It’s been over 800 days and 50,000 km since their incredible adventure began back in May of 2015. This is the remarkable story of a man and his rescue cat who together traveled Australia in their camper van. Meet the dynamic duo of Rich East and his trusty sidekick Willow.
We had the pleasure of chatting with Rich earlier this week and asked if he would ever consider another trip like this again, he replied “It never ended, I am writing this from my van in South Australia with a sleepy little adventure cat asleep on my legs!”
Let’s go back to the beginning…in May of 2015, Rich East, then 32 had a break up and decided to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure by himself. Originally from Hobart, Tasmania, he chose to leave his ‘ordinary’ life behind to hit the road. After selling all his possessions, including his house, Rich simply couldn’t bear to say goodbye to his furry friend Willow (then four years old), so he decided to bring her with him.
OK, now we’re feline a real adventure coming!
Willow, who is now six, has since completed a loop of Australia after visiting all eight states and territories, and shared countless memories with Rich, from breathtaking sunsets to floods to mountain treks. “I made a promise to look after her when I adopted her and I wasn’t going back on it, just because I was looking for something else in life.” Well said Rich!
Rich fondly refers to Willow as his ‘soul mate’ and she just might be the first cat to have completed this iconic loop of Australia.
This was quite an ambitious expedition even for a seasoned adventure cat but apparently Willow is so chilled out and easy going that the pair have been purrfect companions throughout. Rich shares: “We’ve achieved quite a lot together and have shared some amazing sights. We’ve sailed the Great Barrier Reef, enjoyed the summer at the Dorrigo Plateau Mountain Range and travelled a 1,000 km gravel road from Bourketown in Queensland, all the way up to Northern Territory. I can’t imagine being on this trip without her by my side.”
When the two best pals aren’t chillin’ in the van, they’re most likely exploring the Australian wilderness. A typical day consists of sightseeing, napping, eating and a short drive on the open road. Most days they travel at least 60 km and in the evenings they find a camp, cook some dinner then go for their daily explore.
Rich says: “She’s a very curious cat and is cautious when in a new place until she feels comfortable. I have a leash for walks we do together and radio frequency collar fitted to her too. So even if Willow decides she wants some alone time, I can always find her.”
Generally though, he says it’s unusual for Willow to wander more than 100 meters from the van. “We have an unspoken agreement, she knows I’ll never leave without her and I know she will always return.”
Sometimes Willow joins Rich on his daily walk and follows him closely but if she’s not in the mood you’re bound to find her nestled comfortably asleep atop the van.
Rich believes that cats make paw-some travel companions and he didn’t need to make many modifications to his camper van to accommodate Willow. When driving, Willow has to ride in the back in a special cat carrier. Much as Rich wishes she could ride up the front with him it’s simply not safe. Overall she’s a purrfect travel companion with no cat-titude and is generally relaxed and easy going, but according to Rich she can get a little cranky when she’s hungry. Don’t we all! >^..^<
We quizzed Rich to share a few of his many special memories…
Q: What’s one of the more challenging treks you encountered?
In March of 2017, Rich wrote: This cat may not ever rule the world but she will always be queen of this junkyard. We took these photos a few days ago as we were half way along the 1,660 km Eyre Highway between WA and SA. The sad reality is that not everyone makes the grueling journey across and the sides of the road are littered with wrecks that stand testament to that fact. We stayed the night near an old quarry that had become a car graveyard. Willow enjoyed exploring and made herself right at home.
Oh…did we mention that some of the roads can be mighty tough on tires! Yikes!
Q: Any interesting adventures off the road?
In July of 2015, Rich wrote: See this little black cat right here? She has just spent 3 days cruising the Great Barrier Reef aboard the SV Watermusic like a champion. So proud of this little kitty.
Q: What’s one of the funniest things that happened to you?
