How a stray cat joined a man’s cycling trip — and changed his life

When Dean Nicholson set out to cycle the globe two years ago, he thought he would maybe get some good stories to tell his friends back home in Dunbar, Scotland.

He got something better: a cat.

“She was just a wee, scrubby thing,” Nicholson told The Post of Nala, the striped kitten he picked up while biking through Bosnia. “But she was beautiful.”

He couldn’t bear to leave her there, alone on that windy mountain road. So he smuggled her into Montenegro instead.

Nicholson picked up Nala while biking through the streets of Bosnia.
Nicholson picked up Nala while biking through the streets of Bosnia.Dean Nicholson

Nicholson’s charming new book “Nala’s World” (Grand Central Publishing), out now, chronicles their adventures through 10 countries before the coronavirus grounded them in Hungary for four months. Along the way, they stumble upon a refugee camp in Greece (where they befriend a group of Syrian children), almost get eaten by a bear in Turkey and even save a few other stray cats and dogs, too.

They also become social-media stars. Their Instagram account, @1bike1world, boasts more than 800,000 followers, and their YouTube channel has over 150,000 subscribers.

“She changed my life,” Nicholson said of his transformation from ordinary bloke to Nala’s social-media manager.

Nicholson said he was “just your typical 28-year-old” before he set off to see the world. He worked as a welder at a factory back home in Dunbar, and spent his weekends partying. As his friends began settling down and starting families, he felt stuck. So when one of his (still single) pals asked if he’d be interested in doing some traveling, Nicholson jumped at the chance.

The two set off on their bikes in September 2018, but they had parted ways by the time Nala appeared that December. She was a tiny striped furball, meowing at him, chasing after his bike. When he picked her up, she climbed on his shoulders and took a nap there. When he reached the Montenegro border, he placed her in the pouch in front of his bike, partially closed it, and prayed he wouldn’t get caught. They glided through customs.

Once they got to Montenegro, Nicholson took the kitten to the vet, where she got her shots and paperwork. He named her Nala, after the lioness in one of his favorite childhood movies, “The Lion King.”

Right away, Nala opened the world up to Nicholson.

“I’m a big guy and I’ve got tattoos, so not many people will stop and talk to [me on my own],” he said. “But all of a sudden, when you’ve got a wee kitten on your shoulder, everybody wants to talk with you.”

Old men would offer to buy him a pint of beer at the side of the road; children would ask for selfies. Nala’s Instagram fans tracked her down in Greece, where Nicholson did a stint leading kayak tours, so they could see her in her cute orange life vest.

Their followers began offering them shelter in cities and towns they would be passing through.

“We met so many kind, amazing people from all over,” Nicholson said.

Having Nala by his side opened up doors, allowing Nicholson to meet people he ordinarily wouldn’t have.Dean Nicholson

The book ends with Nicholson and Nala stuck in Hungary, waiting out the coronavirus. But by mid-June, they were able to leave, finally reaching Scotland in late August.

“I really missed my family,” said Nicholson. “Plus, my gran was always asking to see Nala on FaceTime, even though her eyesight and her hearing are going. So, I thought it was important to get Nala home to see her.”

Now Nicholson and Nala are in Austria, with the hopes of making it to Russia by bike in spring 2021.

Of course, with the coronavirus and with a cat, that could all change. But Nicholson said that being with Nala has made him more flexible, easy-going and open-minded. “As long as the two of us are together, we’re happy,” he said.