Man's best friend? This weekend, my cat Finch came with me camping in Big Sur and even joined me on a hike. Here's how.
I love my cat. I rescued her from a rock quarry in Arkansas when she was just four weeks old while I was working with my dad one summer. We've been inseparable ever since. She drove with my brother and me back to Savannah, Georgia — riding in the back seat of my '68 Pontiac Firebird, enduring breakdowns and all. I was there for her when she got knocked up and had kittens (my brother now has Finch's son, Maximus, as his sidekick). Finch and I drove from Georgia to Los Angeles together to begin life after college. If there's a production shooting in our loft, she's always on set. When I'm editing photos at my desk, chances are that she's inconveniently laying on my Wacom. She's on the floor sleeping behind me as I write this now. The only times that we are ever really apart is when I go on adventures.
Finch makes a cameo appearance in this Honda ad.
This past weekend was my birthday. I turned 26. Last weekend, I took a bunch of n00b friends on their first ever camping trip. Next weekend, I'm taking a co-worker on his first backpacking trip. I'm great at planning adventures for my friends. I'm not always so great at making plans for myself — so as I rode my motorcycle home from work on Friday night, I realized that I had no plans for my birthday weekend.
I woke up on Saturday morning with the idea of renting a car to go camping at Big Sur. By 11am, I was driving back downtown from Hertz in a brand new Chevy Sonic. I planned to leave LA within an hour and a couple of "Hey, wanna split town for a last-minute adventure?" texts expectedly left me with no companions for the weekend. As I rushed into my apartment to start packing, Finch met me at the stairs with a stare that asked, "Where are you going?" In that very moment, I had an idea. So I looked down at her and exclaimed, "Finch, I'm taking you camping!"
I quickly gathered and loaded all of my camping gear into the car, then went back upstairs for Finch. She must've known what was in store, because she went right into her carrier after not having seen it for years. Away we went!
Within about 30 seconds of driving, I was hearing, "Meowww… MEEOWWW!" from the back seat. Finch was not happy. I quickly considered turning around and taking her back home for fear that her apprehension would ruin my weekend getaway. Little did I know, that her company would make my weekend getaway. Within about 30 minutes, she had relaxed, hopped up into the copilot seat, and remembered how much she loved road trips.
Traffic in LA is a lot worse when you're not riding a motorcycle, so after about two hours we were finally west of Thousand Oaks. I spotted a PetSmart just off of the 101 so we made a quick pit stop for supplies. I got her a kitty harness with a springy leash combo, an "adventure-sized" litter box, and some litter (I already packed food and water in Tupperware containers from home.) Another quick stop for people food and we were once again on our way.
This Come With Me Kitty harness and leash combo is a lot cheaper on Amazon than it was at PetCo.
The next five hours were full of grassy rolling hills and Pacific coastal scenery. Finally, we turned off the highway and proceeded up the sketchiest, most rutted-out road I had ever driven on. After bottoming out on a stone gully with one wheel off the ground (that's why you get rental car insurance) I rolled back and settled onto a small flat patch. Not quite the same spot that Wes sent me to, but paradise nonetheless. I staked Finch's leash to the ground and set up our tent as the sun's golden rays were setting over the Pacific.
Let's see how many cat puns we can come up with in the comments.
Finch was a little freaked out at first, but she quickly realized that there was tons of grass to eat (she's a weird vegetarian cat — I've tried feeding her meat; she won't touch it, but she'll kill an entire bowl of spinach.) I set up a "kitty corner" in the tent next to where my feet would go, complete with her new litter box, food, and water. We hung out in the tent and I watched her eyes dart around chasing mosquitoes, and watched her ears twitch to hone in on the dozens of sounds around us until it got dark. We both passed out around nine.
If I didn't move around in my sleep so much, she would've stayed here all night.
The next morning I awoke to her curled up on my feet and as I assimilated to my first day of being 26, she patiently watched out the window. After a quick birthday breakfast of steak and eggs, we broke camp, drove back down the mountain, and continued north on PCH. Hardly a bad way to start out another year.
She's actually just attacking the grass.
Our next agenda for the day was to find a cool place to hike, so we pulled off at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and began the second part of our adventure. Up to this point, Finch hadn't quite gotten the hang of "walking" like a dog would, so I strapped on my Boreas Muir Woods daypack, which has a nice sturdy frame. I figured it'd make a great platform for her to lay on. I grabbed a couple of snacks, harnessed Finch up, lifted her onto my pack, and we hit the trails!
Where are you taking me?!
People on the trail loved our beard + fur combo and they were thoroughly impressed with Finch's "tail etiquette." A couple of middle-aged men had similar cat-edotes from their youth, confirming popular belief that dads are the original hipsters.
Where does Finch end and my beard begin?
It didn't take long for us to get into the groove of hiking together. We'd hike for awhile, listening and watching for activity in the surrounding woods. Then I'd let her down to "stalk." Pick her up, hike some more, then let her curiosity run wild as she sleuthed along the forest floor. By the second time she wanted down, it clicked! Cats are so naturally curious and investigative, it only made sense that she was enjoying every second of this. She didn't even mind walking through mud!
After exploring the trails for a couple of hours, we headed back to the car and drove south to Los Angeles. The long drive home gave me the chance reflect on the weekend and my experience with Finch. I've never been a fan of car camping, but this trip reminded me to be open to new experiences. You never know how they could shape your perspective on the world.
More cat camping pictures for your viewing pleasure:
[Let's see your best cat-tions!]
Photos: Chris Brinlee Jr
IndefinitelyWild is a new publication about adventure travel in the outdoors, the vehicles and gear that get us there and the people we meet along the way. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.