a giver when it comes to others, but I don’t think I’ve ever taken so much away from an experience with just one person…  Thank you, Scout.  Infinitely.

Thank you all so much for all of your amazing Birthday calls, messages, posts, and comments!!  The Yale alumni couple who invited me to breakfast in Escalante had also unknowingly treated me to a surprise day of Canyoneering!!  Because of their generosity, I got to spend my 35th birthday scaling and repelling off the cliffs of Zion with Scout and Joe the Marine – a fellow Global War on Terror Combat Vet.  It was incredibly therapeutic on many levels.

After a couple 60′ and 70′ cayoneering repells, the Marine Officer gave me a curious look.  “You know… you look really comfortable with this.  How would you feel about repelling from three times this height?”  My face lit up like the sun, “TAKE ME THERE.”  He smirked and said, “Thought so.”  So he did.  …and it was glorious.

After a night of camping at Jacob Lake, it was time to say goodbye to Scout and push south.  I began digesting the fact that I was about to lay my eyes on the Grand Canyon for the first time in my life.  As much as I have mastered holding back tears, I knew this would be an ultimate test of temperament – for several reasons.

On the way into the National Park, I pulled up alongside two couples near the entrance sign and asked them to take my photo.  Shortly after, a herd of wild buffalo appeared by the road.  Woah.

This was the spark of an incredible friendship and some major Veteran bonding time, as one of the husbands was a decorated Marine Vietnam Veteran.  They invited me to their campsite for a ribeye and jumbo shrimp dinner on the grill!!  I literally dream about meat and the next four meals were nothing short of heaven for me…

The North Rim awaited me without angst as if it had been there for hundreds of millions of years or something…  Patient and steadfast, the earth had caved over time to form the planet’s most vast cradle, carefully lulling the inevitable reactions and emotions of the masses.  After approaching the rim, I walked backward toward the ledge hesitantly, took a deep breath, then finally turned to look.

My eyes instantly welled, darting around undeservingly.  My jaw disappeared through the canyon floor.  For the first time on this trip, the words are not presenting themselves and I will not try to find them.  It is an experience you will have to define with your own mind and through your own eyes…

Before leaving, I both celebrated the life and mourned the death of my Army Brother PFC Eric Ward, Veteran and beloved Son and Brother of my dear friends, Kendra, Brian, and Baylee.  It hadn’t rained once over a month, but today, storms were rolling in from every single direction. Standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon National Park’s North Rim, I threw Eric’s commemorative rock as hard and as far as I could.  I saluted and wept silently as it cut through the air and vanished into the depths.

Eric had never seen the Grand Canyon – it was the first time for us both.  And now he will be part of it forever…  I’ve known PFC Ward since he was 8 years old and watched him grow into a handsome, talented, incredibly loving young man.  His memory is kept alive and well through his family via the 4WARD Project.  Honoring him has been a priority throughout my journey.  I hid a silver commemorative rock at the famous rim to rim Kaibab Trail to be found later…  A tough, but incredibly special experience.

My good friend and 1st Infantry Brother CPT Jerry Bell (Vietnam Veteran / Bronze Star and Air Medal recipient), made a special trip from southern Nevada to join me for Eric’s rock throwing.  He certainly helped put an uplifting spin on an otherwise solemn day.  The four of us had a moment of silence on the cliff, then enjoyed lunch at the Grand Canyon Lodge.  #BFFs #IGY6

So, the elevation profile on my next map set looks a freaking seismograph reading.  Bring it.  😉  On some of the more menacing inclines, mental strength is everything and mind games are key.  Sometimes, I’ll tip my helmet down so the climb is out of view and only allow myself focus on what is right in front of me and what is behind me.  When what’s ahead seems dismal or unclear, nothing refuels your think tank like shifting your focus to how far you’ve come.  That said, I hit my journey’s 3,000 mile mark right at the hiker / biker campground at the Grand Canyon!!!

The high desert and Great Basin ranges of Nevada will present their unique challenges, just as each part of the country has.  Vast stretches of emptiness by day.  Sleeping under a blanket of stars by night.  Nevada.  My 9th state out of 10.  My 4th and final time zone.  Two map sets remain out of 12.

My head has much to sort through while navigating these high highs and low lows…  I am now surrounded solely by positivity and peace, and the healing has become instantly noticeable.  Renewed momentum, empowered, and happy.  Just me and my bike and the sand and the stars.  My circle is seamless.  Keep moving forward, don’t let anyone steal your smile, and always leave people better than you found them.  Thank you all endlessly…

Click to Support Sarah’s Journey

// NOTHING FOLLOWS //

Deserted

The journey has begun and I am back in the saddle!  It has come as a massive relief that there have been zero issues with knee pain.  Thank you all endlessly for believing in me and for your continued support.  People are nothing without each other – it’s a beautiful truth.

