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A trip around the world, a bike, a cat and her bodyguard Dean: 'Nala makes my life a lot more exciting'

When he left Dunbar over two years ago for a round-the-world bicycle trip, Scottish Dean Nicholson (32) could not have suspected how much his life would change. When he rescued a kitten a few weeks old from a ditch in Bosnia, his life took a completely different turn.

Kitten Nala, when Dean Nicholson had just found her.

Since then, Nala and he have been inseparable, cycling around the world together. Well, not right now, Nicholson grins into the camera of his computer, because corona has rather messed things up. From Azerbaijan, he could not continue to Iran, so he had returned to cycle to Asia via Europe and Russia. 'During the first lockdown, I was stuck in Hungary. As soon as I could again, I jumped on my bike and started cycling, cycling. A few months ago, I suffered an injury to my ankle near Vienna. Then came another corona wave. I hope to be back on my bike in March, when the borders reopen. Until then, I'll spend my time playing with Nala.'

He strokes his full beard for a moment. 'Oh well, Austria is a beautiful country and here in Gmunden the weather is nice. I'm enjoying my days together with Nala. She is sleeping now.'

Party animal

Dean and Nala leave Istanbul

You write in your book that Nala is the best thing that happened to you. What has changed because of her?

'Before I found Nala, I was a party animal. My life had little direction. I started this journey with a friend and every night we went to the pub. We had a good time, but it didn't progress much. He returned home, I continued on my own. Not long after our paths parted, I found Nala by the side of the road. Actually, she pulled me out of a valley. Because since Nala has been with me, my life has become calmer. Caring for her has made me more responsible. My life no longer revolves around me alone. When we are on our bikes, I have to make sure she has enough to eat and drink, that she stays dry, and that I pay attention to her to keep her happy. A big responsibility, but we also have a lot of fun. She makes my life a lot more exciting.'


On Instagram, almost a million people follow your adventures, and you are recognised on the streets. What is it like to suddenly be a celebrity?

'It happened so fast that I could hardly stop thinking about it. We were on the boat to the Greek island of Santorini, where I had a job in the summer to earn some extra money, when a video an American animal website had made about us suddenly exploded on Instagram. One minute I had 3,000 followers, the next it was 150,000.

Putting videos on the internet together.

A few days later, five million people had watched the video. People started sending Nala presents and donating money for animal shelters. That got me thinking: Nala and I could raise money for stray animal rescue organisations. To my amazement, a Nala calendar raised £96,000, 100 per cent of which went to charity. Nala opened the door to a platform to draw more attention to animal welfare. Our story inspires others to take in an animal themselves or offer help to an animal shelter.

Together in the kayak on Santorini

Through this work, I meet many new people and have made friends everywhere. It is a strange experience that sometimes someone suddenly shows up at my tent in the middle of the night just because the person wants to take a picture with us. But that's okay. Nala and I are enjoying ourselves - and as long as Nala is happy, so am I.'

Hopeful message

What touches people so much about your story?

'Nala is obviously a beautiful cat, and not many cats sit on your shoulder while you cycle. People love her. I also notice that followers appreciate my sense of humour. I think it is mostly the positive story that touches people. If you follow the news or turn on the television, so much misery passes by. But above all, we share a cheerful, hopeful message and that appeals to people.'

Along the way, they camp in nature.

You also write that you are proud of yourself for the first time in your life.

'I left with the goal of cycling around the world, but now I have a bigger goal. Together with others, I have already achieved a lot: helped animals worldwide, brought people together, added a little joy to the world. Now a book is out as well. That's no mean feat. But apart from that, I'm still the same Dean, you know: quiet and subdued. Anyway, people don't usually come for me, but for Nala. She is the celebrity of the two of us. I'm just her bodyguard.'

As it began: Nala at her rescuer's neck.

What is your fondest memory?

'That first time Nala climbed on my shoulder and I realised she would stay with me, I will never forget. But there have been so many more beautiful moments. I love this life; waking up, climbing on my bike and not knowing what will happen that day and who I will meet. As soon as I can, I cycle to Poland and then through Russia to Japan and Thailand. I am a nomad, so if it takes five years, it takes five years, and if it takes me 10 years, it takes 10 years. It's all about the journey. But for now, we are still here and have to make do with walks and little bike rides. So Nala will start getting a bit fed up with me by now, ha ha.'

Good to know Good to know

Dean Nicholson, Nala's world. A cat, her unlikely rescuer and their bike ride around the world, Bookstore, €20.00.


A Quattro Mani

Photographer Marc Brester and journalist Vivian de Gier can read and write with each other - literally. As partners in crime, they travel the world for various media, for reviews of the finest literature and personal interviews with the writers who matter. Ahead of the troops and beyond the delusion of the day.View Author posts

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