SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Iraq war and combat veteran Sgt. Sarah Lee has had an extraordinary journey spanning 4,000miles and 10 states and over 200 communities.
Approaching the iconic span of the Golden Gate Bridge, clad in red, white and blue bandana under her helmet and surrounded by a dozen veterans and American Legion riders, Sarah is about to embark on the final leg of a journey of a lifetime. A journey that began last year in Virginia.
"A lot of healing has taken place on this journey."
But this story begins many years earlier. When, with her parents' permission, Sarah enlisted in the Army at the age of 17.
"I knew I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself. I wanted to contribute to this country that I love. I was in for about 8 years and I served with 3 different combat engineer units and I deployed to Iraq in 2004 for 14 months."
When she got back and left the military because of medical reasons, the emotional pain was almost too much to bear. This bike journey may not have even began.
"When you slow down, things start to catch up to you. You fall into a slump I guess. You forget who you are and what you are capable of and you kind of deteriorate on the inside. I wasn't doing much. I lost friends to suicide."
While at her lowest point, something clicked when she saw a bike for sale.
"I basically bought this bicycle rather than end my life. I chose life over death by purchasing this bicycle."
TAKE ACTION: Get help with mental health issues
From one coast to another, Sarah began pedaling. Those pedal stokes and the people she met along the way were her medicine. Her therapy.
"The generosity and kindness I experienced on this journey was mind-blowing. We're not as divided as we think. "
Those like George Smith, a veteran himself and member of the Department of California service officer for the American Legion riders chapter 82.
"It not only brings attention to the needs to being a veteran, but it brings attention to being a woman veteran. That's part of the message Sarah is bringing to parts of the country. There are 20 suicides a day from veterans and we need to find a cure. We need to get the help."
As Sarah approached Ocean Beach, the magnitude of her feat finally hit.
"When I rounded the corner and saw the Pacific, my jaw got caught in my spokes" she laughs.
The ride, which she calls "A Vicious Cycle" is complete. Running toward the water, the waves lapping over her bike, the pain is washed away. In its place: a new goal.
"I want to unite and inspire my fellow veterans to take charge of your happiness. To take control of your life. You can't be a slave to your pain. Leave people better than I found them. That's my favorite thing in the world. Nothing makes me happier."
For Sarah's journey, it's just the beginning. Next she plans to start a nonprofit to help veterans unplug from technology, get back to nature and reconnect with themselves, and with each other.
To learn more about her journey, you can visit www.aviciouscycle.org