Day 37 & 38 – Last Day in Austin and on to La Grange

Bugle Boy "listening room"

The Bugle Boy “listening room” in La Grange, Texas. Amazing place! Click on any image to enlarge.

30 April 2011 (posted the next evening). As I write this I’m in a place called The Bugle Boy in La Grange, Texas. It’s a “listening room” operated as a nonprofit organization. A wide range of musician’s play here; tonight is Woody Russell, a bluesman extraordinaire.

The place is run by Lane Gosnay, who is a good friend of Kim Miller and Alex Long. When I mentioned to Kim and Alex that my plan was to head to La Grange today, they immediately suggested that I should get to the Bugle Boy if at all possible. In fact, they called Lane to let her know that I’d be coming through town and see if she might have a place to put me up.

Bugle Boy

I think the venue holds about 85 people–very comfortable with theater seats.

Bugle Boy

I didn’t get a chance to ask about this solar-powered cart. Looks intriguing!

Lane called me (twice) this morning: first to describe what she could offer (a pull-out futon in the Green Room of The Bugle Boy). While very generous I knew that with the high humidity today I’d be incredibly sweaty—if I made it the 72 miles to La Grange—and would need a shower. I had pretty much decided to find a motel room when Lane called back to say that she’d spoken with a friend of hers, a local architect and bicyclist Brad Cutright, and that I could stay with him.

So I’m not only staying in Brad’s amazing, modern home, but he fed me a great dinner, provided a sampling of lesser-known Shiner beers, and brought me up to The Bugle Boy! I’m so fortunate in the people I’ve met on this trip!

To back up a bit—since I didn’t write a blog yesterday (Friday—my last day in Austin), let me review that day briefly. I was torn about staying a third full day and fourth night in Austin (at Peter and Karen Pfeiffer’s). I wanted to get back on the road, but I also wanted to stay for a retirement party that was being held for Mary McLeod, who is retiring after 20 years with the Austin Green Building Program. I’ve known Mary for a lot of those years, and I knew that I’d know a bunch of the guests.

The clincher in my decision to stay was getting taken out to The Broken Spoke Thursday night after our small gathering at the Pfeiffer’s (see previous blog). It was going to be a late night, and I knew that when I left Austin I’d want to get an early start, because I had a fair number of miles to cover. (Had I followed the Adventure Cycling route it would have been more like 87 miles, but I took a somewhat different route to La Grange.

So, I stuck around Austin on Friday. After a bit of route planning in the morning, I met Gayle Borst for lunch at the Magnolia Café, just a couple miles from the Pfeiffers’. I’ve also known Gayle for a long time, though not well. She’s been doing sustainable design in Austin for twenty-some years, and has her hands in nearly all of the sustainability initiatives in town, including her consulting company, Stewardship, Inc., and the nonprofit organization Design, Build, Live, of which she is executive director.

Gayle is one of our charter subscribers to Environmental Building News, having subscribed for twenty years now. It was great catching up with her initiatives and filling her in on some of the recent evolution of BuildingGreen. She reminded me how important it is that we’re not supported by product manufacturers—something I hear from many of our long-time subscribers.

Spring-fed Deep Eddy pool

This is the spring-fed Deep Eddy swimming pool fairly close to the Pfeiffers’ home. It is open to the public, like Barton Springs, for a very modest fee.

From there, I just explored Austin a bit on my bike—mostly on the Lady Bird Trail. I crossed over Lady Bird Lake (a.k.a., Colorado River) on the pedestrian bridge under the Mopac Highway and took a leisurely ride back up to Barton Springs and back—enjoying a root beer float at the Springs. I wished I had brought my swim trunks so that I could have gone for a swim—though I hadn’t really intended to make it a long afternoon.

In my three days in Austin I’ve put about 50 miles on my bike just getting around town; it’s so nice not to have to drive!

I got back to the Pfeiffers’ in time to take a shower before riding over to Peter’s office to get a ride to Mary’s retirement party.

Among the folks I chatted with at Mary’s was Peter Ellis, who grew up in Putney (his sister, Chris, still lives there) and has worked for the Texas Parks Department for years; Laurence Doxsey, who ran the Austin Green Building Program back in the 90s and is now director of sustainability in San Antonio (now America’s seventh largest city and now doing more with sustainability than even Austin!); and Sue Barnett, who was also with the Austin Green Building Program for many years. I met lots of people I hadn’t known as well. In her remarks thanking people for coming, Mary gave a great shout-out to me, Nadav, and EBN for what we’ve been doing for so long—eliciting a very gratifying round of applause!

What a nice group. Doug Seiter, who was the founder of the program and also spoke at the event, said that in the 15 or so years he’s lived in Denver he just hasn’t found the same sort of community that exists in Austin. Doug had been at the Pfeiffers’ the previous night, so I didn’t chat with him as much last night.

Talking to Laurence Doxsey helped me think more about resilient design and passive survivability as a project I might take on during my sabbatical. He mentioned that Mike Myers, another Austin-based friend (but who was out-of-town and couldn’t make it), apparently has good connections with the insurance industry. I’m going to have to contact Mike and get his input.

After biking back to the Pfeiffers’ from Peter’s office (he had to stay a while to put together a contract), I did a little reading, then Peter got home and we talked for a couple hours. So much for an early night! It was close to 12:30 by the time I turned out the light!

