Pointy ears stick up over a canoe’s gunwales as it glides through icy waters. A small fur-ball stands proudly as he summits a mountain with his human. One happy “campurr” slumbers in a tent, swaddled in down sleeping bags.
These are the indelible images of Bolt and Keel, a pair of Instagram stars who go on outdoor adventures with the two Victoria, B.C. women who care for them. This fall, the kitties will be immortalized in print with the publication of a new book “Bolt and Keel: The Wild Adventures of Two Rescued Cats.”
Seeing dogs in the backcountry or out canoe tripping is old hat, but cats? Bolt and Keel are scratching stereotypes about companion animals in the outdoors, one adventure at a time. They’ve been kayaking, sailing, camping and snowshoeing, but hiking and canoeing seem to work best for these pocket panthers, says Kayleen VanderRee, who co-cares for them with her friend Danielle Gumbley.
Keel, an intense, short-haired tabby, is happiest on the hiking trail. “He loves to trot along between us,” says VanderRee. “His tail lifts straight up.”
His brother Bolt, a long-haired fluff-ball of a striped kitty, is more mellow. “He’s pretty lazy,” she says. “He loves canoeing, basking in the sun and watching the world go by as we do all the work. We often sling him across our shoulders when we’re hiking.”
Another difference between the two? Bolt’s gone swimming a couple of times; Keel hates the water.
Their hair-raising adventures began when they were found abandoned in a park near Sooke, B.C. VanderRee and Gumbley were running a children’s outdoor summer camp in the summer of 2015. While walking the kids to an outhouse in the park, VanderRee heard mewing in the bushes behind a garbage can.
She scooped up the two four-week-old kittens and planned to take them to the SPCA after work. But, it was closed so she and Gumbley packed the pair along with them on the hiking, camping and canoeing adventure they’d planned that weekend. Tucked into their jackets, the kittens did beautifully.
“We realized we could train them to go on the road with us,” says VanderRee. “Danielle was supposed to take one; I was supposed to take the other. But, I couldn’t have (pets) at my apartment so she took both. I’m glad we kept them, and kept them together. They’re bonded.”
Gumbley, who works in the not-for-profit sector, is into rock climbing and named Bolt for a climbing bolt. Keel was named for VanderRee’s passion, sailing.
An outdoor enthusiast who lives on a sailboat and works for Maple Leaf Adventures, she’s the photographer and blogger behind the Bolt and Keel social media empire, currently with 83,300+plus followers on Instagram and 27,753 on Facebook.
Outdoor adventuring with cats requires special consideration, says VanderRee. Little dog lifejackets, rain slickers and shawl collars adapted for cats provide safety and comfort. Canned food, a treat at home, tempts their finicky appetites on the road. Plus, the cats aren’t permitted to go free-ranging in the wild so they wear harnesses and are kept on leashes.
In the tent, word has it, they’re perfect little heaters to snuggle with.
Have Bolt and Keel ever had close encounters with bears, eagles or other predators? “No, we’re grateful that hasn’t happened. We live on Vancouver Island and there are lots of wolves, bears and cougars,” says VanderRee. “But if there’s a dog on the trail, we pick them up just to be safe. Dogs don’t know how to react. At first, they’re curious. Then they’re quite confused.”
Look out, Fido. If you go down in the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise.
Editor’s note: Thanks to our senior editor Valerie Berenyi for this Canadian travel culture catnip. For other Toque & Canoe posts by Val, check out Cold Land, Warm Heart: Val Berenyi seizes Winnipeg winter with both mittens and Hotel Arts: The smart hipster’s sexy new hangout.
Founded by two Canucks on the loose in a big country, Toque & Canoe is a blog about Canadian travel culture.