Day 34 – Out of Texas and Into Austin!

Alex at The Salt Lick

At a great lunch spot I happened across near Driftwood.

26 April 2011 (posted the next morning). I’m hardly an authority on Texas, having been biking here for only a couple weeks and with a half-dozen prior visits. But there was a distinct shift when I approached Austin. Foreign cars, guys with ponytails, bumper stickers that might get shot at in the neighboring counties, espresso bars, alpaca farms. It seems like a different place. Politically, it’s very different, from what I gather. There’s that old political joke told in more liberal circles that the only problem with Austin is that when you leave the city you’re in Texas….

But remember, I don’t talk politics in Texas, so I wouldn’t know….

I think I’ve been to Austin twice before—in both cases for green building conferences. More than any place in the country, Austin is the birthplace of the green building movement. The City’s Green Building Program was the first in the nation—and it was (is) a municipal program. Many amazing people have been schooled through the Austin Green Building Program and through Pliny Fisk and Gail Vittori’s Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems (I think they’re trying to get away from Max’s Pot nickname), also based in Austin! Lots of these people are now advancing Austin-borne ideas of sustainability elsewhere.

So it’s great to be here. I’m staying at Peter and Karen Pfeiffer’s place a few miles west of the center of town—where we held a dinner and brainstorming meeting of the Environmental Building News Editorial Advisory Board ten or eleven years ago. Peter, a leading green architect, has used the house to test out a lot of innovative green building practices and products. Quite the spot!

I’m thrilled that Peter and Karen are going to host a get together of a few of my green building friends in the area the night after tomorrow. They want to keep it small, but it should be a really nice gathering of eight to ten people.

But about my ride today:

I had less than 40 miles to cover, so I took my time leaving Kim and Alex’s house in Wimberley. They were both out fairly early, but I didn’t get off until around noon. What a great place—though the ride out on two miles of caliche gravel roads was a little bumpy. Before leaving, I had a leisurely breakfast of granola, looked through some field guides for the tree I had photographed the day before (Mexican buckeye, Ungnadia speciosa), posted the blog from the yesterday that I was too tired to finish last night, and just took it easy.

When I left I had a bit of food with me—a small bag of chips, a piece of Kim’s delicious jalapeno corn bread, my ubiquitous almonds, and the few remaining protein bars that I have to be really hungry to want to eat—but hadn’t thought too much about food. I’m in civilization again, so I figured I might come across a café or something.

When I was starting to get hungry and started looking for a shady spot to stop and eat my Sun Chips, I came across what I thought was a winery outside Driftwood, Texas (no idea why it’s called Driftwood). I pulled in and leaned my bike up against a wall. The place was huge, with parking for hundreds of cars, plus busses and outdoor spaces that looked like they could be used for banquets. People were coming out of one of the buildings carrying polystyrene boxes with leftovers—so I decided to have a look inside and see what sort of restaurant it was.

The Salt Like

At first I thought this place was just a vineyard--but the vineyard has been a fairly recent afterthought. This is one of the premier Texas barbeque joints.

Turns out it’s one of Texas’s most famous BBQ joints: The Salt Lick. After a quick glance at a menu I decided this was for me!

The Salt Lick was started in 1967 when the original barbeque pit (see photos) was built—but it was outside then. The place was a hole-in-the wall pit-stop in the middle of nowhere—more than 20 miles outside Austin. But The Salt Lick picked up a following, gradually grew, and is now one of the Austin area’s most famous dining destinations. A couple I chatted with (after taking their photo with their camera) seemed surprised that I hadn’t heard of it. “Haven’t you seen it on the Travel Channel?” That would be a “no,” but I can certainly believe that it’s a favorite of the over-eating shows that I’ve happened upon now and then while surfing channels on TV!

The Salt Lick

The Salt Lick is well-known in barbeque circles--and widely publicized through television food shows.

The Salt Lick's barbeque pit

This is The Salt Lick's original barbeque pit; back in 1967 the pit was outdoors, but a huge building has grown up around it.

I had a good pulled-beef sandwich, with coleslaw, beans, and potato salad. I say good, not great, because the barbeque sauce seemed pretty wimpy. I suspect that as they’ve grown to serve busloads of tourists from Kansas and such, they’ve had to tone down their sauces. They had a “hot” version, supposedly made with habañero peppers, but it also seemed pretty mild.

Nonetheless, for a weary bicyclist with an apatite, The Salt Lick was quite a find, indeed!

Much to my surprise when I left the restaurant, it was after 3 pm; I hadn’t looked at the time all day. I had just texted Peter, saying that I’d be at his house by 4 or 5 pm, but I had thought it was only 1:30 or so—obviously, I hadn’t thought through the timing very carefully!

So I biked fairly steadily from there into Austin. The routes I was on—Ranch Road 1826, then Route 45, then Route 1 Loop (Mopac Expressway) were all pretty bicycle unfriendly, though 45 at least had decent shoulders. On Mopac, it got scared enough that when I saw the shoulder disappear ahead of me, that I actually got off my bike and walked it down the steep highway embankment to a three-land (one-way) frontage road.

I stopped every once in a while to check the Google Map app on my iPhone, and figured out the safe way to cross over the Colorado River (somehow, I hadn’t realized the Colorado River passed through here!)—on a pedestrian bridge under Mopac. Then I made my way to Peter and Karen’s house about four miles from there. A few wrong turns later (dead-ends that Google Maps isn’t aware of), I arrived.

Pfeiffer house

Peter and Karen Pfeiffer's house in Austin.

Pfeiffer house

The Pfeiffer's backyard pool. Note the photovoltaic (solar electric) panels on the roof.

Pfeiffer house entrance

Peter is a fine architect and it shows in the detailing--such as this front entryway.

Screened-in porch

A wonderful screened-in porch that overlooks the pool.

Karen was out with Friends, so Peter and I visited a bit, then we went out to dinner with their two teenage kids.

But now, at 10:30, having been up so late so often, weariness is catching up to me. I think I’ll post this in the morning.