[Above: Andrew Mayo's Schwinn Varsity. Click on the pic to get an up close view of the rusted metal, old school shifters, pedals and ancient leather seat.]
I was at the T4, a little 200,000 acre ranch in Eastern New Mexico, with about 50 reporters, legislators, and beef producers as part of a two-day “Gate to Plate BEEF Tour” of the New Mexico beef industry. We were in the middle of a barn dance when Andrew rode up around dusk. He had turned off the highway on a dirt road, looking for a place to camp, when he heard the music from the band.
[Above: T4 rancher Scott Bidegain ropes calves during the branding and castration demonstration during the "Gate to Plate BEEF Tour"]
As I watched from the barn, one of the other guests directed Andrew to one of the family members, Scott Bidegain, who offered him a place to camp and invited him to dinner. As Andrew ate his dinner -- a delicious ribeye steak, salad and baked potato leftover from the meal we had just enjoyed -- I sat down and asked him to tell me his story.
[Above: Scott Bidegain welcomes Andrew to the T4 Ranch. The T4 was established in 1902 by Scott's great, great grandmother Yetta]
“I’m from Raleigh, North Carolina. Well, I used to be. I’m not going back,” he said. “I’m headed to California, maybe Seattle, maybe I’ll end up back in Santa Fe.” In other words, Andrew is “on the road.”
When I asked if he enjoyed the steak he said, “I loved the steak. It was delicious.” But it was what he said next that really caught my attention. “I was basically a vegetarian when I started the ride,” he confessed. “I was abstaining from meat at first. I ate a lot of fruit. But then I had chicken one day and the next day I rode so far, so fast, I realized I needed protein to do this.”
I know, I know, it was chicken. Believe me; I gave him a brief lecture on the benefits of zinc, iron, B-vitamins and the other essential nutrients found in BEEF. But I don’t think it was necessary. He ate the whole steak. And based on this post from his blog, he has been enjoying quite a few cheesburgers as well!
When I asked why he had been a vegetarian, if it was an animal rights issue or a health issue, he said, “Neither. Eating meat every day at every meal just seemed a little excessive.” I guess maybe I’m a little excessive. Oh well :)
I also asked if he was surprised to receive such a welcome on the ranch. “Good ol' boys are always welcoming. It’s the big city people who pretend they don’t notice…or just don’t care. This is the real America. These are the people who are doing things, living their lives, not just observing.”
Andrew shared another example of “Real America” hospitality when I asked him about riding across the south. “I went into a local bike shop in Huntsville, Alabama, with three broken spokes, a bald rear tire and six patches on the tube.” The guys at Trailhead Bikes took one look at his bike and told him to come back later that night. When he got back they had fixed him up with a new back tire and new tube – all free of charge.
[Above: As we got back on the bus to head to our hotel in Tucumcari, Andrew prepared to set up camp at the T4 Ranch near an old well. It was a dark and windy night...but I have to admit I was a little jealous!]
Real America. I’ve certainly experienced it on the “Gate to Plate BEEF Tour.” Hard working Americans whose job it is to care for the land and their animals to make beef just like their ancestors did. People like Linda Davis and her father Albert Mitchell (former manager of the historic 600,000 acre Bell Ranch, where Linda grew up) -- courageous pioneers who settled the untamed West, homesteaded on desolate lands, and survived the dust bowl by driving their cattle into Mexico (only to return after the dust settled). Men and women who carry on the pioneer spirit that made this country great. This is real America.
It makes me yearn for a return to simpler times…or at least a time when people didn’t bite the hand that feeds them. I’m convinced we’ll get there sooner or later, either by reconnecting consumers with the farmers and ranchers who produce food (as we did on this tour) or by facing rising food costs and food availability issues as we struggle to feed a growing world population (which is what will happen if we follow the advice of Michael Pollan and his “Food, Inc.” cronies and turn the clock back on technology in food production).
But I doubt Andrew Mayo is thinking about that today (actually I wrote this yesterday on the bus ride back to Albuquerque). He’s probably out battling heavy headwinds – 40 to 60 mile per hour gusts out of the southwest – as he continues his journey to California. Funny how when you strip life down to the basic needs of food and shelter suddenly you worry a lot less about idealistic notions of a perfect world!
Read Andrew's account of his stop at the T4 Ranch (and the next day's ride into the wind) on his blog, Oh Holy Hubris.
Ride on, Andrew!
P.S. The Schwinn Varisty is an American classic. I just wish I still had the bright orange Varsity 10-speed I used to ride around Topeka, Kansas (from Lake Sherwood to White Lakes Mall and back). I loved that bike!