Prior to setting out on June 2nd, I had the pleasure of interviewing with Zach Hillstrom of the Pueblo Cheiftain Newspaper.  We had a 2 hour talk, and he composed this incredible article, summarizing my story and mission beautifully: Read Article

Afterward, we headed to the City Park and met Caiti Blase with Pueblo ABC News Channel 5 (KOAA) to talk about Veteran Issues and the importance of pulling yourself from the ashes long after running into the flames.  View Segment:

While training in Colorado Springs, I received a call from Marie Harris with Bowling Green State University.  I was proud to attend and graduate from BGSU as President of my major with a Bachelor of Science in Technology, an Associate of Arts, and Minor in General Business back in 2009 before starting Sarah Lee Photography in Nashville.

Marie and I spoke for quite a while and Robb Nardeccia constructed this awesome article, which will also be published in the BGSU Alumni Magazine this Fall:  Read Article

An Army Veteran couple named Nancy & Brent reached out and took me into their arms and home like part of the family, making my days prior to starting out fun and comfortable.  They even threw an amazing farewell party with some local friends that John and I made last year.  Smoked prime rib, smoked salmon, baked beans, fruit salad, and greens.  Then, a motorcycle ride in the Rockies!!  Vroom Vroom.  I miss them  so much already…

Sam Chambers of Great Divide Bike, Hike, and Ski single handedly arranged a send off escort for myself and Marine Combat Vet John Steele from City Park in Pueblo to Cañon City.

The escort included cyclists, bikers, and chase vehicles.  They weren’t going to let anything happen to me this time, haha.  ‘Honored’ and ‘speechless’ doesn’t cut it.  All of us single filing down Highway 96 was an incredible sight…

It was a memorable Day One: nearly 50 miles from Pueblo to Cañon City with a stop in Wetmore near my accident site.  The community of Wetmore arranged snacks and a hydration station for us all at the halfway mark.  Just what we all needed!!  We arrived in Cañon City and celebrated a challenging, but successful first ride at Royal Gorge Brewery.

Finally, I came face to face with the front range.  As I mentioned previously: While nature and mankind are equally seasonal, nature never seems to disappoint.  As promised, the Rockies held onto and handed back my heart in one piece.  I left such a part of myself at the front range last year – like an offering…  A collateral of sorts, until my deeply anticipated return.

On a journey from east to west, you inevitably cross paths with avid thru-hikers in two main Trail Towns: Damascus, VA (Appalachian Trail) and Salida, CO (Continental Divide Trail).  Both of which my riding partner has successfully completed in the past.  It was fun to swap stories in quaint Salida at the Simple Lodge & Hostel.  I even got to buy a Navy Veteran his birthday shot right at midnight, with his girlfriend’s permission of course.  🙂  Happy birthday, Shipmate.

Time for Monarch Pass. This infamous summit peaks at 11,312′ and is the highest point on my entire 4,300+ mile long route.  The main climb is over 3,000′ at 7%-8% grade in only 10 miles distance, from Maysville to Monarch Crest.  I reluctantly listened to all the usual trite warnings and the “watch out for’s”, but consequently, it was a prestine and consistent climb.  “It is what it is” is a resignation of effort – everything is what you make it.  If you can get into a groove, you are golden.  Besides, I have never walked my bike once in over 2,900 miles.  Not going to start now.  Push yourself, not your bike.

17 years ago to this day, at age 17, I enlisted into the United States Military.  June 7, 2001 – the proudest day of my life.  I carried my Army flag and American flag to the top and held them high. This was a day of reflection, vigor, and victory.  I miss the military and its camaraderie every day.  It’s tricky finding civilian friends who would take a bullet for you without hesitation.  Being a soldier in the United States Army is the only thing that’s ever made complete sense to me.

The Rockies are magnificent and breathtaking from base to tip.  The detail could entertain your eyes and mind for lifetimes.  The crisp air seems to revive your soul, even as it thins.  On each summit lies a reincarnation of sorts; it can feel as though you’re slowly dying while climbing its sides, but are reborn ten fold during the descents.  Like clockwork.  The way the peaks meet the clouds is the closest reality can get to heaven on earth.

