Lansing man gives up job for world travel – and animal activism

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PATRICK SLOAN-TURNER

SUNDAY May 2 – Between the snow-capped Taurus Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, Woody Ellis, 39, rested alone last week in a rented room in Oludeniz, Turkey. Away from the hometown of Lansing, he sported his only t-shirt and a scruffy forerunner with a beard as he prepared for another trip.

This week, Ellis begins his trek on the Lycian Way – a 310 mile trail along the Teke Peninsula, anchored in the Mediterranean in Turkey. It won’t be his first off-grid adventure over rough terrain, but Ellis has added a new element to this journey. This time he will travel for a cause.

“I thought about college and how we would walk to raise money,” Ellis said, referring to a marathon-type fundraiser he attended while at St. Therese’s school in Lansing.

For this and for future hikes to come, Ellis will use a similar concept to raise awareness (and some money) for animal rescue and conservation organizations. Over the next two months, as Ellis walks and camps alone along the Lycian Trail, he will become his own documentary maker in hopes of raising funds through his website – whereswoody.org – along the way.

Most of the money will cover his travel expenses, which in itself are aimed at raising awareness of nature and wildlife protection through a series of documentary films. Upcoming donations will also help reserve Ellis a place to travel and volunteer with the Great Gorilla Project, a charity that sends volunteers around the world to work alongside a wide variety of animals. wild. Up to $ 450 of the $ 4,200 he hopes to raise for this trip will be donated to the project itself. He also plans to direct any excess proceeds to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, a charity that helps protect endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Congo.

Ellis’ new sense of animal activism was fueled by a deeply rooted desire to travel the world.

About ten years ago, Ellis was living in Chicago and working in the events, marketing, and music industries – mostly managing artists and hosting festivals and nightclub shows. He admits he’s always wanted to travel, but back then he was more worried about fashionable clothing brands than figuring out how to fit months of food into a backpack.

“I’m the guy who ironed his boxers,” Ellis told City Pulse. “I used to take two showers a day religiously. I combed my hair perfectly. My nickname to my friends was ‘Princess’.”

However, 12 years in the industry can lead to burnout. No longer able to deny the part of him who wanted to explore the world, Ellis said he had set out to fulfill a fantasy shared by many. In 2017, he quit his job, sold most of his belongings, left everything behind and left the country.

Nowadays he only has clothes and a family acoustic guitar.

“This is where the whole adventure started,” explained Ellis. “I’ve been from British Columbia to Hawaii, Japan, China, Taiwan, Thailand, England, and then Portugal.”

Choosing her next destination was a simple decision.

“I just stopped flights and looked for the next inexpensive place to go,” Ellis added.

Ellis’ backpack is essential: just one t-shirt, jacket and hoodie; two caps; a pair of sweatpants, shorts and hiking boots; two pairs of socks; a bucket and a bottle of shampoo. The rest of the belongings from his past life were either sold or put away in a warehouse.

“I just wash my clothes in a bucket with shampoo,” he says.

In addition to raising funds for a good cause, Ellis also records and produces videos during his excursions. It started on his last excursion, a 25 mile hike to the top of Mount Toubkal in Morocco. This video is posted to his YouTube channel and shows Ellis walking through the knee-deep snow, befriending the locals and reveling in the stunning views surrounding him.

Ellis primarily uses the images to develop a brand – and a #WHERESWOODY hashtag – to help raise awareness and support his animal activism and aid conservation efforts around the world.

Ellis said his love for animals had roots in Lansing, where he grew up surrounded by family dogs with early childhood dreams of someday becoming a marine biologist or zoologist.

While traveling through Morocco, Ellis said he crossed paths with a man who could no longer care for his young puppy Aidi. Animal lover at heart, he named her Morticia (or “Morty” for short) and they set off for a 110 km hike from the Moroccan fishing village of Tamraght.

With the crashing waves that served as their soundtrack for their road trip, the two climbed the coast through small villages, sandy beaches and along the limestone cliffs of the Atlantic coast for six days. Ellis remembers this hike with Morty as one of his best hiking adventures yet.

Sadly, with the long journey ahead that would require flights, Ellis knew he couldn’t keep Morty forever. To continue his animal rights project, he found her a new home thanks to the owner of a bungalow in Essaouira in which the two had stayed for weeks.

Ellis said his inspiration for helping animals also comes from his knowledge of the atrocities humans often put on them. During his travels, he learned of people poaching elephants for their ivory trade, killing sharks to harvest their fins, and skinning raccoon dogs for their fur.

The images of the latter marked him the most.

“I lost it,” he said. “I was crying. I fell to the ground. It destroyed me.”

While Ellis plans to ultimately help a wide range of conservation groups, his immediate goal is to protect the gorillas. A long-standing appreciation for silverbacks prompted him to take a stand.

“Silverbacks have been my favorite animal for as long as I can remember,” he added.

After completing his trip to Turkey, Ellis has another ambitious adventure planned halfway around the world. Once travel restrictions linked to the pandemic are relaxed, he plans to return to Lansing to get the vaccine and then head to the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

There, Ellis will hike 3,000 miles around the island of Newfoundland. He estimates that the trip will take him 10 to 15 months. And of course, he will document the long-distance march in hopes of creating ways to closely involve his supporters while also ramping up his activist efforts.

“I want people to fly over there and go through segments with me,” Ellis said. “Best friends or people I don’t know at all – who’s interested. We could talk about life, the project and have a featured conversation by the fireside each evening. ”

Before this adventure begins, Ellis focuses on the journey that awaits him along the Lycian Way. Ultimately, he plans to advocate for the conservation of as many different species as possible.

“But it has to start somewhere,” Ellis added.



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