Going wild with Bolt and Keel

Kayleen VanderRee and Danielle Gumbley, who both live in Victoria, British Columbia, enjoy a canoe ride with their adventure cats, Bolt and Keel. Courtesy photo

Cats love to go canoeing.

And in spite of their reputation for being finicky, housebound characters, cats also like to hike, climb, snow shoe and sail.

Proof of this feline appetite for outdoor life can be found in a new book, "Bolt and Keel," by Kayleen VanderRee and Danielle Gumbley, who both live in Victoria, British Columbia.

As the pair explain in their introduction, they found two abandoned kittens — which they eventually named Bolt and Keel — one day in a park while leading a group of children at summer camp.

"They were about the same age — the vet thinks they're brothers," VanderRee said. "They have the same markings."

Unable to get the cats to a shelter before it closed, they brought them on a trek they had already planned "into the mountains of Canada's Vancouver Island."

"After a short canoe ride, we tucked the kittens into our jackets and started up a series of switchbacks," they write in the introduction about their trek. "Bolt and Keel's curious natures took over; they leaped from the safety of our jackets without fear."

That trip, in 2015, was the first of a series of adventures that are recorded in "Bolt and Keel," which consists mostly of VanderRee's photographs. These show the cats riding in backpacks, peering into water from the prow of a canoe, and padding along a forest trail at the end of a leash.

"I've been taking photos of their adventures from right when we found them," VanderRee said. "The book has photos up until this March."

Before Countryman Press asked her to gather her photos into a book, VanderRee was posting them on Instagram, where they now have 100,000 followers. She said fans are evenly divided between outdoor enthusiasts and cat lovers, but are between 65 and 70 percent women, and mostly come from the Pacific Northwest, New York, China and England.

"We've inspired a lot of people to take their cats out on adventures," VanderRee said. "You need to start them young, and they need to have the right personalities."

Adventure cats also may need life jackets, harnesses, scarves and other gear, which Bolt and Keel can be seen wearing in VanderRee's photos.

"We've just been using extra-small dog gear, but recently we've had a company reach out to us, and we're helping design cat-specific adventure gear," VanderRee said. "It's been fun to think outside of the box this way, and inspire others to think outside of the box."

She shares tips for taking cat photos in the book, and there is plenty of advice on preparing cats for the outdoors at VanderRee and Gumbley's website, boltandkeel.com.

Their book has been featured at Adventure Cat, a website for "outdoorsy cat lovers" that wants to "challenge negative stereotypes about cats and the people who love them in order to increase shelter cat adoptions."

Gumbley and VanderRee are veteran outdoor enthusiasts, which is why they named Bolt after a device used in rock climbing, a sport that Gumbley loves, while Keel's name comes from sailing, which is VanderRee's favorite pastime. She even lives on a sailboat.

While the pair were delighted to discover that cats are comfortable in the wild, Gumbley and VanderRee also found that cats contribute to the outdoor experience, because, they say, "there is nothing like hiking at a cat's pace to change your purrspective."

"We've really enjoyed having a slower pace," VanderRee said. "You notice different things, and can appreciate the trail differently."

To learn more about Bolt and Keel's adventures, visit boltandkeel.com or check them out on social media at facebook.com/boltandkeel/ and instagram.com/boltandkeel.

Will Broaddus writes for The Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, Mass. Email him at wbroaddus@eagletribune.com.

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