The temperatures have been relatively mild and I’ve very much enjoyed beginning my rides in the late mornings.  Days consist of eating my own limitations for breakfast, sharing lunches with mixed company, and digesting all the details around me.  The way the mountains and I are consuming each other is intoxicating.  This mutual respect must be earned over the miles, for these ranges both preceded and will outlive us all.

Both the Dallas Divide summit and the descent into Telluride, CO could undoubtedly tweak the very definition of stunning.  My cycling host for the night, Zak, met me on the way and rode with me into town.  We got dinner with Hiatt, another cyclist touring on the same route.

The next day, Zak took us on a spontaneous water skiing excursion at Ridgway Reservoir.  I hadn’t attempted skiing since grade school, but managed to get up right away!  It came back to me immediately… just… like…   ….riding a bike, lol.  Which up until last year, I hadn’t done since grade school either.  We made PB&J’s and relaxed on the lake all afternoon.  It was an unbelievable day with unforgettable people.  You never know who you’ll meet or how or where.  So put yourself out there.

I left Telluride and cycled through smoke and ash alongside a massive wildfire which forced the shut down of San Juan National Forest.  A bit menacing, but I passed by it quickly enough.  Thankfully, a freaking awesome group of bikers helped clear my throat by buying me a very cold, much appreciated Face Down Brown Ale.  We had too much fun, as if that’s possible.  Bambi, the deer skull I found in Missouri, typically attracts my favorite kind of crowd.  😉

The final test was cresting Lizard Head pass, summiting at 10,222′; my last pass of the Rocky Mountains.  Monarch butterflies followed alongside me the entire climb, which was certainly symbolic.  A journey such as this is meant to transform you, and while you may not yet possess the clarity of a Caterpillar, the signs seem to be everywhere you look.  Pointing you in the right direction.  Directing and dissecting your perceptions and perspectives.

The generosity and friendships continue to bloom as I rolled into Delores, CO and was welcomed by Coast Guard Veteran Dave and his wife Belinda, who allowed me to stay in their beautiful gym.  I had met a couple named Al and Betty in the town before that they happened to know and hadn’t seen in a while, so we all got together for breakfast the next morning.  What a spread!!  …So grateful.

Speaking of spontaneity, my time in Dove Creek, CO was riddled with both unexpected excitement and sentiment.  The locals adopted me for the weekend, took me on adventures, and I was even invited to a wedding up in the Monticello Mountains!

The wedding was unique and wonderful.  Perfectly sliced sections of Aspen trunk replaced chairs and rows of trees replaced the aisle.  Warm sun, cool breeze.  The perfect day for love…

I had the great pleasure of spending quality time with a decorated Vietnam Veteran and Marine Special Forces Sniper named Stan.  It’s truly amazing how the military bond transcends both generation, war zone, and branch.  We both felt less alone after having met – our encounter was intense, deep, and will be forever engrained.  Stan gifted me a beautifully engraved knife, complete with his name etched into the side to remember him by.  A keep sake and a keep safe, all in one.

SITREP: Utah. The 7th state out of 10.  Over 560 miles down since Pueblo with roughly 1,380 miles remain.  Crippling heat topped with delicious descents, surrounded by what appear to be slices of 1,000 layer chocolate cake, called Mesas.  Where wind blown sands have sculpted the earth and mountains are crumbling into dunes like an hourglass.  The dust in my teeth simply adds to my grit, there’s no such thing as drinking too much water, and shade is nearly as scarce as cell signal.

I will now indulge in this untamed terrain – a desolate decadence.  40 mile long climbs, triple digit temperatures, and sharp double-digit grade inclines are a bittersweet, but just dessert for this challenge seeker.  Not a single soul or resource for 70-90 miles at a time.  Preparation will truly be my ticket to survival.  I’m going in hot.  See you on the other side…

Support SGT Sarah Lee’s Mission

// NOTHING FOLLOWS //

Support System

Current status: Colorado Springs, CO.  Two more wakeups remain until I finally face the Rocky Mountains and I AM READY.  Gear and bicycle are fine-tuned, the route is set, and my spirits are high.  2,400 miles under my belt and 2,000 miles remaining.  3 more states and one more time zone.  The line up includes the Rockies, Desert, Sierra Nevadas, and onto the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge.

As June 2nd grows closer, I find myself reflecting on the organizations and people that not only helped make the continuation of my journey possible, but reinforced and solidified the positive mindset I’ve been clinging to since my accident last year.

