Lansing Mann does global travel – and animal activism work
SUNDAY May 2 – Between the snow-capped Bull Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, 39-year-old Woody Ellis rested alone in a rented room in Ölüdeniz, Turkey last week. Far from his hometown of Lansing, he wore his only t-shirt and a scruffy forerunner of a beard as he prepared for another trip.
This week, Ellis begins his hike on the Lycian Way – a 310-mile trail along Turkey’s Mediterranean-anchored Teke Peninsula. It won’t be his first off-grid adventure in rough terrain, but Ellis has added a new element to this journey. This time he will be traveling for one cause.
“I was thinking about middle school and how we would go to raise money,” Ellis said, referring to a walkathon-type fundraiser he had attended while at St. Therese School in Lansing.
For this and future hikes, Ellis will be using a similar concept to raise awareness (and some cash) for animal rescue and conservation organizations. While Ellis will be walking and camping alone on the Lycian Trail for the next two months, he will act as his own documentary filmmaker, hoping to raise some money on his website – whereeswoody.org – along the way.
Most of the money goes towards his travel expenses, which in and of itself serve to raise awareness about nature and animal welfare through a series of documentaries. Upcoming donations will also help Ellis reserve a place to travel and volunteer with the Great Gorilla Project, a charity that sends volunteers around the world to work alongside a variety of wildlife. Up to $ 450 of the $ 4,200 he plans to raise for this trip will be donated to the project itself. He also plans to channel excess proceeds to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, a charity that helps protect endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda and the Congo.
Ellis’ newfound sense of animal activism was fueled by a deeply ingrained desire to travel the world.
About a decade ago, Ellis lived in Chicago and worked in the events, marketing, and music industries – mostly managing artists and putting together festivals and shows at nightclubs. He admits he always had a feeling of wanderlust, but at the time he was more concerned with trending clothing brands than figuring out how to stuff months of groceries into a backpack.
“I’m the guy who ironed his boxers,” Ellis told City Pulse. “I used to take religious showers twice a day. I got my hair done perfectly. My nickname for my friends was ‘Princess’.”
However, twelve 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 set out to pursue a fantasy held by many. In 2017 he quit his job, sold most of the possessions, left everything behind and left the country.
These days he doesn’t wear much more than clothes and an acoustic guitar for family heirlooms.
“This is where the whole adventure began,” explained Ellis. “I went from British Columbia to Hawaii, to Japan, to China, to Taiwan, to Thailand, to England and then to Portugal.”
Choosing his next destination was an easy decision.
“I just stopped flights and looked for the next cheap location,” added Ellis.
Ellis’ backpack is the bare minimum: just a t-shirt, jacket and hoodie; two hats; a pair of sweatpants, shorts and walking shoes; two pairs of socks; a bucket and bottle of shampoo. The rest of the possessions from his previous life were either sold or stowed away.
“I just wash my clothes in a bucket of shampoo,” he said.
In addition to raising money for a good cause, Ellis also records and produces videos during his field trips. It started on his last excursion, a 40 km hike to the top of Mount Toubkal in Morocco. This video is posted on his YouTube channel and shows Ellis trudging through knee-deep snow, making friends with locals and enjoying the breathtaking views that surround him.
Ellis uses the footage primarily to build a brand – and a hashtag #WHERESWOODY – to raise awareness and encourage support for his animal activism and to aid global environmental efforts.
Ellis said his love for animals had roots in Lansing, where he grew up surrounded by family dogs with early childhood dreams of one day becoming a marine biologist or zoologist.
While traveling around Morocco, Ellis said he crossed with a man who could no longer care for his young Aidi puppy. An animal lover at heart, he named her Morticia (or “Morty” for short) and they hiked 110 miles from the Moroccan fishing village of Tamraght.
With the waves that served as the soundtrack for the road trip, the two walked for six days through small villages, sandy beaches and along the limestone cliffs of the Atlantic coast up the coast. Ellis remembers that hike with Morty as one of his best hiking adventures.
Unfortunately, Ellis knew he couldn’t keep Morty forever because of the extensive journeys that would require flights. In order to continue his animal welfare project, he found a new home for her through the owner of a bungalow in Essaouira, in which the two had lived for weeks.
Ellis said his inspiration for helping animals also came from his knowledge of the atrocities that people often go through. During his travels, he has learned how people poach elephants for their ivory trade, kill sharks to harvest their fins, and skin live raccoon dogs for their fur.
The latter’s footage impressed him the most.
“I lost it,” he said. “I cried. I fell to the ground. It destroyed me.”
While Ellis plans to help a variety of conservation groups at some point, his immediate focus is on protecting gorillas. A long-felt appreciation for silverback inspired him to take a stand.
“Silverbacks have always been my favorite animal,” he added.
After finishing his trip to Turkey, Ellis has another ambitious adventure planned on the other side of the world. As soon as pandemic travel restrictions ease, he plans to return to Lansing for vaccination and then set course for the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
There Ellis will complete a 3,000 mile hike around the island of Newfoundland. He estimates the trip will take 10-15 months. And of course, he will document the long-distance hiking trail with the hope of finding ways to closely involve his supporters while expanding his activism efforts.
“I want people to fly there and hike segments with me,” said Ellis. “Best friends or people I don’t know at all – whoever is interested. We could talk about life, the project and a special conversation around the campfire every evening. ”
Before this adventure begins, Ellis focuses on the hike ahead of him on the Lycian Way. After all, he plans to work to preserve as many different species as possible.
“But it has to start somewhere,” added Ellis.