Inside the Belly of an Elephant
A Motorcycle Journey of Loss, Legacy and Ultimate Freedom
About the Book
In 1999 Todd Lawson’s brother, Sean, died tragically of preventable cerebral malaria at the end of a motorcycle adventure through southern Africa. It left Todd with a hole in his heart — and in his life. Wracked with guilt over their joint decision to forgo antimalarial drugs, and his own failure to grasp the gravity of the early signs of Sean’s ultimately fatal disease, Todd gets on with life but remains adrift until he meets Christina, a soulmate and like-minded traveller. Together they embark on an audacious motorcycle trip in honour of Sean’s vagabond spirit, embracing his preferred method of travel: two wheels, no technology, all adventure.
Riding from their home in Whistler, BC, they sprinkle Sean’s ashes — carried back to Canada from Africa inside the belly of a carved wooden elephant — throughout every country in the Americas. Although the 19-month, 23-country odyssey delivers healing for Todd and unparalleled, off-the-beaten-path adventure for the couple, the biggest revelation of all is that they can’t stop there: they must return to Africa to experience the continent as the brothers had. This time, however, there will be a purpose: delivering mosquito nets to vulnerable families suffering the ravages of malaria in isolated villages where nets are otherwise unavailable. What begins as a way to truly honour the legacy of Sean becomes an arms-open exploration into the beauty of the natural world and the people living closest to it.
Bitterly poignant, Inside the Belly of an Elephant takes readers on a full-throttle adventure of spontaneity that wheels from harrowing tragedy to uplifting narratives that illuminate the power we all possess to rise up from the dark depths of the human condition.
“Inside the Belly of an Elephant is one of those books that will have you spiralling magnetically into every single page. With the frequently off-the-wall yet fascinating life of his brother Sean as the reason for this book, Todd Lawson takes you into a tale of extraordinary lives, of travel, disasters and silver linings, of challenge, courage and sheer incredible beauty. This multithreaded, often hilarious tale of the road has been woven with mastery. What happens next always involves a surprise peppered with a wonderful description, and often an insight you never knew you needed. The fluid storytelling constantly changes pace. You are either being swept along, eager to learn what happens next, or crashing to a halt at a story so sobering or eyebrow raising that it demands reflection. You are taken through the histories of families, of individuals and of countries: Canada, Poland, Thailand, South Africa, Peru, Argentina, Tanzania, Malawi and many more. You’ll discover a world full of possibilities, of awe, friendship, the kindness of strangers and the opportunities that happen when your mindset changes from thinking of all the reasons why you shouldn’t, to seeing the reasons why you should. I guarantee you’ll have lump-in-the-throat moments and yet in the next pages you’ll be smiling at the infectious humour there is so much of in this book. Todd Lawson draws you into adventures of life in such a way that you’ll be engaged, enthralled and inspired.” —Sam Manicom, author of Into Africa, Under Asian Skies, Distant Suns, and Tortillas to Totems
“Inside the Belly of an Elephant is a captivating and deeply moving tribute to Todd Lawson’s late brother, Sean. Through the lens of a bold motorcycle journey across the Americas, sprinkling Sean’s ashes along the way, Todd and his partner Christina find healing and adventure. But their journey doesn’t stop there. They return to Africa, Sean’s beloved continent, to deliver mosquito nets to vulnerable families in need. What follows is a poignant and uplifting exploration of humanity’s resilience and capacity for hope. When an older woman asks Todd about his reason for travelling, he is momentarily taken aback, but his book provides the answer. We travel to explore the world and to connect with different cultures, but most importantly we travel to gain a better understanding of ourselves. Inside the Belly of an Elephant is a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the power of adventure.” —Kevin Vallely, Explorer’s Club member and author of Rowing the Northwest Passage: Adventure, Fear, and Awe in a Rising Sea
