There’s nothing like getting away from civilization, cellphones, and cigarette butts, trading it all for a breath of fresh air and a view that can’t be bought. But while most people are satisfied with an afternoon in the park or a weekend out camping, others need a bit more than that to satisfy their fix.
An avid hiker cherished the opportunity to explore all the nearly 200,000 miles of national hiking trails throughout the U.S. But when he and his dog ran into trouble on one of those trails, he faced the possibility of losing his favorite pastime forever.
Kyle Rohrig has always been a big fan of the outdoors. While his friends may describe him as somewhat of a hippie, he simply loves being among Mother Nature in any way that suits him. But there’s one outdoor activity he loves most.
According to Kyle, nothing beats a proper hike through the many trails and national parks the U.S. has to offer. There is something about the fresh air, the lack of technology, and the sound of twigs beneath his feet that makes Kyle try one trail after another.
However, things changed when he settled down with his girlfriend Dixie, and they adopted a Shiba Inu. Suddenly, Kyle had a family who needed him home. While Dixie liked to do short hikes, she and the dog, Katana, were left behind during Kyle’s trips.
Since it was hard to explain to a dog that Daddy would be home before she knew it, Katana became depressed whenever Kyle left. Every day she looked at her mom as if she were pleading to go with him. Finally, Kyle had to make a tough decision.
Not wanting Katana to be sad, he figured he would give it a shot and hike an easy trail with her. The results? It went perfectly! “She loved every second of the freedom out there and getting to explore new places,” he said. “I truly think that’s every dog’s dream.”
Within a few months, the pair had completed the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail together, enjoying each other’s company on top of all of nature’s perks. But when they were in the middle of a 2,650-mile hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, things went awry.
It seemed Katana had vision problems and was hurting in one of her eyes; it was affecting her ability to walk. Fearing the worst, Kyle cut the hike short and took his pup to a local veterinarian, whose diagnosis came as quite a shock.
As it turned out, Katana was suffering from glaucoma and needed to get her eye removed to soothe the pain. It was clear that she and her owners were scared of the procedure, but they knew what had to be done.
Luckily, the surgery went well, and although Katana’s depth-perception was off, she recovered rather quickly and was ready to get back out there and hike another trail. But as soon as she had adapted to being a one-eyed pooch, another tragedy struck.
As the vet had warned Kyle, Katana had a high chance of losing her other eye to glaucoma as well. Another surgery later, and she was completely blind, not to mention scared. “At first, she was very cautious and timid about doing anything,” Kyle said.
So, to help her through her recovery, Kyle took some time off from his adventures and stayed home to care for Katana. He was laying low and hanging out with his friends, but being away from nature for so long was weighing him down.
That was when Kyle decided to compromise. Surely Katana was missing Mother Nature too, so what if they simply went camping together? Excited by the idea, he, his dog, and his buddy set off to spend the night in a local forest to see how Katana would behave.
Surprisingly enough, Katana had no issues being back out in the wilderness! With a wagging tail and a cheerful bark, it was clear she’d missed the outdoors, which made Kyle wonder: would she ever be able to hike again? There was only one way to find out…
The two best buds were going to hike the Florida Trail, even though Kyle knew it would be a challenge. “It was very wet, muddy, buggy and at times we were wading through water, mud or swamp for miles … sometimes up to my waist,” he said. “It was a tough, wet year to hike this trail.”
Although Kyle didn’t mind carrying Katana on his shoulders, the blind dog’s fear and anxiety were not making things easy. “We’d been eating and sleeping her blindness for months, but out there on the trail, we were breathing it as well.”
Then, a miracle happened. One night, when Kyle thought Katana was sound asleep, he found her wandering behind the tent. Up until that moment, she had only walked around independently at home, never in a strange place like this.
Within days, Katana was suddenly leading the hike! “I don’t know how she did it, but she led me down the trail perfectly, without hitting a single obstacle while accounting for every twist and turn in the trail,” Kyle said. “She went from cautious and timid to confident and curious.”