In late January, I was linked up with Steven Beck, Founder of A Ride for the Wounded, through our mutual military friend, Major Cory Kline.  This Kansas City based non-profit was born to better Veterans’ lives and support their missions by hosting Charity Motorcycle Rides and Events on their behalf.  This year, they chose A Vicious Cycle as one of their recipients!  It was an incredible experience, working with Steven and his organization…

Our Motorcycle Event (We Ride!) took place on April 21st, beginning in Nashville and finishing 90 miles east in Cookeville, TN at The Wall That Heals; Traveling Vietnam Wall.  I met with Fox 17 Nashville on site and was able to gift a Vietnam Veteran the rose that I received at my Welcome Home ceremony from Iraq back in 2005.  View segment:

The impact of this indescribable day certainly fanned the flames that have been building inside of me.  I was overcome with emotion and gratitude for both the massive effort put forth on my behalf by A Ride for the Wounded, as well as the abundance of bikers that participated in support of my vision and mission.  Breathtaking.

The last few months, I’ve been traveling to Tennessee VFWs to discuss my bicycle journey and the story behind A Vicious Cycle and I could not have received a warmer welcome.  The VFW and its members have shown me an enormous amount of encouragement and support, both on a local, district, and national level.

In early May, I was notified that VFW National decided to issue me a grant toward both the completion of A Vicious Cycle and to help kickstart Waypoint Vets, the program I’ve founded and am launching upon my return this fall.  It will afford other Veterans opportunities to detach and unite through nature based outings and social activities.  I now know first hand how much healing can happen out there.  Needless to say: goosebumps and tears.  It’s happening.

I’ve had the honor of speaking to American Legions, AmVets, Legion Riders, Rolling Thunder, Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, and other incredibly supportive groups and clubs. It’s incredible what can happen when you surround yourself with people who recognize that your intentions are pure, your vision is clear, and drive and execution will be formidable and organized. I am adamant about making a real difference for my fellow Veterans going forward. Period.

In preparation for my departure, my military family really stepped up during training. SFC Masaitis drove from Cleveland, OH to Nashville for two weeks to kickstart my training and get my mind right. At 6’6″, 255 lbs, this hurricane of a human being infiltrated my comfort zones and helped remind me that despite pain or injury, I am still a force to be reckoned with.  My Army Infantry friends SFC Nunn and 1SG Steward had me back on their radio show, Stew & the Nunn (Watch Segment).  My brothers and sisters from across the branches stepped up and joined me in conditioning for my mission.

A special thank you is in order for my good friend Robb (DJ Worm). He is a radio personality for Rock 106 out of Monroe, LA and a professional DJ.  Robb organized a fundraising event on my behalf where contestants challenged him to a game of Name That Tune. …and no night is complete until you are “fireman’s carried” out of the venue by another woman, haha.

On my way to Colorado, I stopped in Kansas City, KS, where I met with ABC News Channel 9 to discuss the importance of post-war healing, winning the war inside, and finishing what you start. We interviewed at the National WWI Memorial downtown – a powerful and one of a kind landmark that I was honored to visit. The segment aires on June 1st: View Segment

While in Kansas City, I was able to link up with Daniel (founder) and Mark from Team Fidelis, enjoy time with the members of A Ride For The Wounded, and visit my local friends.  We toured the National WWI Museum, visited a few Veteran Memorials, and said our goodbyes at iHop.

On May 21st, I left Kansas City for Pueblo, CO, where I dropped off my bicycle at Great Divide Bike Shop.  The owner, Lee, and his staff gave it a thorough once over and Sam, who works at Great Divide, posed for a selfie with Bambi.  Sam also organized a 7-mile bicycle ride when I got into Pueblo that visited each of the Veteran Memorials as well as an escort for our first day back!  Incredible.

It’s been awesome being back in Colorado Springs. Familiar views were quick to steal my gaze and both new and familiar faces were eager to warm my heart…  I couldn’t ask for more generous, thoughtful, and uplifting people to surround myself with before setting out back on this journey…

I’ve been house and dog sitting for a Navy Veteran, who is one of the members / medics of Team Rubicon that helped me last year.  Such a relaxing escape to come back to after training each day…  Having the right people behind you makes moving forward easy.

Time to head back to Pueblo and mentally clip in.  Day 1 will be 51 miles to Canon City with a stop in Wetmore…  Saturday, June 2nd, 2018 at 0800 is just around the corner –  and as I said the night before I set out last year: the only thing left to do is to start.  #ArmyStrong #HonorTheFallen #FinishWhatYouStart

// NOTHING FOLLOWS //