December 12, 2018

Unlike most mid-life crises, Richard East’s was strangely “well prepared” for. The Hobart, Tasmania, native had put in 10 years with a company, and his future prospects there looked good. Sometimes, though, the right path is the one least traveled. Richard decided to call it quits at the company and go on a journey to find himself, somewhere else—but he wouldn’t do it alone; his faithful feline Willow would be right by his side the whole time.

Courtesy of Richard East

“I felt lost,” Richard told Insider. “I had the thought of taking off traveling for six months, but the idea of returning to the same problems lead me to think up something longer term.”

That’s when Richard decided to try something altogether different. He conceived of an extended road trip throughout Australia. His vehicle would be a rebuilt Volkswagen van converted into a mini mobile home. He sold his house and possessions. That would allow him to live cheaply until he found out what he wanted to do with his life.

Courtesy of Richard East

What started out as a six-month sabbatical turned into an indefinite leave. Richard’s 6-year-old cat, Willow, hadn’t been part of the plan initially, but he soon realized that he didn’t have the heart to leave her behind.

“She had always been there for me, so I made a promise to never leave her,” he said, “and it was one of the greatest decisions of my life.”

Thus, the unlikely companions began their epic journey together, traveling thousands of miles, seeing remarkable sights, and forming an inseparable bond.

Courtesy of Richard East
Courtesy of Richard East
Courtesy of Richard East

Although Willow had come to learn that the van was a safe place—having spent a good deal of time there with Richard while he was remodeling it—it took some time for her to adapt to “van life.” At first, they started out by just taking weekend trips, then whole weeks, and Richard soon realized that Willow was built for the road.

“[N]ot only did she cope—she thrived,” he wrote on his website.

After both Willow and her faithful human found their rhythm—having learned the ins and outs of small-space living, and averaging around 40 miles a week—Richard came to realize a new appreciation of life. Living with Willow forced him to slow down.

“[I]f Willow decides to take a nap under the van where I can’t get her, we are staying put for a while,” he shared. “Traveling with a cat slows you down and helps you sit back and watch the world go by.”

Courtesy of Richard East

Richard called it living on “cat time,” which allowed him to discover what’s most precious in life.

“Wherever we are, we always have our home and each other. And after a feed, life feels pretty complete,” he told Insider. “I’ve discovered the ultimate luxury in life, and that is time. Time to spend on things that are important to me, and to spend it with those I love.”

Even though cats are very independent, Willow never ran away. Richard knew that they had an “unspoken agreement,” a bond that made them inseparable. And they would only grow closer as the journey went on.

Courtesy of Richard East
Courtesy of Richard East

At a certain point, though, it dawned on Richard that this whole episode might be on borrowed time; nothing lasts forever, after all. However, the journey has borne some fruit: Richard started a website and successful Instagram and social media pages, and wrote a book, no less, chronicling the duo’s adventures. They are also selling calendars with profits going to help fund research for motor neurone disease.

Whatever the future may hold, though, it looks like all the pieces are fitting together nicely for now, and there’s still more than enough happiness to go around.

“All that matters is that we are together, we have our home on wheels, and we get to spend lots of quality time together.”

Courtesy of Richard East
Courtesy of Richard East