In July of 2017, Rich wrote: Okay so call me a fool but I did it again last night. We had just settled into one of our favourite camps in the mangroves and finished our dinner when it was time to go for a little walk. I open the sliding door but I’m faced with the road under a foot of water! I’m parked on a small rise in only 4″ inches of water, Willow was smart enough not to jump out this time. I check the tides and we’re pretty much at the high point but I get the torch out and see the water is still flowing in pretty fast. I make a snap decision and decide that for our own comfort and safety that instead of waiting for it to recede, it was time to get the flash out of there. I pull the sun shades down, get behind the wheel and creep onto the road. It being dark, it’s only at this point that I realise that I have about 400 metres of road/river to get through to safety. Regret sinks in and I put it into reverse to return to our humble spot on the rise but the wheels spin and I’m not going anywhere. I take my shoes off, roll up my PJ’s, get outside to realise that I’m committed to going forwards. I kick some mud out from in front of the tyres and with wet feet get back behind the wheel. I put it into low gear and push forwards, with a wave of water following us. The mud road is silty and I’m slipping and fish tailing all over the place. The only saving grace in this situation is that although steering was near impossible, the van would hug the wheel tracks/ruts on the road. After the most intense three minutes I’ve had in a long while I made it out to high ground and found a much safer spot back near the jetty to abandon our evening walk and continue our evening TV watching and evening potato crisp eating. This is a photo of Willow surveying our gracious and faithful vessel this morning as I removed some of the seaweed stuck under it from my foolish misadventure. Now even if I have camped in a spot for weeks in the past I hope that I have learned to never again camp with my back to sea!
Q: What’s one of your most memorable days?
In August of 2016, Rich wrote: Some days are for working, some for travelling, but not today. Today is for parking at the beach and watching the waves. See them break over the reef while the afternoon sun fills the van with warmth as a little black adventure cat purrs contentedly. The sun will set just in time for us to briefly see Venus and Mercury before they too hit the horizon. And the light of the full moon will touch the breakers as we see each one crash well into the night while we watch from under the blankets.
Q: What’s one of the scariest things that happened?
In July of 2016, Rich wrote: We can see our house from here! ~ As soon as we stopped the van we both knew it had to be climbed. Only a little hill but in a land so flat every hill is a mountain and every mountain feels sacred. So we start climbing, a little black cat looking back expectantly as I stumble over the loose rocks. No leash, no tether, just a trust that when we get to the top we will have each other. And we did. Every thing seems tiny on top. Our home, the road trains on the highway, and all the day’s worries. To sit for just a moment, with the last of the sun’s rays in your eyes and think, “Everything is okay”.
This is such a remarkable story of the bond between these two lifelong companions and their incredible journey together. We just couldn’t resist sharing some more eye candy photos.
OK…we also had to sneak in a kangaroo shot…after all, this story takes place in that the magical land down under!
Looks like Willow is admiring another magnificent Australian sunset.
Willow even picked up a joke or two along the way and wanted to share this one with us in honor of the big banana (below):
Q: Why do bananas have to wear sunscreen?
A: Because they peel.
This trip has made Willow a seasoned road warrior, but she still enjoys the comfort of a soft cushion while Rich softly strums lullabies for her before bed.
Never being one to turn down a new adventure, Willow enjoys a gentle swing while pondering their next exciting trek. This little black adventure cat has achieved what some house cats could only dream of.
Having completed their loop of Australia, there’s no sign of these two halting their travels anytime soon. Rich says: “I document our road trip on my Instagram page and we’ve had the most amazing messages from people. I love hearing that our travels brighten up someone’s day.”
Rich went on to say: “It’s funny how well cats adapt to travelling, they just do their own thing which has meant we’ve been able to share so many experiences, yet have alone time. We’ve loved it so much, we’re even thinking of doing a second lap as a way of encouraging others to travel with their furry friends.”
Rich said: “What life boils down to is to do what makes you happy” and he has no regrets about his choices and best summed it up in a recent IG post from July of 2017 where he states:
“In summer the dash would be too hot to touch unless I put the sun shades up, but in winter it’s a lovely place to catch some rays when it’s cold outside. Willow knows that things are always changing and that where the sun once shone may no longer be. But that doesn’t seem to phase her – warmth like happiness is fleeting, ever changing, and transient – something that should always be pursued.”Man Quits Job to Embark on Remarkable Journey Across Australia With His CatClick To Tweet
TIMELINE OF WILLOW’S TRAVELS
May 2015 – Left home town Hobart, Tasmania
July 2015 – Visited the Great Barrier Reef on board a sailing boat for 3 days
Spent summer months travelling New South Wales
March 2016 – Started heading North again as the weather cooled down, chasing the sun
May 2016 – Celebrated 1 year on the road at Longreach, Qld
June 2016 – Travelled from Bourketown, Qld to Mataranka, NT via 1,000 km of gravel road
July – Visited friends in Darwin, NT
August – Travelled Down to Broome, WA
September – Margret River, WA
Oct – Jan – Perth, WA
Feb 2017 – South West WA
March 2017 – Entered South Australia – almost 50,000 kms travelled together
April – July 2017 – Slowed right down and spending time exploring the beautiful beaches and mangroves of the Spencer Gulf, South Australia
Check out this delightful video on these two inspirational travelling soul mates:
Photo credits: All pics kindly provided by Richard East with quality control done by Willow
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