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Man and dog peddling a message: Against suicide and for basset hound rescue

MERCED, Calif. — On a recent, rainy Tuesday, Marshall Lee and his traveling companion were taking a rest from their cross-country trek by holing up in a local motel.

Lee's companion was happy as a guy with a dry pair of shoes. She's a bit road weary, after spending almost every day since the beginning of October seeing the scenery from behind Lee's bicycle.

Lee, 41, is biking from Chicago to San Francisco with his companion and best friend, Antigone the basset hound. Antigone rides in a little cart pulled behind Lee's bike. She's seen it all — from the tourist attractions along historic Route 66 to angry farm dogs chasing the bike and the basset down farm roads.

Lee and Antigone are making the ride to bring attention to two goals close to Lee's heart: suicide prevention and basset hound rescue. Basset hound rescue because that's where Antigone came from, after being rescued from a puppy mill.

And suicide prevention because that's where Lee was just a couple of years ago: ready to kill himself — just trying to figure exactly how to do it.

(In the ancient Greek play by Sophocles, Antigone — pronounced An-TIG-o-nee — hangs herself in the bloody tragedy.)

Lee has been a professor at a college and said he served in the Army during the Persian Gulf War. He has a master's degree in English and would like to work for a small-town newspaper one day.

But the loss of his college job, and then the loss of another job, sent Lee into a downward spiral. He was in Chicago, with nowhere to go and no job prospects.

"Three years ago, when I lost my job, I sent out 200 resumes and didn't get one call," Lee remembered. "Depression eats at you, it gets you nibble by nibble."

Facing unemployment and the loss of his apartment, Lee was hit hard by depression. He said it took him two hours to convince himself to get out of bed every morning.

"I'd start to make a plan on how I was going to commit suicide," Lee said. "But then there was always Antigone."

Worries about what would happen to his dog after his death stopped Lee numerous times from carrying through with his suicide plans.

"This cute, sweet dog gave me the ability to say no to suicide," Lee said.

After losing his job and his apartment, Lee decided to pack up his dog, get on a bike and cycle across the country to San Diego. When he got to New Mexico, he changed his mind and is now on his way to San Francisco.

The Golden Gate Bridge holds a special meaning for Lee. He said that every 15 days, someone takes a suicidal plunge off the iconic bridge.

"I am making this ride to bring attention to Out of the Darkness Walk," Lee said.

Out of the Darkness walks are sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The foundation claims that a person dies by suicide every 16 minutes in the U.S. The walks are held to raise money to help stop suicides.

Since starting from Chicago on Oct. 1, Lee has met a lot of people and has found the trip to be easier than he thought.

"Facebook has helped me meet people along the way, even helped find me places to stay," Lee said.

After making his way to San Francisco, Lee said he hopes to go on up the Pacific Coast, ending up somewhere in Oregon.

"I really would like to work at a small-town newspaper, and I have always been fascinated by the Pacific Northwest," Lee said.

As soon as the rain lifted, Lee said last week, he was ready to get back on his bike, put Antigone's little flowered hat on her long-eared head and finish his trek.

He reached the Pacific and bridge on Thursday.

"I guess part of it is the pioneer spirit to go West," Lee said. "It's been a great trip."

You might even call it a life-saver.

Read "Antigone Goes West: A Basset Blog"