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Interview: Travis and Sigrid Nelson

BY READERS DIGEST

6th Jul 2023 Life

Interview: Travis and Sigrid Nelson

Just in time for the publication of their memoirs Sigrid Rides, meet Travis and Sigrid, the pair who have been bringing smiles to the streets of London by cycling round and saying hello (or hissing in Sigrid's case), and spreading joy at a time when everything felt a bit bleak

Before we begin, Travis stands up abruptly and fetches the all-important interviewee, who, despite her absolute silence throughout, manages to captivate the zoom room with her intense blue eyes and expectant gaze as she prods and paws before eventually settling on Travis’s lap.

If I hadn’t already seen videos of Travis and his Norwegian forest cat Sigrid spreading kindness and joy throughout England’s capital city one bike ride at a time, I might have been more inclined to believe I was about to begin an interview with an evil mastermind.

Writing Sigrid Rides

Sigrid Rides book cover

Although predominantly a memoir of his attempt to inject routine and purpose into his life following a recent redundancy during a global pandemic, having just uprooted his wife and two cats from California to London, Travis’s book also explores some personal themes from his past and about his personal ancestry.

Even though Travis mentions in the book that he was surprised to see so many cats roaming freely throughout London when he first arrived, he admits that “Sigrid is very spoilt” and is confident that his deaf companion “wouldn’t make it outdoors, she doesn’t care about cars, she would just walk out in the road”.

"Sigrid is very spoilt' he admits, 'she wouldn't make it outdoors, she doesn't care about cars, she would just walk out in the road"

As Travis expresses his surprise at having shared personal things in the book that he never thought he would make public, I sense Sigrid looking at me pointedly, almost accusingly, from where she is enjoying Travis’s strokes and chin tickles. I get the sense that she is just as protective of Travis as he is over her, and certainly seems much more likely to make use of her claws and unearth her infamous hiss if it came to it.

I ask about Travis’s other cat Ylva, to whom the book is dedicated, but he describes her as less adventurous, a little more anxious and “more of a homebody”. If a cat could look smug, I think Sigrid would be embodying it. 

From redundancy to regular rides 

As he explains in the book, Travis tells me that he started riding his bike with Sigrid during the pandemic after being made redundant. “I used to take her out on walks anyway but in terms of the bike she took right to it”.

During the lockdown, Travis decided to utilise his government sanctioned one excursion for outdoor exercise per day to get some fresh air with Sigrid and to bring some joy into other people’s lives at the same time.

He admits that the pair received interesting reactions even on their first few bike rides. “I posted some silly videos on personal Instagram and Facebook and it just went from there.”

“It’s starting to get a little challenging because my initial videos were just interesting places to ride or Sigrid looking silly but now everyone is recognising us and flagging us down and it’s starting to get hard to actually make riding videos.”

We laugh about the possibility of hidden secret rides, but, contrary to London stereotypes, Travis tells me that he always like to stop and chat to people if they’re spotted, because otherwise it would feel a little rude.

London stereotypes 

Travis and Sigrid Credit: Travis and Sigrid 

Refreshingly, Travis all but denounces my presentation of the London stereotype: crowds of people rushing on their commute, too busy to stop and chat, and definitely too ignorant to pay much attention to a cyclist, even one with a cat balanced on his handlebars.

“Before we even started doing this [the bike rides] I never found that at all. Our upstairs neighbours are some of our best friends. I know everyone at the local pub…maybe it’s just my attitude or something”.

Building a close relationship with a cat 

Asking about the close relationship between the two interviewees, Travis acknowledges that it is more difficult than building a close relationship with a dog, who will be man’s best friend from day one, but that it’s by no means unattainable, or any less fulfilling.

“When I got her I was working from home and being made redundant, it’s not great obviously but it gave me a lot of time to spend time with Sigrid.”

“It’s an unusual relationship because cats are pretty independent. People treat them independent. I mean, you live with a cat and I think most people don’t realise if you really invest in the relationship with a cat then they will be best friends with you”.

"I think most people don’t realise if you really invest in the relationship with a cat then they will be best friends with you"

In terms of other cats, Travis explains that Sigrid can be a little bit intrigued or curious about them, “she definitely recognises that they’re cats like her, but she doesn’t trust them.” In other words, a feisty feline with a well-deserved superiority complex.

“I think we all kind of know our cats pretty well, a bit. I spend literally almost every minute in the house with her…she’s usually next to me, so you just learn what their attitudes are, like right now I can tell she’s getting kind of bored.” On cue, Sigrid gets up from where she’d been resting contentedly on Travis’s lap and jumps out of shot without so much as a goodbye.

