Rico The Hiking Cat – Windows to the Wild

I’m standing on the
Appalachian Trail, waiting for a man
who’s been hiking with a rather unusual partner. So stick around for
the rest of the story. [music playing] Welcome to “Windows
to the Wild.” I’m Willem Lange. And many years ago,
when I was a young man, I hiked the Appalachian Trail. There weren’t too many
people with the same idea in those days, so
I was pretty much alone for most of my journey. Now, Michael Beaumier is a
hiker from South Berwick, Maine. He started the AT
months ago in Georgia. And he was hiking with a
rather unusual partner. We’ll meet Michael here in a
little while along the trail near Bennington, Vermont. But first, let’s turn
back the clock a bit. Go back home and meet Rico. [music playing] Come on, buddy. [music playing] Ah, scratch you down here. [music playing] This is Rico the hiking cat. [music playing] Rico is a hiking cat– this is not any ordinary cat
that likes to wander outdoors. [music playing] All right, buddy boy. Rico is hardcore. He’s an Appalachian
Trail kind of hiking cat. Come on. [hands clapping] Come on, buddy. Michael loves Rico, but the
Siamese wasn’t his first choice as a hiking partner. That honor went to this lady. [music playing] Yeah, [laughs] yeah. Yes, I wanted to
hike with the dog. I have a dog that I grew
up with out in these woods. And it was always my dream to
take her, but she got too old. And I fell in love with
having a companion, having a little buddy
that loves it just as much as you do out there. So I knew I wanted to have
a pet with me out there. So initially, I wanted to adopt
rescue a dog, and mom said, no dogs. She didn’t say
anything about cats, so I went out and got a cat. Say hi. [music playing] Apparently, it worked. On the trails behind
his parents’ home, Michael and Rico learned
to hike together. [music playing] He’s an awesome cat. He’s really hyperactive, and I
think he really likes hiking. And we got up there. It kind of worked. I thought, I could
make this work. [music playing] Michael’s decision to
hike the Appalachian Trail wasn’t done on a whim. Preparing for the 2,200-mile
trek began years ago. I was a Boy Scout growing up,
and we did a little section hike from New
Hampshire to Vermont. I was 13 and just fell in love. It was just so
gorgeous out there. And we live close to
the White Mountains. So in the summer, every weekend,
I’d take my friends out, hike the mountains. Mount Major’s
close to here, too. [music playing] There’s so much around
here that is good training. And the White Mountains
are a lot harder than the rest of the trail. So it’s good to be exposed to,
I think, the difficult stuff when you’re getting ready. That’s what I had. [music playing] So I wanted to do it since then. And I always thought
I was going to do it as an adult, later in life. But I had a chance now. And I said, if I don’t do
it now, when will I do it? [music playing] We met Michael and Rico at
home in South Berwick, Maine. They reached the 1,000-mile
point on the Appalachian Trail somewhere in Pennsylvania
and then took a few days off. They came home for
a birthday party. Rico and Michael
walked the trails where they began
hiking together. Come on. Come on, Buddy. I think it’s instinctual. As a kitten, it was instinctual
for him to follow me. And he recognized
me as his caretaker. So if I walked away from him,
he would follow me, especially in the woods where
there’s nothing else. There’s nowhere else to go. He’s slow. He likes to go at his own pace. It’s a lot different than
hiking with a dog, obviously. But he’s a good companion. He loves to be in the woods,
and he loves to explore. And I think the way
you live on a trail is very similar to the way
a cat lives naturally– just to explore, and go to a
different place every day, and take each day as it comes. [piano playing] The trek began in Georgia. It takes the average
hiker about six months to reach the end of the trail
at Mount Katahdin in Maine. [piano playing] I can only imagine that, with
a cat, the trail seems longer. [piano playing] It’s a lot longer than I
thought it would be, man. It’s long. 2,000 miles doesn’t really
feel like 2,000 miles until you’re
starting to hike it. [music playing] I didn’t think I’d be
able to do it, honestly. You hear the statistics–
that only 20% of the people that start, finish. I think everybody’s concern when
they start is, can I do this? And it’s just amazing
to commit to yourself and learn that you
can do something that is very difficult. You go
out there and you’re out there. It kind of becomes your life. I always thought that was cool. [piano playing] After a few days of
up hills and down, most hikers who take on
the Appalachian Trail find ways to lighten the load. They’ll dump unneeded
items along the way. Michael planned carefully,