“It was emotional seeing her do so well,” he added. “As if nothing had changed since our nostalgic days when first getting into long-distance hiking.” With such a positive spirit and a newfound courage, they managed to finish hiking the entire trail!
Even though it was a difficult time for both friends, it goes to show that one must never give up hope or give up on their loved ones. “When I brought Katana out here it was either to sink or swim,” Kyle stated. “The only catch being, I wasn’t going to let her sink.”
As Kyle found out, bringing animals along on trips can be a soothing experience. Another man from Scotland learned a similar lesson when he met a stranger on a cross-country bike ride.
In a small town on the Scottish East coast lived Dean Nicholson, a man in his thirties who only ever wanted one thing: to see the world. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the money for that. But he did have a plan…
You see, Dean was sick and tired of his normal life, as living the 9-to-5 grind didn’t suit him. He had no problem with the idea of giving it all up: his house, his job, and his hometown.
Since he didn’t have the means to buy a bunch of plane tickets or book fancy hotels, it wasn’t easy for him to travel to all his desired destinations. But there was another way. Dean was fit and owned a high-quality bicycle…
With a friend, he grabbed a globe and thought about where they wanted to go. They wanted to see France, Greece, Montenegro, Bosnia, and anywhere else in the European mainland where their bikes could take them.
In September of 2018, they headed out, biked through England and took the ferry to France where they immediately ran into trouble: the friends had to run from a pack of wild boars!
This was the breaking point for Dean’s friend, and he abandoned their plans and headed back home. But Dean refused to give up on his adventure and pushed on, now completely alone.
The following days were a bit lonely, but then that all changed. One day, he heard a heartbreaking meow coming from the side of the road. An animal lover, he stopped to pet the cat — and couldn’t believe what he saw.
A beautiful kitten was dumped in the middle of nowhere, and now it looked up at him with pleading eyes. She rubbed against him, showing him love, and he knew he couldn’t leave her behind.
After a quick shuffle with his biking and camping equipment, the cat could ride up front and enjoy the views as they continued the journey together. Dean named her Nala, after the character in his favorite movie, The Lion King.
What made Nala so special was that she was fearless and entirely trusting. She rode on the bike, slept in tents, jumped into canoes, greeted people on the way, and loved her new best friend more than anything in the world.
Everywhere they went, people stopped and pointed at Nala, asking to pet her or take her picture. After all, it’s not every day that a cat rides a bike. Dean even bought her a special bag with a window for when she gets tired of the attention.
Still, it would soon be time to cross the Montenegro border, and Dean was worried they wouldn’t let Nala through. So, he got her dewormed and vaccinated and smuggled her into the country successfully. The clever kitten didn’t even make a peep!
However, trouble came not long after, when Nala began to wheeze and cough. The rain and cold had given her a lung infection that needed immediate attention, so Dean found a vet as fast as he could. He couldn’t lose his new friend now!
Nala’s treatment meant the two had to stay in one place for a while, a place that was dry and warm. Staying still made Dean uneasy, but he booked a hostel where they stayed for a few weeks – anything for his feline friend.
Luckily, Nala completely recovered, and their trip continued. Things really started looking up, and they were making friends wherever they went – friends who even let them stay at their home for free!
Of course, Dean and Nala always shared that same kindness with other people and animals they met on the road. They even shared their food with a group of hungry stray cats on a rainy day; it was nice Nala could play with other cats.
But perhaps the greatest friend they made was a puppy who needed serious medical attention. Dean got him the treatment he needed and even found a wonderful family to adopt him.
While Dean couldn’t keep the puppy, he hoped Nala would always stay with him. He even invested in more equipment to keep her comfortable and safe, like a backpack to carry her and a life jacket to take her on canoes.
To document his love for the little cat, he even got a tattoo of her paw, so she’d be with him forever. Can you blame him? Nala was not only adorable but full of courage and wanderlust – a rare thing for a kitten.
Even though Dean never expected to become a cat-dad on the road, he was so happy that he took the journey and that they found each other in their loneliest moments. Now they could take on the world together, one mile at a time!