So, I didn’t get off by 7 am, as I had originally hoped. But I packed up fairly quickly and was out by around 8 am. I biked about 45 minutes to the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems (CMPBS), where Gail Vittori gave me a great tour (I think it’s been ten years since I was last there) and then we had breakfast. I was back on Farm Route 969—and into the headwind!—by about 10:30.


A fairly nondescript entrance to the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems (CMPBS)–which has now been researching and prototyping sustainable building solutions for over 35 years!

CMPBS rainwater tanks

Rainwater tanks at CMPBS and the graywater/blackwater constructed wetland treatment system to the left of the tanks.

Modular kitchen equipment at CMPBS

Modular kitchen equipment at CMPBS–one of Pliny Fisk’s many “thinking-outside-the-box” innovations.


Gail Vittori showing me one of the workspaces at CMPBS.

Solar Decathlon house

One of the two Solar Decathlon houses that Pliny has built with students. Above Gail is a shade structure over an outdoor meeting area.


Researchers at CMPBS are doing some fascinating work on the water-intensity of concrete and ways to reduce water use. I want to learn more about that!

Low-cost building prototypes

Two low-cost building prototypes at CMPBS. The one on the right was testing out some ideas for emergency shelters for Haiti.

Batch water heaters at CMPBS

Some of CMPBS’s earliest work–in the mid-70s–was building low-cost batch solar water heaters. Their design has evolved somewhat, but the priority is still very low first-cost.

I had kind-of expected that after three relaxing days in Austin I’d be rarin’ to go, energized, and with new-found strength in my legs. Well…not quite. That headwind takes it out of me! I definitely made the right decision to take the main highway (71) from Bastrop (where 969 rejoins the Adventure Cycling Southern Tier route) instead of following what is doubtless a much more scenic route on the Southern Tier maps—but 10 or 12 miles longer. It took all my energy to get into La Grange as it was.

Turtle I moved out of the middle of the road

Not too long after leaving CMPBS, I came across this box turtle (?) in the center of Route 969. I carried it across the road–in the direction it seemed to be heading. Does anyone know the species?

Snake on floating vegetation

Another reptile siting. On one of the Colorado River crossings I looked down and saw what looked like a snake in this floating vegetation. Sure enough!

Snake in the vegetation

I think this is a Cottonmouth (water moccasin). Note how thick the snake is. Can anyone tell who knows snakes better than I?

Pine forests

At one point as I was methodically pedaling along Route 71, I suddenly noticed that I was surrounded by pine forests! There are still lots of mesquite trees, but the land is definitely greener!

My biggest setback was stopping at a Quizznos Sub shop in Bastrop and being confronted with the frigid air conditioning. I was drenched with sweat and, for some reason, almost feinted as I was waiting in the long line to put in my order. I downed a Gatoraide in the line and another with my sandwich. But I had to sit down a couple times, as I was afraid I’d find myself sprawling on the floor.

Picnic area on Route 71

One of the little picnic areas that I so enjoy!

Cattle egrets

The aptly named cattle egrets doing what cattle egrets like to do–hang with the cattle. This egret is native to Africa, I think, but has gained a strong foothold in America.

Oil wells

I passed a few active oil wells in my Texas travels.

When I next stopped for a cold refreshment at a Subway (in Smithville), I bought my soda and went outside and sat in a shady spot. It was hot, but there was a nice breeze. I did fine. Except that I had ordered a large drink, and it came in this huge plastic cup. I didn’t react quickly enough when I saw her grab the cup. Should have gotten the medium—which I think used paper! I lingered there over a phone conversation with Jerelyn for probably close to an hour, enjoying the rest—then biked the last dozen or so miles to Brad’s house.


My mega-soda in this horrible plastic cup! I was too spent to react quickly enough when I saw the cup the employee grabbed.

So here I am at The Bugle Boy. If you’re ever in this area, check it out! They have concerts most Fridays and Saturdays and some other evenings.

Remarkably, in her opening remarks, Lane Gossnay recognized me as a special guest who had biked here from San Diego. She even plugged my blog (giving the Web address) and mentioned my work with green building! That led to an interesting conversation with someone during the intermission.

Bugle Boy

Woody Russell at the Bugle Boy. I was sitting in the back and writing this blog some of the time as I was listening.

Brad and Bugle Boy velunteers

Brad Cutright and two of the volunteers at The Bugle Boy. They offer a wide range of refreshments–from milkshakes to beer and wine.

During the first half of the show this evening, I had a fantastic milkshake—the cure for a long day of biking—and I’m now enjoying a Shiner Bock (probably my favorite Texas beer). Quite a place. It has theater-style seating, each seat with a bottle or can holder! And the revenue helps support the nonprofit Bugle Boy Foundation—which makes the venue work.

I’ve been sitting in the back of the room, typing discretely, so don’t feel too badly about it. The music is great! Definitely a first for my blogging—to write with amazing music being performed a few tens of feet away. Thanks so much for the suggestion and connection, Kim and Alex!

But I am tired and ready for bed!

I’m also leaning toward heading down Houston in a couple days to wind down the biking phase of my sabbatical. I’m missing the Vermont spring–and there are so many other things I want to do during my eight months away from BuildingGreen!