My adventures and mis-adventures as I travel here and there

Traveling With Cat in Car: not recommended at any time

Feline, kitty, purr-box, mouser, tabby, tiger, tomcat…. Call it what you like but a cat by any other name is still a bad travel companion! Oh, yes I know there may be some of you out there whose cats are perfectly docile when in an enclosed space hurtling down the highway at seventy miles per hour. I unfortunately am still waiting for the pleasure of that experience and there’s a story to tell. But let me start at the beginning.

This summer I spent two months at a marine station on the Puget Sound taking the very last class of my graduate school experience. While there, my cabin mate and I adopted a gaunt-looking stray. He was a large black and white hunter with a loud and pleading call (the meowing did, incidentally, nearly cease once we started feeding him!). We named him Pleoh.

Pleoh wasted no time in making himself right at home

Pleoh wasted no time in making himself right at home

He immediately began to bring us almost daily gifts. I presumed that it was in thanks for the rescue, but I had to sit him down and tell him that there were other, more effective, ways to reach me. Unfortunately I don’t speak Cat-ese… Barring the rodent gifts, Pleoh turned out to be a more-than-wonderful feline companion and we both became quite fond of him.

Toward the end of the summer we began to discuss the fate of Pleoh since we both had rather territorial cats at home and didn’t feel we could add another kitty to the litter. I put up an add for a free and adorable cat and waited. And waited. No one wanted our poor little guy! My cabin mate was flying to Michigan and so it fell to me to transport the cat six hours to Walla Walla, via Lester. I was not excited and my previous experience traveling with cats did nothing to pique my enthusiasm. As a test, I introduced Pleoh to my car and drove a few feet through camp. He went berserk! Yowling and clawing, he attempted to force his gangly body through the small opening in my back window.

I did a Google search on making travel with cats more bearable to find some (hopefully) lifesaving tips. Advice was to accustom the cat beforehand to its leash, harness, and travel carrier. I had only a few days to work with, but I got a harness and put it on him in the cabin. He walked in a funny stilted manner for awhile but finally got used to it. Then I attached the leash and let him drag it around. “What’s that blasted thing following me everywhere I go?!” his face seemed to say, but he dealt with it. I looked at pet taxis, but his size cost $25 and jobless me could only think of the meals I could eat with that money. I ended up purchasing an $11 fold-up cat carrier. It was like a cat tent and really cute! Pleased with myself, I introduced it to Pleoh who, to my surprise, sat contentedly in it for more than a few seconds. It was enough to lift my spirits considerably. Perhaps this trip would not be so bad after all! Trips to the vet with my beloved Ami were always noisy, panting affairs that left us both shaken, and the cross-country trip I had once taken with my friend’s cat, make that my friend’s sedated cat, was anything but peaceful, quiet, or free of cage-soiling. Nevertheless, I foolishly told myself that this time it would be different.

The great day arrived. My cabin mate kissed Pleoh goodbye and I stuffed him into his tent with his harness on. He immediately sensed that this wasn’t a test run. We started to drive and the yowling began. And the panting. And the clawing. “He’s going to tear that tent to shreds,” I warned myself, but miraculously it held up. With each pull of his claws, it yielded to the pressure. Kudos tent for being resilient! But Pleoh didn’t care; rolling, yowling, tossing, and crying, he made himself a miserable mess of panic. Always one for good eye contact, Pleoh pleaded with me with wide terrified eyes to stop the torture. After a few close calls on the road, I apologized for ignoring him, but maintained that I must focus on driving lest we both die. “You,” I reminded him, “are actually NOT going to die in there.”

But I wondered if I might. How much of this could I take? Six hours much? Heading toward Seattle, we hit traffic almost immediately, and I found the distraught cat beside me to be quite a distraction. A few times he wrenched the stiff supports out of place, turning his tent into a sack. There wasn’t much I could do to help him. Then I looked up and saw that the sunscreen in front of my sunroof on my stupid car was coming off! One end of it was gyrating freely in the breeze, a heartbeat away from flying off and hitting the truck behind me! So there I am, holding the sun thing on with my right hand, driving with my left, trying to ignore the flailing cat beside me, and attempting to pull off the road in thick traffic! That was the first stop. I took the stupid sun thing off- what is it for, anyway?

Back on the road, Pleoh got more and more frantic. A couple of times he even catapulted himself and his tent over directly into my lap. That’s when I noticed that he had peed in his tent. I guess terror negates bladder control in cats. Great. 5 1/2 more hours with a urine-soaked cat. I was just glad I had protected my car seat with an old blanket. (BTW a tent in ones lap does not bode well for steering control)

Just as I was wondering aloud how much worse it could get, Pleoh popped out of his tent! Apparently the tent’s weak point was it’s zipper. He literally broke it! In the stunned moment in which he sat in disbelief to comprehend his freedom, I was luckily able to grab his harness. This also does not assist steering ability in anyway. Make that the sixth time I almost broadsided someone. Another stop, a stowed tent (it was urine-soaked anyway), and Pleoh was firmly leashed to the passenger side door (uh… on the inside, mind you), keeping him in the other seat, I hoped.