Of course, you don’t need to ride a bike or pick up a stray to have an amazing adventure with a cat buddy! While Dean met Nala for the first time, on the other side of the world, another young man was seeing the sights with a furry friend…
Rich East is a twenty-something-year-old, adventurous Australian with a go-getter attitude. In 2013, the young man felt unsatisfied with his typical suburban life in Hobart, Tasmania, an island state off the continent’s south coast.
“I used to have a career,” Rich said, “a house with a garden, lots of stuff, but what I didn’t have was happiness. I had felt over-stressed for a while, kind of stuck in a way, so I decided to make some changes.”
In 2013, sick of being trapped in the city, he began going on small off-roading and hiking trips around Tasmania in the company of a small stuffed lion — and another interesting companion.
He was in the company of his best friend Willow! While most cats wouldn’t make for the easiest travel companions, Willow loved to explore Australia with her human and didn’t mind the long drives at all.
“Willow is very curious and loves to explore,” Rich said. “She spends most of her days snoozing on top of the roof rack, under the van, or sleeping in her cat carrier. On cold days you will find her snuggled up in my blankets.”
“Willow and I have an unspoken agreement,” Rich continued. “She will always come back to the van, and I will always wait for her. She rarely wanders more than 100 meters from the van, but when she does, I can find her with her tracking collar.”
With his company sorted out, he started traveling a bit more on his days off from work; on those trips, he found a new passion: photographing all that Tasmania’s natural beauty had to offer.
“For the first time I felt free,” he said. “Free to design a new life for myself,” (and Willow!) In 2014, Rich quit his job, sold his house, and bought a van. “I threw away everything that didn’t bring me joy. The premise was simple: build a new home in which I could travel.”
Camera the ready, Rich documented the renovation of the van installing a ready-to-go bed in the back, a small kitchen in the middle, and a front seat that could turn around to make the most of his living space. Oh, and of course, a surfboard on the roof.
Once the van was completed a year later, Rich bought a map of Australia, on which he drew the route he planned to take. He would have to take a ferry from Tasmania to the mainland and follow the coast all around the country. With everything packed up and ready to go, it was time to hit the road.
“It was hard to think about all the things that I was leaving behind,” Rich said, “so instead I thought about all I was taking with me and all that I would gain. I left my town and everything I knew for a new life and the unknown.”
The first few weeks he saw as many places as he could, surfed at different beaches, explored a variety of landscapes, and of course, met a kangaroo or two. “People travel for lots of reasons,” he said. “For me it’s simple: go somewhere I’ve never been before.”
As the journey continued, Rich slowed things down, staying in places for longer periods to truly take the time to appreciate his surroundings. He and Willow bonded on the road — and this gave him an idea.
Rich invested in several cameras, tripods, and drones to film their adventures. He dabbled in photography and put together short videos. Perhaps it was his creative skills that earned the adventurers so much online attention.
On the journey, Rich grew as a photographer. Aside from filming everyday tasks like driving, cooking, and hanging out, he captured all the breathtaking scenes that he and Willow stumbled upon almost every single day.
And of course, Rich’s favorite subject to capture was Willow. Every once in a while, he could easily snap a photo of her lounging around, but other times it took a long and careful set-up — and a whole lot of patience.
Once Rich started to post these photos and videos on social media accounts under the name VanCatMeow, the two gained thousands of fans. The public loved the photos so much they wanted to buy prints. Thus VanCatMeow began sustaining itself financially.
Rich’s other hobbies include surfing, reading, and woodworking, the last of which was another way he made a little extra cash for gas and MeowMix.
By 2018, VanCatMeow’s Youtube Channel gained over 2,000 subscribers. People were absolutely in love with Willow and Rich. With his photography skills ever improving, VanCatMeow will surely continue to grow as long as the duo is up for more adventures.
At the end of 2018, after touring the whole coast of Australia, Rich and Willow were driving inland, even going off the grid for a month in the Outback. What the future holds is unclear: will Rich settle down again or continue his travels in other countries?