Visiting the Eco Stars of Swanton

This past Sunday we headed north to deliver rain barrels to Swanton Elementary School.  Despite the rain on Sunday, it felt great to be on the road, even if for only a couple of days.  We were also eager to test some of our new gear – our Hilleberg tent, Ortlieb panniers and bags, our Kleen Kanteen bottles, some new clothing for Kai and our MSR XGK-EX stove (see our next post for our initial reviews).

Trying to wait out the harshest of the weather expected on Sunday morning, we left rather late in the afternoon.  Because of the late start, the constant rain, the extra weight of towing a couple of rain barrels, and Kai tweaking his leg a bit around mile 19, we made less headway than we had expected and ended up setting up camp around mile 22 (of 38).  Lucky we did though, as the skies really opened up soon after we crawled into the tent.  We found a nice secluded place behind the Georgia Plains Baptist Church.

After we set up the tent for only the second time (the first time was this past winter, indoors, right after we received it), we changed into dry clothes and ate the dinner we had packed from the food bar at City Market Coop before leaving Burlington.  By the way, did I mention that we forgot to bring the map with us?  Oh yes!  No worries though, Kai’s parents kindly relayed directions to us before we settled into a deep sleep, induced by the pitter-patter of the rain on our tent.

The birds made sure to wake us before 5 a.m. and we packed our gear and were on the road by 6, which was a good thing, because we had a date for 8:15 and were at least 16 miles from our destinaton.  Thankfully, the day greeted us with the kind of crisp yet sunny disposition that defines Vermont mornings in June and makes cycling a joy.

We had to push ourselves to make it to the school on time.  Once we made it to town, we stopped at a corner store  and downed some OJ before making our appearance.

By far, the best part of the trip was riding into the Swanton Elementary School parking lot to the applause and smiles of the 6th grade class, their para educators and their teacher Mr. Erik Acanfora, who were patiently awaiting our arrival.  What a welcome!

The next couple of hours were fun and educational, spent answering questions and discussing:

  • Our bikes– explained components on the bikes, differences between our bikes (Kai’s foldable Bike Friday vs. My touring Trek 520), explained what purpose our gear played and what we had packed and why, talked about safety and helmets;
  • The trailer – how Kai made it & how it held the rain barrels;
  • Rain Barrels – Kai explained how he made them, how to source parts, how to install them;
  • Water Issues– how much fresh water is available and where it comes from, privatization & mining of water, costs of public water vs. rain water, amount of water wasted by leaking faucets/toilets, erosion & climate change;
  • Installation site for barrels – visited site where they wanted to place barrels, reviewed why gutters are integral to good/green building design, talked about responsible public building stewardship and erosion;
  • The school gardens – talked about how to divert water from the roof and rain barres toward gardens, how gravity will affect water pressure and their ability to water the gardens;
  • Cycling and Touring – why we bike, benefits of biking (cost savings, health, ability to see more things and take your time), our world tour, and how you can travel further with less money on bikes.

We were incredibly impressed with the students, their questions, and their desire to learn about all things cycling and rain barrel related.  Above the chalkboard we saw the students were greeted daily with the message, “Welcome Eco Stars” and they certainly proved themselves to be Eco Stars the day we visited.

Around 10:30 we headed back into town and stopped at the local park to have our breakfast and tea.  After a quick visit to the City Clerks Office to use their restrooms we headed south, taking a scenic route along Lake Champlain, toward Burlington.

Having already biked 16 miles that morning, we had another 38 miles to go.  Traffic was nonexistent and for most of the ride the wind was at our backs so it was a pleasant, leisurely ride.  We stopped for lunch at a boarded up cabin along the Lake before heading up and over several 10-11% grade bluffs within the Lamoille River Valley.

We spotted at least 15 barn cats sunning themselves in this colorful barn doorway.  Notice one sitting in the window too.  They must have been waiting for the afternoon milking to begin.  Kai joked that there was probably a lot of spilled milk at this farm.

Just as we were celebrating how well we were doing for being so out of shape, my energy suddenly waned.  I hit my wall about 10 miles too soon, just as we headed onto Route 7, which has narrow, cracked shoulders and constant, fast-moving traffic.  At that point, my primary goal was to keep a steady, slow, zen-like pace to get me home.  Kai made the fantastic decision to get us off Route 7 and onto bike paths that led us through wooded areas and quiet neighborhoods.  Although it added to our final mileage, I felt much more comfortable travelling without the pressure of the heavy traffic, which can wear me out even more than cycling a few extra miles.  We made it home and celebrated with an always wonderful dinner at Pho Hong, an affordable, BYOB, Vietnamese restaurant in the Old North End of Burlington.

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