but had to pack food for two. [piano playing] He sees you. [laughs] [piano playing] So with the extra
weight, a slower pace, and the general concern
about Rico’s safety, I had to ask, why? [piano playing] Companionship. I think you form a really
close bond to an animal that you’re with 24/7
and that you have to provide for all the time. Come on, buddy. So through this journey,
we’ve become very close. And I’m really
grateful for that. I’m really grateful
that we had a chance to have a different
relationship than what’s usual for a pet
and his caretaker. [piano playing] [rico meows] [rico meows] Rico hiked the first
1,000 miles with Michael. Then Michael took him
home and swapped him for his father, Tony. [piano playing] You can’t really do the miles
you want to do with a cat. Initially, I was
really sad and I wanted to do the whole thing with him. But I’m looking
forward to having a chance to have my own hike
because I feel like, so far, it hasn’t really been my own hike. It’s been my hike
and Rico’s hike. I’m grateful for that, but
I’m also looking forward to having my own hike. [piano playing] Just as we promised,
here they are– Tony and Michael. You haven’t even raised a
sweat this morning, boys. [laughter] A pleasure to meet you. [piano playing] So you’re kind of joined at
the hip when you’re outdoors. Is that right? He follows you around? He follows me around. So I put him in a
little button-up shirt, just button up a
few of the buttons. And then I stick
him right in there, and head pops out, kind of looks
around and looks at me every once in a while. [laughs] But he walks on his own, too? He does, yeah. He’d do five miles a day. That’s amazing. How many miles a
day could he walk? About five, and then
he’d call it quits and I’d carry him
the rest of the way. So you guys weren’t doing
high mileage then, were you? Well, I carried him another
10 in the little pocket setup. Yeah, OK, OK. It was slow down
for sure, because he liked to take lots of breaks. And you stuck around camp once
you set up your tent and stuff? Oh, yeah. Yeah. Come on, buddy. [piano playing] But you decided to ditch him
for the second half because– I did. –of the mileage problem. That’s right. Yeah, you’d be on snowshoes
for your finish I’m afraid. [laughter] I don’t think he likes the snow. But you swapped him
for the old man. Yeah. That’s great. And you’re doing OK? I am, yeah. Now, you’re a teacher. Teacher. And you can use what Michael
is doing in your classes? Yeah, I did a little Appalachian
map that we followed. Kids just loved it. He would send us
stories that I’d share. Oh, yeah. [music playing] Now, how is it different
between Rico and the old man? Well, we’re going at
about the same speed. But I feel like Rico
is kind of like a kid– taking care of him. And having my dad with me,
I kind of feel like the kid again. But of course it’s different
with a cat and your dad. I really enjoy both
their company though. [music playing] Now, Michael, there must have
been some really high points so far, right? Very– literally and
figuratively, yeah. Well literally, we
know what they were– Clingmans Dome, and
stuff like that. But emotionally, for you,
what was the high points? I think when you
first come out here, you’re very awestrucken
by everything. And there’s always that
fear that you’re not going to be able to
step up to the challenge when you start
something big like this. But to realize that you can
and to piece things together and figure it out
as you go– it’s amazing to see what you can do. [music playing] Was there a place
where you just went– [sighs]? [laughs] Yeah, I think Tray
Mountain in Georgia was a– I slept there. At the end of the first week,
I just remember being like, wow, I’m doing this,
and I can do this. And it was the most
beautiful sunset I think I’ve ever
seen in my life. It was pink and purple. And I was way up
there all alone, and the wind was blowing. It was just like– I felt alive. You have to walk in the mud. How about a low point? I think having my
bear bag eaten. That really sucked. On the trail, you’re
supposed to hang your food. That’s the number one rule– to protect your food. We do that by hanging it in
a tree with a little rope. And I brought a rope that was
very lightweight and cheap, and it ripped. So for a week there, I was just
hanging my bare bag on a tree as high as I could reach. And one night–
unbeknownst to me, I was in an area
with problem bears. So a bear came into the
camp at 10 o’clock at night, and I was in my bed. Usually, I let Rico roam just
before and just after sunset. So I was just about
to call him in, and I hear a bear come
into the camp site– sticks snapping and
big grunting sounds. And I hear the bear bag
fall and being ripped open. And then the bear ate all my
food for the next couple hours. And I didn’t know
where Rico was. I didn’t get a chance
to bring him inside. At that point, I