On the road again. Traffic is really bad. Pleoh is still terrified but mostly quiet. He looks wild-eyed out the window and then tries to claw his way up the back of the seat or over onto me- ouch! But not else bad could happen now, right? I just need to keep my eyes on the road and trying to ignore the acrobatics unfolding on my right? Not exactly. With one strange twisting flipping crunching maneuver, Pleoh (aka Houdini) slips right out of his harness, collar, and leash!!! Aaaaah! Maneuvering in Seattle traffic and holding a yowling, scratching, clawing, biting, urine-soaked monster by the scruff on the neck, I wanted to cry. Moreover, I couldn’t seem to get over to a place I could stop. Road rage took over, “MOVE IT, PEOPLE! Can’t you see I need to get over??!”

But then, like a soft fog descending into a valley at dusk, Pleoh crawled into my lap, hid his face in the crack by the seat, and lulled himself into a sleep (or trance or coma, but who cares!). I held my breath. Barring the occasional wiggle, he stayed calm. And that was my strategy for the rest of the trip. Every time I started the car up again, he panicked briefly, but as long as I could keep him down in my lap, he seemed to be able to shut out the horrors. It took him hours, though, to relax long enough to drink any water or stop hyperventilating.

Traveling with cats. Just don’t do it. I won’t do it again unless I have a cat in a pet taxi with heavy sedation and a catheter. I can’t describe to you how many times I almost died on that highway and I probably scared countless other drivers to death. Just so you know, Pleoh has made himself quite at home here, waiting for my cabin mate to pick him up in a few weeks. He also hates my Ami and tries to attack her, but that’s another story…

August 25, 2009 Posted by | Car, Cats, Cities/Regions, Pets, Puget Sound, Transportation, Travel, United States, Walla Walla | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Friday Harbor on a Thursday

Today I visited Friday Harbor with my Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory Phycology class. We left from the ferry port in Anacortes, WA. Leaving our cars in the paid parking by the docks, we all walked on the ferry. It was nice to have the school footing the bill for walk-on passengers ($11 round trip).

Ferry Parking

Ferry Parking

The ferry left a bit late and arrived at Friday Harbor in just over an hour. I spent the entire ride playing Dutch Blitz with my fellow classmates. I didn’t win. 😦

Dutch Blitz winnner

Dutch Blitz winnner

Friday Harbor is the port town on San Juan Island, the second largest and most populated of the group of San Juan islands. It’s a popular tourist destination and a great place to go for an afternoon of restaurants, souvenir shopping, ice cream, and some supreme boat-viewing. It’s also, if you know where to look, a great place to discover hard-to-find algae.

Our group boarded a research vessel from Friday Harbor Laboratories (a world renowned marine biology research station of the University of Washington) waiting for us at the marina and we took off. The boat was fairly large and I sat on a upper deck with a great view of the islands we passed. It was also fun to poke around inside the boat. I liked the beds that they crammed into one tiny room and the stools that swung out from beneath the table.

Your bunk at sea

Your bunk at sea

We passed another island called Canoe Island where the Canoe Island French Camp is located. Apparently there’s an immersion French experience there where nothing but French is spoken. There’s also a really cool clock. It made me miss France.

Our purpose for being on the research vessel was to do a dredge for algae that we maybe hadn’t seen before. A dredge is basically a bucket with a rope bottom at the end of a cable that we drag behind the boat as we pass Canoe Island. It scrapes everything off the rocks and out of the mud about fifty feet under the sea. After this has been going on for 10 minutes or so, we bring it back up and dump it out into a metal table on the boat to see what we’ve found.

Spoils of the dredge

Spoils of the dredge

Sorting through the mud, decorator crabs, and giant red urchins, we find algae that we haven’t seen in the intertidal zone or in other places and put it in some saltwater so we can bring it back to our classroom and press it for our collections. We love algae. We’re a bunch of algae nerds. You’d be amazed to see the exquisite algae we pulled out of that mud.

When we left the boat after the dredge, a few of us poked around on one of the docks. Stretching ourselves out on our stomachs and looking over the side into the water beneath (that really hurts after awhile), we found some types of algae that are usually difficult to find because they can’t live in the intertidal zone. These algae, however, are always submerged because they rise and fall in the water with the dock. I guess I just told you where to find the “hard-to-find” algae.

The next item on the agenda was a walk around town. Some of my classmates went to Friday’s Crabhouse for some burgers and fries.