“Todd Lawson bares his soul in this brave and beautiful journey through some of the world’s most fascinating places. Inspired by the tragic loss and loving legacy of his big brother Sean, Todd and his partner Christina face unimaginable grief with courage and kindness. And their resilience inspired me at every turn. I will probably never ride a motorbike through Africa or South America, but I now know that loss can be an incredible catalyst for growth, and that magic is everywhere!” —Erin Cebula, Leo-nominated TV host and producer, former host of Entertainment Tonight Canada
“What began as a very personal odyssey to honour the memory of his lost brother became over time a pilgrimage into the heart and soul of culture, and it was here that Todd Lawson found the peace he had sought since heading out on his healing journey.” —Wade Davis, Explorer-in-Residence, National Geographic Society, and professor of anthropology, University of British Columbia
“We are so glad Todd and Christina entered our lives in 2007, and you’ll be pleased when they enter your lives too. As a result of their extraordinary “Motos Against Malaria” motorcycle expedition, enough funds were raised for anti-malaria nets to protect more than 6,000 people.” —Rob Mather, founder and CEO of the Against Malaria Foundation
“The lessons shared in Inside the Belly of an Elephant are a reminder that life works in beautiful ways, even when we might not be able to see it right away.” —David Meltzer, co-founder of Sports 1 Marketing, best-selling author
“Grief is a strange beast, living everywhere and nowhere, lying in perpetual ambush. Losing his brother Sean to cerebral malaria on a motorcycle trip through Africa could have sent Todd Lawson into a life of dodging this phantom. Instead he turned the spirit of two-wheeled adventure shared with Sean into a celebration of life: gritty, trans-continental odysseys with partner Christina that included delivering mosquito nets to remote African villages. Tragic, triumphant and filled with magical encounters and landscapes, In the Belly of an Elephant goes deep into what it really means to travel on the fly, and shows that although you can’t erase grief, keeping it in front of you can do marvellous things.” —Leslie Anthony, author of White Planet: A Mad Dash Through Modern Global Ski Culture
“A rare gem of a book. One that makes you want to sell all your stuff and hit the road for as long as possible, but also call your mother every week of the way just to tell her you love her. Inside the Belly of an Elephant rides an inspiring dirt road to adventure and exploration, but remains firmly rooted in family and brotherhood. Lawson tells a story the same way he travels: with an open heart and a keen eye for the details, people and perspectives that make the journey worth taking.” —Feet Banks, editor of Mountain Life: Coast Mountains magazine
“The fact that truth is wilder than fiction strikes before you can finish the first page. Todd Lawson’s memoir is a captivating page-turner of a tribute to the power of outdoor adventure, brotherhood and storytelling, and all the heartbreak, joy and inspiration that comes with it.” —Robin Esrock, bestselling author of The Great Canadian Bucket List, The Great Australian Bucket List, The Great Global Bucket List and numerous other titles
“Inside the Belly of an Elephant is a modern, third-world rendition of Jack Kerouac’s classic On the Road. Seeking freedom through motion, adventure and self-imposed poverty, throwing convention to the winds, Todd and his partner Christina find the glory of an unfettered life; but they also encounter tragedy in the death of Todd’s brother. The book is a riveting, page-turning travel narrative of rebellion, love and eventual redemption from the ghost that haunts him.” —Jon Turk, author of Crocodiles and Ice: A Journey into Deep Wild and Tracking Lions, Myth, and Wilderness in Samburu
“Wow! What a ride, and a deeply moving, unforgettable story of terrible tragedy, full of pathos and finally joy, love, and acceptance, written with great sincerity and sensitivity. Todd Lawson pulls you deep into his pain and ultimately his later joy. There’s lots of action and suspense too. Will they make it? Will they even survive? Insights into people and motivations along the three tumultuous journeys in the story are wonderfully described, and make you feel like you’re right there with Todd and Christina. You don’t need to be a motorcyclist to love this book. It’s an adventure for anyone that you won’t be able to put down.” —Grant Johnson, founder of HorizonsUnlimited.com
“Two wheels move the soul in this immersive journey of healing into the depths of grief and beyond the highest peaks of joy, through the strange synchronicities and intangible magic of the road.” —Janelle Kaz, anti-wildlife-trafficking motorcycle journalist