Before we get started on the interview, I would just like to thank Taylor for taking some time while she’s still hiking the Pacific Crest Trail to fill us in on what it’s like to hike with a kitty. Pretty much all the photos here are from Taylor. If you’d like to follow Taylor and Manzanita check out her Instagram here!
Q: Would you mind telling us a little about your self and your kitty?
A: Before trail I was a Missouri girl living in Portland, OR. I lived with my two cat companions, Pai Mei and Robert Meowney Jr. as well as my good friend, Steven. I spent most of my free time playing bluegrass covers of 90’s hip hop and R&B with my roommate and running an open mic at the dive I bartended at. My schedule only allotted time for 3-4 day backpacking excursions, so naturally I quit my job, dropped everything, relinquished control of my apartment and kitties to Steve, and started the PCT. Naturally I ended up with a rapper name as a trail name. My love for hip hop is no secret to anyone. I also have an affinity for the lesser known genre “Yacht Rock.” A little bit of LSD, Eagle Rock, and a handful of goofy hikers later, I take on my alias “Lil Yachti.” It was also pretty natural for me to adopt a kitten a mere one month in. Cats, hiking, and hip hop. I’m pretty predictable.
Q: Have you ever had a desire to hike with an animal, let alone a kitty? Did you ever expect to be hiking with Manzanita, your kitty?
A: My younger cat at home, Pai Mei. Is a pretty gifted traveling cat. He rides in my chrome bag when I bike around town, runs errands with me and has even been camping at Crater Lake with me. Before the hike, I thought about bringing him along several times but decided that was an incredibly stupid idea.
Q: Could you tell us how, when, where you found Manzanita?
A: I found myself taking consecutive zero days at a little place called “Bud Pharm” outside of Wrightwood, CA. I was a month into trail and my body was beaten down. Some worrisome shin pain had me posted up for several days alongside several hikers and a fresh batch of 5 week old barn kitties. I became pretty attached to a special little calico tabby over the course of 4 days and the owner of the farm told me the mama has 3 litters a year and they all get eaten by coyote. After he suggested I adopt a trail kitty, all practicality was thrown out the window. I was in love and was up for an additional challenge for some reason.
Q: I know from hiking with you a bit that you made Manzanita a little leash and box, partly out of an old Darn Tough sock. Has it been tough training her to stick around you and to stay in the box or? Could you explain that?
A: After taking Manny out on the town, it became pretty apparent that I would need a leash of some kind and a harness. The poor thing was tea-cup sized and would grow quickly so I knew that I needed to re-purpose some extra gear that I was already carrying around. I had burnt a whole in a Darn Tough sock, so, with some modifications, it ended up making an excellent vest/harness. Some Z-pack cord was all that I needed for a leash. Manzanita and I toured the town of Wrightwood, CA and met a lovely trail angel at a local cafe who immediately offered to help me with supplies for a cat carrier. One hour after going home for supplies, she returned with a small box that hung around my neck and could hold Manny while I hiked. The system was a pain in the ass the first few days. The kitten was confused and anxious. I was so frustrated with myself for taking on the responsibility of training a kitten to hike, when I was still learning how to thru hike myself. Fortunately she adapted quickly. She learned to love the box and snooze all day. She finally outgrew the carrier in Northern California, and I had to start pack training her. We had been working on shoulders for a while so she picked up on the new system pretty quickly. She’s a pack-riding pro now, and actually hikes 5 or so miles a day with me.
Q: How has it been having a new companion to always keep you company out there? I know it gets tough during the desert section of the PCT. Does having Manzanita help with those tough times?
A: She’s been the most amazing companion. I have many friends on the PCT and a trail family that I hike with intermittently, but we have mostly roughed it alone. Instead of talking to myself, I have a cat to talk to which is a pleasant alternative.
Q: How does Manzanita go to the bathroom? Most cats have their designated litter-box but Manzanita is like a wild kitty. Has she ever went on your shoulder?
A: Believe it or not, she’s been completely potty trained from the get go. She only likes to dig cat holes in super soft earth so she usually holds it until the ground suits her expectations. I can stay in homes or hostels and she just claws at the door when she needs to go out. We usually cowboy camp, so she can go whenever she likes at night. She’s such a neat freak. She actually tried to cover MY cat holes before I get to them.
Q: Where does Manzanita’s name come from?
A: Manzanita is named after the evergreen shrub that grows along the PCT. It’s also translates into Spanish as “Little Apple.” The shrub is drought resistant and has offered me wind break many times in the desert and mountains. Lately the kitty has decided that playing hide and seek with me in the Manzanitas while I’m trying to hike out in the mornings is her new favorite game. I find myself desperately and aggressively screaming “MANZANITA!!!” into the shrubs on a semi-regular basis. I now realize that I look like a hiker gone mad that is scolding shrubs since no one knows the cat is in the bushes.
Q: Do you have any advice for people who want to hike with pets, specifically an adventure kitty?
A: My advice to people who want to hike with animals is to prepare to hike a completely different kind of hike than you planned. You’ll have to pay attention to your animal’s needs above your own which might force you to hike at a different pace and in new ways. My cat requires shelter from sun, wind, and cold. The Sierra Nevada section of the PCT was an unattainable goal for me this year due to my new hiking companion and her inability to tolerate extremes. On the other hand it is so rewarding. She entertains at camp, keeps trail mice off of my food, and loves me unconditionally. She stays by my side without a leash and follows me through the woods and mountains for months on end. She might be the happiest and most well-traveled four month old kitten that ever lived.
Q: Do you and Manzanita have any plans after the PCT adventure is over?
A: After trail, Manny and I are heading back to the city. We will move back into my apartment and she’ll have to learn to love her new kitty roommates. I’m worried for her and her ability to adapt, but I have every intention of hiking with her around Portland, OR as frequently as my schedule will allow. The idea of hiking again next year and conquering the Sierra Nevada with the cat by my side is also being considered.