Internet Nirvana: Nala the Cat Finds Cycle Touring Fame

Cycle touring is a deliberately lonely undertaking. Nala the cat changed that for Dean Nicholson.


By Jessica Coulon |

Even over video chat, it was clear to see the depth of the bond between Nala the cat and her owner, Dean Nicholson. Nala’s tail flicked in and out of the video-chat window, and every time she walked in front of the screen, the two-year-old, brown female tabby cat received purrs and nuzzles from Nicholson.

Nicholson’s story—of how he met Nala and his life with her since then—is recounted in the book, Nala’s World: One Man, His Rescue Cat, and a Bike Ride around the Globe. The feel-good adventure memoir went on sale on September 29.

The Scotland native took to documenting his bike tour adventures to numerous countries on his Instagram account. His online following really took off, though, after a fateful encounter in December 2018 with a feisty, abandoned kitten that he happened upon in the middle of nowhere. After she followed him down the road, he decided to take her with him, knowing that she probably wouldn’t survive otherwise. Because of her adventurous and lovable personality, Nicholson named her Nala, after the fictional Disney lioness.

They gained even more recognition last year, thanks to a video from The Dodo that went viral.

Before bringing Nala home, Nicholson says he had always been more of a dog person. But that soon changed. “[Cats have] got such a personality when you get to know them,” he told Bicycling.

While much of their journey has been documented on Instagram, the book will give fans an even closer, behind-the-scenes look at the adorably wholesome duo.

You don’t have to be a cycling enthusiast in order to enjoy the book, either. (I mean, who doesn’tlove a good story about a cat who travels the world—with her own passport—alongside a little crocheted giraffe plushie?)

“If you want a really happy love story, get the book then. It gets you away from all the negative news now,” Nicholson said.

Nicholson offered his advice for those thinking about bike touring with a pet.
Don’t rush your pet into it.
Make sure your pet’s happy with it.
Keep an eye on the weather as well. There’s no point going out into the elements and risking your pet.

Without giving much away, the book wraps up at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Nicholson and Nala spent the first few months of it stuck in Hungary, due to border crossing restrictions.

“We basically went from being on the road all to time to coming to a standstill,” Nicholson said. He described his three-month lockdown in Hungary as “a very quiet, boring time.”

They’ve since worked their way back home to Scotland, but are currently in Austria preparing to set out on another adventure.

“I went home for a wee bit to let my Gran meet Nala,” Nicholson said. “Her eyesight and her hearing isn’t that good, and she kept asking to Facetime Nala.”

As for their next adventure, Nicholson plans on riding his way back down to Greece, where he says stray animals abound. Apart from Nala, he’s also rescued a few other animals while out bike touring—though Nala is the only one he’s kept.

On top of that, he’s raising money for a variety of animal welfare and environmental charities around the world, by selling a Nala-themed calendar on his website. He says he raised around R2-million last year.

So what began as a spontaneous trip, conjured up with a friend over a round of beers, has now turned into his new life’s purpose: “If all goes well, just to keep cycling and raising awareness for environmental issues and animal problems,” Nicholson said. “And hopefully be a voice for the voiceless animals.”

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