#8: Cat + Bicycle = Cat-Schlepping on Wheels

I’ve never been much of a cyclist. At seven, I was the last of my friends to move on from training wheels, and only then under persistent peer-pressure. This was when I was practicing on dirt and gravel roads, in a hometown too small for stoplights. A quarter century later, I am currently living in Berlin, and get very stressed out cycling around such a major metropolis (cabs, busses, tram tracks, oblivious pedestrians, car doors opening, delivery trucks, bike lanes that abruptly disappear, other mental cyclists, etc). And when it comes to cycling anywhere hilly, or while hauling camping gear, forget it. I’d rather get off and walk.

 

My natural inclination is to go everywhere by foot, to have time to take in my surroundings as I move through them at a human pace, with minimal chance of crashing into anything. I consider myself to be something of a champion pedestrian – I’ll walk ten miles up, down, and around town or country and not think twice about it, until my flat feet and dodgy knee start to ache.

 

However, moving at a walking pace certainly does have restrictions. Especially if you’re schlepping a twelve pound cat. The desire to get out and see more of the world, schlep further and faster, and minimize the damage to my shoulders, has finally motivated me to get over my aversion to cycling. I’ve started going for bicycle rides with Aífe, and it’s far and away one of the best, most gleeful things I’ve ever done.

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#4: Where Do you Want to Go?

Once you’ve established that you can leave the house with your cat, the next question is – where will you go?

 

This is, of course, the real question we all face continuously from our childhood forward. Whether it’s wanting to go on a walk, a hike, a holiday, whether we’re just starting out to seek our fame and fortune, or looking to start anew after a breakup or layoff, or fleeing some horrible home-life or war zone, we find ourselves continuously confronting that same question: Where will you go?

 

Encased within that misleadingly short query, of course, lie a variety of bigger, scarier problems, like “How do you want to spend your life?” and “What are your suited for?” and “Who will have you?” Also, the wonderful, tingling awareness that it’s a very big world out there.

 

Perhaps that’s why I’ve never been great at answering the question. There’s just too many interesting options, and I don’t want to rule any of them out.

 

When I first started schlepping my cat Aífe about outside on a regular basis, and she started showing real improvement in her ability to handle The Vast And Terrifying World Outside, I got really excited, and my imagination started running way ahead of us. We were in Berlin at the time, and it was a humid 100 degrees outside (that’s 37 Celsius), in the very heart of a thoroughly paved metropolis. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get a visa to stay in Germany with my then-fiancé, and I began finding reasons I’d rather be elsewhere anyways. (You know, the thing where you reject the thing/person/situation you care about before they reject you. Defensive, fight-or-flight, the-grass-is-always-greener-elsewhere-anyways-so-fuck-you shit that I had learned from my childhood, and had grown so second nature in my young ‘adulthood’.) As fear melted with fantasy in the boiling brickwork, I had visions of Aífe and I heading back to America, hiking and camping and road-tripping our way through the extraordinary array of stunning terrain that my vast homeland has to offer. Retreating from the anxieties of immigration, romance, crowds, and humans in general, reasserting my independence from everybody except my cat.

 

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#1: The Joy of Cat-Schlepping

The first half of my 20’s, all I wanted to do was travel. I wanted to see the world, meet people, walk down strange streets. And I was in a real rush to do it; what I was rushing towards (or from), I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) have quite admitted. But I made a pretty good go of it, saw mad and wondrous things from Seattle to Sarajevo, from Dublin to Darjeeling. But I made a lot of dodgy choices along the way, and at 25, I ship-wrecked myself onto San Francisco. I’d survived my misadventures, but they had left me thoroughly bedraggled, and broke in terms of both pocket and soul. I knew I needed to bunker down for a while.

 

And that’s when I became a forever home.

 

I spotted Aífe (ee-fuh) on New Years Eve, 2010. A teeny, brown, three-month-old tabby, sitting with her sister in the window of the Union Square Macy’s, where the extraordinary San Francisco SPCA was running its annual holiday adoption event. I went in to meet the kittens. The first of the pair seemed indifferent to me. The second, however, examined me with great interest. She sniffed at my coat and face with her tiny pink nose, delicately and inquisitively batted at my hair and spectacles with her tiny fuzzy paw, and met my brown eyes with her own bright green ones. She was easily one of the cutest things I’d ever seen, and seemed to have a wonderful, engaging little personality tucked inside. The SPCA folks told me that they had stopped doing adoptions for the evening, but I could come back for her the next morning if I wanted.

 

I did. I really, really did.

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