By JOEL CUTHBERT
OBSERVER Lifestyles Correspondent
The Dunkirk High School Class of 1992 will hold its 20-year reunion this summer.
Above: Kimberly Lyons poses with her bicycle for a shot for her blog, created to chronicle her journey home to Dunkirk (lyonsontheprowlagain.blogspot.com), after climbing a hill at Loveland Pass, Colo. Background: Loveland Pass.
Many will be taking a short walk down the street, or making a 30-minute drive from a neighboring town. Some may even be catching an extended flight for the occasion.
But one alumni is pedaling all the way home from Santa Barbara, Calif. - a more than 2,000-mile trek she's dubbed the Gratitude & Inspiration Bicycle Tour - to reunite with classmates the weekend of July 7. Like some contemporary Kerouac protagonist rediscovering America, Kimberly Lyons is spending two months traveling seemingly endless stretches of highway and near-deserted rural roads, biking over the Rockies and sleeping beneath the stars, to reach her alma mater.
"I had the idea a really long time ago when I first moved to California and started riding bikes a lot," she explained. "I thought 'Wow, wouldn't it be really neat to someday ride home?'"
Lyons, 38, grew up in Dunkirk - graduating from DHS and attending college at SUNY Fredonia - before moving to California in the summer of 1999, where she's been working as an independent massage therapist.
Soon after the idea of riding her bike home entered her mind, however, Lyons dismissed it, asking herself when she would ever be able to take two to three months off from work. And her dream of making cross-country bike tour was put on hold until the right opportunity arose.
That is, until now.
Recently, Lyons decided she needed a change in her life and career, and looked to find a new future somewhere along the miles of open road between her and the East Coast.
"Right now, I'm getting a little restless in what I'm doing in my life, and I want to do something new but I don't really know what," she explained. "So, I thought maybe I'll just take the summer off and ride my bike and think about it, and see what inspires me."
Her 20-year high school reunion provided the perfect excuse for a trip home and, with her apartment lease up this past spring, Lyons said "it seemed like a natural time for change."
"I knew I had to come home this summer for the reunion, because I was really looking forward to it and I haven't seen anybody in so long," she explained. " It just all came together."
So, she stored her belongings in her friends' attics and garages, told her clients she'd be taking the summer off, and began planning her trip, saving as much as she could in the meantime.
"It definitely doesn't surprise me," Lisa Logan, Lyons' high school best friend and fellow '92 alumni, said of the bike tour. "This is totally her."
According to Logan, who lives in Angola, Lyons has always been adventurous and spontaneous.
In high school, she explained, they both planned to travel the world together. And while Logan stayed in Western New York and raised a family, she said Lyons went out and made their plans her reality.
"I feel dead certain about what I'm doing It's absolutely what I want to be doing right now," Lyons said the night before her tour began. "I'm also overwhelmed with how supported and encouraged I feel."
Lyons departed from Santa Barbara at noon on May 5, joined by 10-15 friends, local riders, and clients for the big send-off - many of whom also contributed to her travel fund. Some even rode out of town with her, she said, and would "peel off" as they felt like it throughout the day.
Eventually, she was left riding solo.
"Actually, that's the part I'm looking forward to most," Lyons said before her departure.
After a first day of about 25 miles, Lyons has averaged 30-40 miles each day, the bulk of which she does first thing in the morning.
Although Lyons describes herself as a "moderately serious" cyclist - with experience in cross-country and mountain bike racing, as well as some road biking since beginning in 2000 - she's never attempted a ride like this.
"It's totally doable," she said. "You just do it one ride at a time; one day at a time."
According to Lyons, riding a bike makes her feel like a kid again, "just cruising along and feeling all free."
Her route will follow a patchwork of roads through southern Utah and Colorado, up to the tip of Colorado where she'll cross into Nebraska, traveling along the bottom of Nebraska and into Iowa, then into Illinois with a stopover in Chicago before cutting up to follow the Lake Erie Coast into Dunkirk. Other than Dunkirk, Lyons said she has no real destinations along the way, though she's excited to ride through southern Utah and visit Colorado.
"And then the rest, I will kind of see what happens, if I'm inspired to hang out," she added.
While she doesn't want to "lollygag," this former Marauder is taking full advantage of her time on the road, experiencing and enjoying the people and places along the way.
"When I go into a town, I either want to find a farmer's market, a place to see live music, or a place where I can go swimming, like a lake or a river," Lyons said.
In the meantime, she plans to do a lot of reading, camping and outdoor cooking - living off Ramen noodles, fresh vegetables and, of course, Pete's Coffee.
"I'm really looking forward to sleeping under the stars as many nights as possible," Lyons added. "Hopefully I won't be scared sleeping by myself."
One month into the tour, she's traveled through historic mountain towns like Crested Butte and Leadville, visited the clothing-optional Orvis Hot Springs and "creepy" Indian Hot Springs, ascended 12,126 feet to Cottonwood Pass and 11,990 feet to Loveland Pass on bike, and made countless memories and friends everywhere she stopped.
"So far, it's been fantastic," Lyons, who had reached Golden, Colo., by June 4, said. "People told me that people will be nice to travelers, and it's really true. Every town I roll into people are just really friendly; they buy me breakfast and they give me directions."
Lyons, who expects to arrive in Dunkirk on July 4, is keeping in touch using her new iPhone to post a daily blog on her activities and whereabouts while traveling through the Heartland.
"I feel pretty dedicated to all the people in my life and want to keep them up-to-date," Lyons explained. "So, I agreed to a paragraph and a picture a day."
You can read about where she's been and follow her as she completes her tour at lyonsontheprowlagain.blogspot.com. Lyons is also "humbly accepting" contributions to her travel fund, and donations can be made by visiting her blog.
Since her tour began, Lyons said she's received a surprising response to her blog, with both views and generous donations.
"When you have that much time on your own, you can reflect on all the things you're thankful for and you come up with new ideas and are inspired," Lyons said of her blog's theme. "And I also want to inspire people to do what they need to do and follow their hearts."