Saturday, October 25, 2014

Tales of tails: Cross-country calico

By CLINTON DICK, Herald Staff Writer | 8/1/2014

Donald Ess laughed, recalling how his trip began.

When he started his bike ride from Minnesota to Dallas, Texas, he used to stop people along the way to ask the distance to the next town, so he’d have enough beverages for the trek. Pulling more than 200 pounds of supplies in a small attached trailer behind him, Ess said, preparation eventually proved key.

Donald Ess laughed, recalling how his trip began.

When he started his bike ride from Minnesota to Dallas, Texas, he used to stop people along the way to ask the distance to the next town, so he’d have enough beverages for the trek. Pulling more than 200 pounds of supplies in a small attached trailer behind him, Ess said, preparation eventually proved key.

“But then I got to a few towns with no grocery stores, so now I ask how far is the next town and do they have a grocery store,” he said.

Ess, originally from Minnesota, began the journey on his RANS V-Rex recumbent bicycle a little more than a month ago, pedaling down roads through Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas. He stayed overnight Sunday outside Duane Anderson’s barn along Old U.S. 59, just north of Ottawa. Anderson was taken aback when Ess first knocked on his door to ask if he could pitch a tent in the yard, but soon shared his hospitality.

“[Anderson] asked ‘You want to do what?’ I told him I was going from Minnesota to Texas trying to promote my books, so he asked me what my name was and said, ‘Yeah, where would you go? In front of the barn? Beside the barn? Where can we set you up?’” Ess said.

Riding along with his cat “Waji” (pronounced Wah-Jye), Ess is making the trip — and camping out along the way — to raise awareness of his children’s books, which just happen to feature his adventures with his four-legged, feline companion. The cat sometimes rides on his shoulder, his arm, on the front of the bike and even in a cat-carrier on the trailer, Ess said. She is very comfortable on the bike, which the two have been riding on for six years, he said.

Ess has written 19 children’s books, six of which are finished and self-published. Out of the 19 “Waji & I” books, 18 are rhyming, he said.

“They were all made about the same time,” he said. “I originally wrote six and people were telling me that the books were too long, so I split them up. The first half of ‘A Tail On The Trail’ [for instance] is ‘Waji & I On Stage.’ We were staying at the park in Shakopee, [Minnesota,] and a classroom of first graders came into the park and they went up on stage. They were doing cartwheels and somersaults and stuff. When they finished, I took Waji up on stage and had her do some tricks for the kids. When we left, we got stopped by the police and that is where we got the ‘Tail On the Trail’ from. The only reason she pulled us over is she couldn’t believe what she saw. She wanted a better look at the cat.”

Waji, who will be 7 in the fall, Ess said, has learned many tricks through the years. Ess demonstrated that she knew how to sit on command, open up her paw, shake hands, give high fives, climb up on his shoulder on command and even give a kiss.

Anderson was amazed after learning what Waji could do.

“The interesting thing is I grew up on a dairy farm, been around cats before,” he said. “I’ve never seen one do that. They’re too independent.”

The white, black and brown calico cat was also Ess’ inspiration for beginning his children’s book series.

“She made me write children’s books because I’ve heard a lot of people say that cats are stupid and can’t be taught anything, but she can do some tricks,” he said. “She minds pretty well, kind of like a puppy. She listens, but can take her time. Still a cat, so you can’t expect her to do everything on command as fast as a dog will.”

Ess also takes most of the photos for his books. He said he most likely will write a new book about his travels from Minnesota to Texas once the trip is complete.

“All of the [current] stories are actually done in Minnesota,” Ess said. “We have done some traveling, but its always been in Minnesota. I take her camping and there I let her run loose because I don’t have to worry about traffic. When I want her to come, I just call her out of the woods. I’ll probably end up writing a book about the people we meet and the places we go.”

For now, Ess is headed south, having previously made stops in Lawrence, Perry and Atchison for the Amelia Earhart Festival, he said.

“I’ve been staying at places like [the Anderson’s],” Ess said. “I just knock on the door and ask if I can pitch a tent in the yard. Most people either say yes or they’ll tell me if you go up another mile or two there is a camp site or park. I’ve spent quite a few nights in city parks. I’ve been fortunate that the police haven’t ran me out of any of them. I’ve even had the police tell me where the park is a couple of times, so that was nice.”

While he wasn’t sure how much longer it would take him to get to Dallas, Ess said his favorite part of the trip thus far had been all the people he’d met in the several states he’d already passed through.

“I got up early and thought I’d be heading out early [from Ottawa],” Ess said. “But I sat and talked for hours [with Anderson]. And that happens. Every once in a while, I’ve had people call the police on me ... because, I don’t know, I guess I have long hair and a beard, but that is because they don’t bother talking to me. Once they talk to me, they realize that was kind of crazy calling the police on such a nice guy.

Those interested in following Ess’ journey, visit his Facebook page “Waji & I Children’s Books,” his Twitter page @Catmanriding or his blog at wajiandiourstory.blogspot.com/

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