didn’t want to call him because I didn’t want
him to run past the bear or anything like that. So I figured he was up in a
tree, and I crossed my fingers and prayed that he would be OK. And after a while, the
bear-chomping sounds subsided. And I heard something
scratching my tent. And for a second, I
thought it was a bear. But then Rico popped in. He was fine, thank God. [music playing] He got all your food? Yeah, he got everything. [laughs] I was hungry the next day. It’s what bears do. Come on, buddy. [hands clapping] Come on, buddy. When people saw you,
did they see Rico walking when he was with you? Yeah. What did they say? They’d be like,
is this your cat? [laughs] A lot of times, they’d
think it was a stray cat. That is not my cat. [laughs] Yeah. [laughs] No, I had to make sure. He is mine. Please don’t take him. [laughs] Yes, people would
a lot of the time. And if he was in your shirt,
I expect they would– aw. Yeah. I had to stop for
a lot of photo ops. Oh, yeah. He’ll be famous all
over the east coast. Yeah. So many people have said that
they’ve seen pictures of me when I meet them. It’s kind of bizarre– [laughs] –because there’s a lot of
them out there, apparently. [music playing] Thru-hikers, as
they’re called, begin to think of the trail as home. It’s where they live for months. They move from destination
to destination. They eat out here. They sleep out here. They live simply out here. So you’ve got everything
you need on your back. Mm-hmm. This is quite a bit
different from what you’re going to need when
you’re in civilization, right? That’s right. It’s a nice break
from it, though– just to not have so much stuff. You wake up every day,
and you check your phone. And then you do everything
with all your things. And it’s just nice to take
a break from that– wake up and just be looking
up at the sky. Yeah. Just take out what you
need out of your bag. And you put it all
away back in your bag, and then you have nothing. You don’t ever sit
down on a couch. You don’t really take time
to look at your things. You just go. [music playing] Well, Michael started
with a 70-liter pack. Uh-huh. And then he sent that home and
bought a 45-liter ultralight pack. So in preparation for
this, I joined the AMC club and did a weekend trip
up in Crawford Notch. Oh, good. I used his 70-liter pack– overpacked. My shoulders were killing me
that night and the next day. So Michael said, dad, you
should get a ultralight pack. And when he started
in Springer Mountain, the wardens there went through– they offered to go
through his pack. And they basically took
half of his food out, sent it to the next town and– I got scolded. –sent a lot of stuff home with
us, said he didn’t need it. So when I came here, Michael
went through my stuff and said, dad, you need one
pair of shorts and one shirt. I had several to change. And most of my stuff
went home with my wife. You’re right. You realize what little
you need to survive and how much stuff I have that
I don’t really need at home. [music playing] At the end of the day,
Tony heads home to Maine. [music playing] Michael continues on. Ahead of him is the
toughest part of the hike– New Hampshire and Maine. Tony, last day on the trail. [laughs] Don’t break anything. I’ll try not to. You’re too close to home. I wish you all the
best, all the best. Will you ever come to New York? Yes. Yeah, let’s stop there. I’ll be there. And Michael, good luck, my boy. Thank you. And you will keep in
touch, because you’re going to be crossing the
roads near me at least twice. Sure. And we can get together. While Michael treks north on
his way to Mount Katahdin, Rico’s at home in Maine,
relaxed but a little restless. [rico meows] [rico meows] He spent a lot of time
looking through the house. He would go up to Michael’s
bedroom and sleep on the bed. He wanted to get outside a lot. Come on, Rico. Come on. Tony becomes his
surrogate hiking partner. He’d kind of sit and cry,
want to be picked up. I think he was used
to being carried. But when we would just
start hiking without him, he would eventually
follow us and catch up. And he does. He hikes right along
with us unleashed. [music playing] I felt like I was
missing a part of me. It was weird. I remember sitting. I took a break right after
my dad had dropped me off. And I was like, I
feel naked out here. I felt like I was
missing a piece my gear. It was like walking
without both my poles. It was kind of a sad day. I missed him a lot. He was at the forefront
of my mind the whole time I was out there with him– taking care of him and making
sure he was with me and safe. So it was just kind
of weird to have him all of a sudden just gone. It was time for
Rico to head home. But he did 1,000 miles. That’s a lot. Detour, and I went
down a logging road to get a change of scenery
and just for a change of pace. So that was in a
