Meridian, Idaho, resident Len Anderson was waiting in his Tesla to board the Alaska ferry from Bellingham on Sept. 11 when a U.S. Customs and Border Protection bomb-sniffing K-9 handler came up and told him that something that looked like a rat had just crawled up into the underside of his car.

“At first I thought he was trying to get a way to get me out to look inside my car and search for a bomb or something,” Anderson told The Bellingham Herald. “But I got out and we started looking around, and then I got down and under the car and that’s when I saw some eyes looking back at me.”

Those eyes, as it turned out, weren’t those of a rat, but rather a cat — an approximately three-month-old female Siamese kitten, to be exact.

“We kept trying for a half-hour to coax the little thing out, but it kept creeping back and back into the dark unknown cavern of the unknown inside Veronica (his car),” Anderson wrote in a Facebook post about the incident.

Eventually, the kitten managed to work her way to the very front of the Tesla, between the “frunk” (front trunk) and the bumper, Anderson said.

It’s easy to understand why the kitten chose Anderson’s Tesla to stow away — it’s pretty hard to miss as it sports the red and gold colors intended to match the suit worn by Tony Stark as Ironman in the Marvel superhero series.

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Idaho resident Len Anderson, right, poses with his Ironman-themed End Game Tesla on Douglas Island, Alaska, on Tuesday, Sept. 22. Anderson is attempting to travel to all 50 state capitals during the cornavirus pandemic. Led Anderson Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Running his own Ironman

For approximately the past 12 years, friends have told Anderson he looks a lot like Robert Downey Jr. — star of the the “Ironman” movies.

Anderson said he’s even made trips to Comicons and other events where he’s portrayed Tony Stark, and he has built two Ironman suits of his own.

Approximately six to eight months ago, Anderson said he decided he wanted to make his Tesla look like Ironman, and enlisted Creative Wraps in Kuna, Idaho, to make his car look like the superhero he envisioned.

Shortly after he had it wrapped, Anderson said he set the goal of driving his End Game Tesla to all 50 state capitals.

“I was trying to do something with all the social distancing we have to do — social distance and take a vacation at the same time,” Anderson told The Herald, adding that he has the words “Be a superhero, wear a mask” on the rear bumper to inspire others.

On June 28 — the anniversary of the death of his mother — Anderson said he officially began his quest.

“She wanted to go to all 50 states,” Anderson said of honoring his mother. “She made it to 49, missing only Mississippi.”

The trip to Alaska was so he could hit Juneau — his 13th capital so far. Olympia was one of his first trips, but he’s been as far east as Des Moines, Iowa, Anderson said.

He’s posting pictures and stories about all his travels to Facebook and Instagram via the EndGameTesla accounts, and said the plan is to hit his 50th capital in December with a trip to Honolulu.

The car has been well received along each stop so far, Anderson said, with people often taking pictures and other fun interactions.

And evidently, one fan in Bellingham wanted a whole lot more than a picture.

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A three-month-old female Siamese kitten peers out from underneath Len Anderson’s car as he waits to board the Alaska ferry Sept. 11 in Bellingham. Len Anderson Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

A stowaway’s End Game

The kitten soon earned the temporary name “Pepper” from Anderson — in part because of her fluffy gray fur, and in part in honor of fictional Tony Stark’s girlfriend, Pepper Potts.

Anderson said efforts to coax the kitten out weren’t working, so the K-9 officer suggested they just leave the kitten where she was and, once the car was onboard the Matanuska ferry, food and water could be put where she could get to them when she was ready to come out.

“But the folks with the ferry got word of that and said, ‘No way, we can’t allow a stowaway cat to run around on the boat,’” Anderson said. “We needed to get her out.”

Anderson said he had seen the frunk taken apart before, so the Alaska Marine Highway ferry crew members went searching for some ratchet sets, and Anderson, the CBP officer, a Bellingham police officer and the ferry crew began the delicate process of disassembling the frunk.

It took approximately 60 minutes, but they were able to finally find and loosen all the bolts holding the frunk in place and pop it out, and there was the kitten.

After getting her out, Anderson said he knew he didn’t want to give her up.

“I thought it was a sign, or whatever — she wanted to stow away with me, and I definitely wanted to adopt her,” Anderson said.

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A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer and an Alaska Marine Highway ferry staff member work to disassemble the “frunk” in Len Anderson’s Tesla Sept. 11 in Bellingham. While waiting to board the ferry, a kitten climbed into the Tesla and attempted to stow away. Len Anderson Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

‘I love her 3,000’

Only problem was, he had a ferry to board — it took nearly 90 minutes to get her out — and he didn’t have adoption paperwork to bring a kitten with him.

Instead, the Bellingham police took Pepper to the Whatcom Humane Society, and Anderson and his End Game Tesla — still not completely put back together — boarded the ferry for the voyage to Alaska.

“I was a little bit down leaving her,” Anderson said. “They did tell me they would be in contact with me to see about adopting her, and I’ve been in contact (with the Humane Society) twice on the phone. They said they would do what they could do.”

Anderson and his End Game Tesla are now on their way back to Bellingham and scheduled to arrive Friday, Sept. 25. He hopes soon after he arrives at the Bellingham Ferry Terminal he will be able to complete the paperwork and adopt the kitten — who Anderson said he has since renamed “Morgan” in honor of Tony Stark’s daughter, “because, you know, ‘I love you 3,000’ from Avengers.”

Morgan is healthy and doing well at the Whatcom Humane Society, Executive Director Laura Clark told The Bellingham Herald in an email.

“We are holding her for the finder until he returns from his travels to Alaska at the end of the week,” Clark wrote. “We are grateful that the finder and Bellingham police took the time and went above and beyond to help this scared little kitten.”

And Anderson said he can’t wait to begin his travels with his new co-pilot.

“I love her 3,000,” Anderson wrote in his post. “Thank you to everyone at the Alaska Marine Highway. You are all heroes!”

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.