London vs. America

Travis and Sigrid Credit: Travis and Sigrid 

Travis tells me thinks there are a lot more cats here, at least in the city. “In San Francisco, everyone has dogs because it’s too expensive to have kids”. He mentions too how many more opportunities there are for exploring in London than in San Francisco.

San Francisco itself is a very small city. I don’t know if we would have been able to do this in San Francisco as we would have run out of places to explore, whereas here there are still some parts of London that I need to get to.”

From Instagram novice to TikTok sensation 

“I made my personal Instagram because for my job at the time we had dress like a hipster day and so I thought as part of that I obviously had to open an Instagram account and post my hipster outfit you know as part of the joke. That’s how I ended up with an Instagram account and then it just kind of turned into Sigrid’s eventually”.

Travis laughs as he tells me, “if anyone actually bothered to go way back to my first images they’re all literally in that vein, a photo of like my watch or something in a sunset”.

“No”, he laughs again, “I was not on social media at all”.

When I ask him how his friends have reacted, he chuckles again and says that he occasionally gets sent a video from one of his university pals who are shocked to see him and Sigrid taking TikTok by storm.

Future plans 

Credit: Travis and Sigrid 

“I’m planning to do some more city trips this year”. The pair recently travelled to Liverpool and Edinburgh to spread some joy slightly further up North, and Travis shares his hopes of maybe cycling down through Amsterdam to Brussels where he went to university.

Unfortunately, these exciting plans are slightly curtailed by the imposition of Brexit, making it more difficult for Travis to get both himself and Sigrid safely across the border with all of the relevant paperwork.

Group bike riding events 

As if the concept of a cat on a bike wasn’t enough, I’m eager to ask Travis about the Drum and Bass bike rides he’s taken part in around London with Sigrid as well. Set up by a now-friend of theirs, Dom Whiting, whom Travis describes as “a super cool, friendly guy”, Travis shares the similarities between their journeys.

“Our stories are almost exactly the same, lockdown hit and we were both just like, I’m gonna get on my bike and do what I normally do”. Amidst the fun of all this niche bike riding, there is definitely an element of resilience, an uplifting attempt to fight crazy with crazy in order to maintain a sense of normalcy, especially while the whole world was enduring a pandemic.

Although Travis is more than happy to take part in group bike rides and things like that himself, he seems doubtful that he would organise his own group bike rides. The point is after all that it’s just him and Sigrid, out exploring London together.

It is also, I suppose, a slightly strange hypothetical visual to imagine a crowd of cat cyclist companions careering down London’s busy streets. What’s more, I’m not too sure Sigrid would be best pleased about people stealing her limelight.

The Smiley Movement 

Credit: Smiley News 

Although mostly preparing for the expected tsunami of commitments once the book is published on 6th July 2023, this being the first week when he’s been able to check off everything on his to-do list, it seems that there’s no such thing as a quiet moment—at least figuratively—for Sigrid and Travis.

Continuing with his commitment to bring joy to people, Travis tells me about his upcoming charity cycling plans with The Smiley Movement, a branch of the Smiley Company, who’s goal is to “spread positivity through smiles, to make the world a happier, kinder place.”

Having visited children at Frank Barnes School with the Smiley Company already earlier this year, the idea of this new series (the filming of which is set to begin in July), the idea is that Travis and Sigrid will cycle with a different celebrity each episode and interview them about the charity work they’re doing.

Amongst those who will be taking part are head of the London Cycling Campaign, Claire Rodgers and Heidi Barker, the 8 year old internet phenomenon who is riding her bike equivalent to the distance between London and Paris around her neighbourhood in Wirral.

Joyful moments 

“The overarching message here that I’ve been trying to say with what we’re doing is that there’s so much gloom and doom around, y’know, there’s been a lot of bad news and things but if you take the time to try and focus on finding some joy and having some happiness around you and making other people happy, you can try and surround yourself with that stuff instead of doom scrolling on twitter or obsessing over bad news and stuff like that. It’s entirely what you make of it so if you spend time focussing on those joyful moments, that’s what you’ll have around you.”

"It’s entirely what you make of it so if you spend time focussing on those joyful moments, that’s what you’ll have around you"

I ask him if anyone had inspired him and where he was finding his happiness before he took to the streets with Sigrid. 

“I kind of wasn’t and that’s the story in the book really. I was surrounding myself with bad news and being unhappy about things that has happened and whatnot, so that’s kind of been my learning I guess and what I’ve been trying to tell other people”.

You can purchase Sigrid Rides by Travis Nelson, published by Radar, for  £18.99 here

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