Day 33 – On Toward Austin With a Green Home Visit

Route 473

The rolling hills get greener and greener as I progress east. This was taken on Route 473 (I think). Click on any image to enlarge.

25 April 2011 (posted the next morning). Wimberley, Texas. I’m thirty or forty miles outside of Austin right now, staying with Alex Long and Kim Miller. Alex is the one who came across my blog after reading in Environmental Building News that I was starting a sabbatical and on a biking trip. He went to the blog and learned that I was almost in his backyard—and about to make a big mistake by biking into San Antonio and then trying to get up to Austin from there.

Alex convinced me to turn north and explore the Hill Country—the vistas would be worth the extra climbing! So I did that, heading north from Route 90 in Sabinal. I spent one night in Utopia (yesterday’s blog) and then headed out this morning, aiming for an interesting green home in Fischer that Alex wanted me to see. The idea was that we would rendezvous there, and he would then give me a ride back to his and Kim’s house (which is hard to find).

It turned out that when he mentioned to his friend, Jan Gouvain (who owns the house with her husband Stanley Tartakov), that he was going to bring me out there, she told her architect who had designed it. Well, it turns out that the architect, Francois Levy, had called me last fall, and he jumped at the opportunity to meet me and show off the house. That moved the schedule up, so Alex picked me up in Kendalia so that we could get to Jan’s house when the architect could join us.

So that cut short some of my biking day. It would have been a pretty long day had I biked all the way to Jan’s house or to Alex’s, but I ended up only logging 54 miles. Given how confusing the smaller roads are at both Jan’s and Alex’s, it’s probably a good thing that I was able to throw my bike in Alex’s truck; I might still be out there looking….

Motel 6 parking lot in Kerrville

Light rain was falling and everything was wet when I poked my head out of the Motel 6 room in Kerrville this morning. It was good to see some moisture--Texas really needs it!

The biking itself started out wet. I left the Motel 6 in Kerrville in a steady drizzle. I thought I was going to be all right in a yellow water-repelling windbreaker I have, but that didn’t cut it, so I donned my full rain jacket—hood and all (under the helmet).

With a temperature of about 70 and a dewpoint of about 68, I probably got just as wet from sweat as I would have from the rain, but I kept the rain jacket on until I got to Comfort, Texas, for a late breakfast at 10 am or so. I often like to ride a bit in the morning before eating, but I hadn’t intended to go as far as 25 miles. I thought I could get something in Center Point, but didn’t find anything open other than a Mini Mart, and I couldn’t bring myself to find a lunch in one of those places again!

High's Country Store

High's Country Store and Café in Comfort, Texas, where I dried off and filled up.

I was very glad I waited until Comfort—what a great little town! And despite it being Monday (when many restaurants are closed), I found the perfect spot. Despite being wet, I was able to sit outside in their covered patio and enjoy French toast, bacon, some kind of coconut-chocolate brownie-type bar, and a couple cups of hot ginger tea. It was warm enough by this point (perhaps 75) that I didn’t get much of a chill, and I gradually dried off.

It was a bit later, when I stopped at the “Waring General Store” (not a general store at all, but a hamburger joint and funky concert hall that does these steak-and-concert events every Wednesday night) that I got word about the architect rendezvous and its impact on our schedule. Fortunately, AT&T had good service there; we were able to figure out a good rendezvous spot for a couple of hours hence.

Waring General Store

The misnamed Waring General Store--which is a happenin' place every Wednesday night!

Thomas Ferris

Thomas Ferris, the proprietor of the Waring General Store, showed me around.

Meanwhile, at the Waring General Store as I was enjoying a Gatoraide, I chatted for a while with Thomas Ferris, who runs the place. Neat venue. In a town of 50 or 60, they attract several hundred each Wednesday night. Folks come up from San Antonio to handle the food.

I didn’t linger long, but pushed on, since my biking day was going to be cut short. I wanted to get as far as I could by the time we met up.

Zoeller Lane

Look! Shade! The first section of shaded road I've seen in a long time. This is Zoeller Lane, between Waring and Sisterdale.

Texas longhorns

Texas longhorn cattle, along Route 473.

Jan’s house was really pretty cool. The house consists to two older cabins that were moved from elsewhere on the property and tied together under a curving glulam beam. Among the green features are a passive ventilation stack for keeping the place cool (Jan and her husband almost never turn on the air conditioning) and a huge rainwater harvesting system, with 30,000 gallons of underground storage in a site-built concrete tank.

Older part of Jan's house

Jan's unique house consists of two older buildings that were moved from elsewhere on the property and tied together under a curving glulam beam.

Frncois Levy

Jan's architect, Francois Levy, of Austin, who showed me around the house.

Jan Govan and Alex Long

The very enthusiastic Jan Gouvain explaining some of the finer points of her home. That's Alex Long behind her.

Jan's house

The half-stairs in the back (white) lead up to a lookout at the top of the ventilation stack.

From the lookout

Taken from the lookout--above the curved ridgeline. The carport is just beyond. All of the roofs collect rainwater.

Combining old and new

Combining the old and new. The old cabin walls don't actually carry any of the roof load; that's all supported by a superstructure.

Rainwater system

The top of the large, covered, concrete rainwater tank serves as a patio. The round structure below houses pumps and filters for the rainwater. With the current drought, the cistern is empty right now.

Even more exciting than the house (to me) was the back yard. Jan’s gardens were gorgeous and full of butterflies sipping nectar from huge beds of delphiniums. Beyond the garden was the Blanco River—another one of these majical cypress-lined, spring-fed  rivers—like the Sabinal and Guadalupe rivers. The massive buttressed trucks of the bald cypress had exposed root systems from the frequent floods, and areas of bank were thick with maidenhair fern.

Jan's garden

Jan's amazing garden, with areas for vegetables and flowers--including a profusion of butterfly-covered delphiniums.

Blanco River

The spring-fed Blanco River below the house with its towering cypress trees. Truly a magical place!

Blanco River

Looking downriver on the Blanco. The water is low now, but the river has never gone dry.

Maidenhair ferns

Maidenhair ferns on the bank of the Blanco River.

From there, we drove back to Alex and Kim’s house, had a fantastic dinner of grilled tuna, grilled asparagus and other veggies, Kim’s jalapeno cornbread, and my favorite oatmeal-cranberry-walnut cookies for dessert! To top it off, Kim, a singer-songwriter, played some of her new songs—all this out on the back deck as darkness gradually settled over us. How perfect is that!

Kim Miller and Alex Long's house

Kim Miller and Alex Long's house in Wimberley. A compact, very comfortable 1,000-square-foot home with plenty of outdoor living space protected by deep overhangs.

Kim and Alex

Kim and Alex, and their dog Digger--who dug into a stash of cookies in one of my panniers this morning; I hope Digger doesn't get sick from the sugar—for myself, I was just as glad to see those cookies gone.