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Riding Rain or Shine with The Molineaux Family

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The Molineaux family on their commuter bikes
Photo credit: Ethan Sivulich

Source: Ethan Sivulich, Middlebury College

From the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Green Mountains

Chris, Jennifer and Claire Molineaux moved to Middlebury from a community in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia about six years ago. Although they left the Blue Ridge Mountains behind, they brought the rugged mentality of the small community with them to Vermont. What drew the couple to Middlebury was the “incredible geography” of surrounding mountains and forests, as well as the sense of community present around the town.

In-town Condo Living = Efficient Living

Chris and Jennifer chose to live in a condominium community near the heart of town. The idea of living in a condo appealed to the Molineaux family for efficiency purposes. Firstly, by having condos on either side of theirs, 50% of their home is effectively insulated by their neighbors. Not only is their home efficient in terms of insulation, but its close proximity to the center of town allows for more convenient travel: grocery stores, the bank, and the local schools are all an easy commute from home. (The trip to the nearest grocery store is now a short walk, not a 45-minute drive like it was in Virginia!)

Biking to Work - Rain or Shine (even snow)

The Molineaux's family commitment to reducing energy usage centers on transportation. Jennifer makes the two-and-a-half mile commute to and from work on her bicycle every single workday of the year. Regardless of the temperature or weather conditions, Jennifer can be seen each morning and afternoon biking along her route between home and work, part of which includes Vermont Route 7. To make the trek more comfortable during the harsh Vermont winters, Jennifer adds layers of clothing, to the tune of several pairs of gloves, jackets and base layers. On bitter cold days, additional apparel such as a balaclava and ski goggles are donned.

Biking to School

Jennifer is not the only rugged bicyclist in the household. Claire also makes her daily commute to school on a bicycle. The family’s close proximity to the local schools provides Claire with a safe route to and from school, while not having to wake up too early in the morning! This also allows Claire a greater degree of independence than if her parents would need to drive her. Like her mother, Claire continues to ride year round. On the rare occasions when school is cancelled due to bad weather or extremely cold temperatures, Claire rides with her mom in the family vehicle into work for the day.

Inspiring Others by Example

Chris, a public servant, keeps with the family tradition of biking to and from work. While he has driven more often than biked to work in the past, he has been moving towards biking more, and has inspired others from work to follow his example.

In addition to making biking their primary mode of transportation, the Molineaux family also acquires their bicycles in a sustainable fashion. Rather than investing thousands of dollars in top-of-the-line bikes, they will buy them for low prices at yard sales and fix them up into safe and working condition. The typical life cycle for these bikes is a couple years.

Because the vast majority of their commuting is done on foot or via bicycle, the Molineaux family does not drive very often, and recently consolidated its vehicle fleet from two vehicles to one, a Toyota Prius hybrid. The family estimates that they only drive about 3,000 miles per year. Even with the Prius’ low capacity gasoline tank, it only needs to be filled approximately once every three weeks. Chris and Jennifer say they use about one-third of the gasoline now than they did with their two prior vehicles.

The family’s lifestyle of low impact transportation is not without its challenges. The commutes to work and school during the winter can be uncomfortable with the combination of cold temperatures and many layers of clothing. It is also necessary to allow extra time and have a safe route in place before riding. However, the family firmly believes in what it is doing, both from an environmental and personal health perspective. Biking to and from work and school is a highly visible lifestyle choice. Jennifer has experienced town residents approaching her in the grocery store, saying that they saw her riding her bike on the way to work. If your daily commute includes Route 7, you might just see Jennifer biking to work too, at any time of the year.