One of my classmates takes a GIANT bite from a Friday's Crabhouse burger

One of my classmates takes a GIANT bite from a Friday's Crabhouse burger

I, on the other hand, went for some ice cream at the place I traditionally always get it when I go to this town. It’s the place right by the ferry. You walk through in the line that perpetually fills the small shop, picking your flavors as you go. $4.00 later I was holding a cup with a scoop of black cherry and a scoop of huckleberry. They were delicious, but not as delicious as I’d hoped. That was probably due to the fact that I didn’t have chocolate ice cream. I’m testing a theory that I’m allergic to chocolate and the testing period is not over yet… Still, I would recommend that you try some ice cream from this place. It is delicious. Another option would be a shop on 1st street which advertises homemade ice cream containing zero hormones. If you’re going to eat ice cream at all, that would probably be the better choice.

One of my classmates posited this question to me: “Does Friday Harbor have its own kind of character or does it lose its life when the last ferry leaves and all the tourists have disappeared?” I’d like to stay a night and find out.

August 5, 2009 Posted by | Puget Sound, Travel, United States | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hike up Sauk Mountain, Northwestern Washington

Twenty-seven switchbacks, a 1040 ft. elevation gain, and 2.1 miles and… I was on top of Sauk Mountain taking in one of the most breathtaking 360 degree view I have ever been privileged enough to see!
mt. sauk 2
Hold on a minute. Back right up. Before we get to the good stuff, we have to talk about the getting-there part, which was excruciating! It was hot, for one thing. The never-ending switchbacks had me facing the sun first on the right side of my face… then on the left side of my face… then on the right… then on the left, right, left, right, left… I could feel my skin scorching (sorry, mom, I forgot my sunscreen). The only thing that kept me going was the counting the switchbacks to twenty-seven… that and the line of people backed up behind me as far as the eye could see! The “green meadow” I was told we would be hiking up is-firstly-more like a green vertical wall and-secondly-almost as tall as me in some places, which makes it scratchy and liable to hit you in the head. It’s actually full of wildflowers, though, in all colors imaginable, which makes the scratchy, hitting part completely manageable. mt sauk flowersUnfortunately I didn’t take as much time as I’d have liked to actually look at the flowers- partly because if I stopped I’d, well, I’d probably never get going again and secondly because every time I glanced toward the downward side of the mountain a wave of dizziness would come over me and I would nearly lose my footing, toppling into the abyss of “green meadow”. I just kept going. There are some, er, shortcuts up the mountain (the operative word being up- straight up). I tried a couple of these and, yes, it did put me ahead of that aforementioned never-ending line of hikers, but it also wore me out considerably. I didn’t try many of those. Besides, shortcuts cause erosion.

Ok, so the good news is that once you get through with those grueling twenty-seven switchbacks, the worst is behind you! In my case, I was then on the eastern side of the mountain and able to find a little protection from the sun, for which my face thanked me. There are also likely to be some wonderful patches of snow! These are great for both cooling off and ambushing unsuspecting hikers, preferably in that order. Three hikers cross a snowfield on Sauk Mountain in view of GlaciIf you pay attention, you may see a few marmots out sunning themselves. mt sauk marmotLooking to your right, you will see Sauk Lake 1000 feet down below. It is a 1.5 mile hike from here (a trail veers off to the right, apparently). Now the hike is easy except for one very short steep part which takes you back around the other side and up to the summit where you can see a few remains of the fire tower that used to perch there. Workers used to live in the tower until about 1981. I’ll admit that I kind of wish for a job like that! The view here is breathtaking. Stand on the highest point and turn in a circle. Facing north you can see Mt. Baker and Shuksan, and facing south you may behold Glacier Peak, Pugh, Whitehorse and White Chuck mountains. If the day is clear enough, you may spot Mt. Rainier and the Puget Sound with the Olympic Mountains in the distance. There was some fog lingering when I was there, but the view only looked more mystical because of it.

Downsides to this majestic view? The bugs. There were a lot of flies and mosquitoes. Just keep moving, though, and they might not be so bad. It might be fun to hike this in the cool of the day or try it in the fall. It’s a great place to bring your dog or out-of-town friends you’d like to impress.

Where is Sauk Mountain?
From I-5 north of Mt. Vernon, WA, at exit 230 go 40 miles east on Hwy 20 (North Cascades Highway). 10 miles after Concrete and just before Rockport State Park, turn left onto Forest Road 1030 (also known as the Sauk Mountain Rd.). Follow this gravel road 8 (dusty, bumpy) miles to the trailhead parking lot. Once you reach the trailhead, you’ve already done a lot of the climbing thanks to your vehicle. There is a cute, A-frame style outhouse stocked with toilet paper. There’s no trash service, though, so plan to take your trash back down the mountain with you.

mt sauk
mt. sauk outhouse

August 5, 2009 Posted by | Puget Sound, Travel, United States | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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