Carrabassett Valley in Maine. I just wanted a change of pace. I don’t know what made me do it,
but I woke up in the morning. And I was right on
an old logging road, and I decided I
wanted to follow that. I’ve been walking
down this logging road for about five miles so far. I rounded a corner, and
I saw this little dog. And I thought he
was just a lost dog. And I thought maybe
his owner was nearby and that he was being
taken on a walk. It’s this dog that is
completely emaciated. And then I got closer. And he noticed me and
reared its head towards me, and it was full of quills. And he just started
hobbling towards me, so I could tell that
he was in need of help. And he knew he was in bad shape. Obviously, I have to– I don’t think he can
walk yet, so I think I’m going to have to carry him. I really had no other options. I just picked him up
and walked to a spot where I could get
cell phone reception. And I called up a
hostel that was nearby and I asked if they
could help me out. And luckily, they said that
they were willing to help. We got an idea of his
owner, called him up. And he said that he was a
hunting dog that got lost and that he’d been
looking for him. Yeah, I was so proud of him. On the Facebook
page for the hostel, he posted Michael’s
picture and the story. And they gave us over 1,000
likes and hundreds of comments just saying how lucky the dog
was to cross paths with Michael and have a good ending. I was just glad I
could help the dog. I think we all want an
opportunity to help. But you’re going to
be all right, buddy. [music playing] Michael and Rico left
Georgia 205 days ago. One day stands between Michael
and the top of Mount Katahdin. As his family waits at
the base of Katahdin, Michael takes his final
steps to the summit. [music playing] I can’t even explain
the emotion I felt. It was really exciting
and kind of sad, also. And just something took me over. And I finally made
it to that sign. And I just remember sitting down
and this huge sigh of relief to be done, but also to
be happy that it happened, and it’s kind of indescribable. Remember Addy, Michael’s
dog that you met at the beginning of the story? We had to put our family
dog– which was really Michael’s dog– down. Yeah, I was not lost on me
that so soon after putting Addy down, that Michael came across
this dog that looked just like her. It definitely helped me
with that grieving process to know that Michael was
able to help this other dog. It was a magical moment. I just wanted to commemorate
her in a good way. So I had my dad
bring her collar, and I wanted to
take that with me. And I slept with it every
night, and cuddled it, and thought about her, and
dedicated the hike to her. I didn’t set out,
originally, to do that. She was kind of what
got me into hiking. So I feel like a nice
way to honor her– to take her with me in
spirit the rest of the way– this collar. And I brought it up
Katahdin with me. And it’s right in my pictures. So every time I
look at the picture now, for the rest of my
life, I’ll think of Addy. There’s one bit of
unfinished business. It waits patiently
behind these doors as your middle school in Maine. We’re going to start
with a slideshow. We’re going to show you what
the Appalachian Trail looked like as he went from
Georgia to Maine. We have, up on our wall,
what our three habits of work and learning are. We call them our HOWs. And one of them is perseverance. So we talk a lot
about making a goal, sticking with it
in your schoolwork, social relationships,
things like that. So that was a big part of
what Michael accomplished, when I heard that only
17% of the people who start the Appalachian
Trail actually finish it. That’s where you
go taking a nap– very comfortable, as
you can see, spread out. [children laughing] I did kind of give Michael a
pep talk when I left him off in Georgia– that
this is something that he’s been planning
and looking forward to, and really to stick
with it, don’t give up, because I knew he could do it. When I was hiking with my dad,
I got to make a new relationship with him. I heard stories that
I hadn’t heard before, and we just got really close. And that feels really good. I have a really tight bond
with my cat now, Rico. So for the kids to hear
that he made a great, hard-to-achieve
goal and made it– and that there were challenges.
there were lots of things– the weather, and the hunger,
and sometimes the loneliness. You just work
through those things and make yourself
meet that goal. [piano playing] Thanks for joining me on
“Windows to the Wild.” [piano playing] Support for the production
of “Windows to the Wild” is provided by the Alice J. Reen
Charitable Trust, the Fuller Foundation, the Gilbert
Verney Foundation, and viewers like you. Thank you. [piano playing] [music playing]

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