Reflections of the Americas 

On two wheels for 19 months, Whistler couple made many new friends

What: Slide Show Fundraiser

When: Saturday, Aug. 26

Where: Garibaldi Lift Company (GLC)

Through the 23 countries of North, Central and South America, covering 44,000 kilometres in 19 months, Todd Lawson and Christina Tottle made a lot of friends.

The adventurers will introduce fellow Whistlerites to some of those friends with a slide show-fundraiser Saturday at the Garibaldi Lift Company.

The evening benefits the people who inspired many of the 20,000 images taken on the motorcycle adventure, with all proceeds being evenly divided among five families/organizations.

"When you travel, it’s the people that make your trip," Tottle said. "What we learned from these people was priceless. No matter how poor, they would open their home to you. You can’t do the same in Canada. You can’t just go up to anyone and ask to camp in their yard. They did it with a smile and an open mind because everybody helps everyone out. In that sort of lifestyle, where people need the same things, they live off the land in a simple lifestyle, so those discriminations don’t happen. You have a friend within five minutes."

Lawson and Tottle hit the open road in October 2004 and returned June 2006 via motorcycle; the mode of transportation allowed them to travel off the tourist map, sometimes loading their bikes onto small hand-paddled boats to bring them to some of the most remote corners of the world.

The results of their adventures were wonderful stories and more than 20,000 images, which will be shared in a narrated slide show presentation.

"I took a documentary style approach to the journey," said Lawson, a professional photographer with Coast Mountain Photography and his own company, Sunfirephoto.com.

"The photos won’t be just postcard images. There is some grittier stuff: portraits of families and kids and some riding shots and a lot of landscapes."

While landscapes of everything from city lights to rural roads capture the couple’s imagination, the people were at the heart of the duo’s travels and Lawson and Tottle wanted to find a way to give back to the people who enriched and changed their lives. Event proceeds will fund initiatives such as running water for one family and medical services for another.

"We met this family of 10 in Nicaragua," Lawson recounts. "We found them by fluke. We went down this tiny dusty gravel road. We didn’t know if we had a safe place to camp. We were starving, but we decided to sit and watch the sunset. An eight-year-old boy named Miguel came up and presented us with plates of food: fish and rice. The single gesture alone blew us away. We spent six days getting to know the family. They had no running water, no electricity. We hope to get running water in homes and electricity, and help the (eight) kids with school."

Minimum wage in places such as Nicaragua was often as low as $3 a day. Not a lot to raise eight children on, but despite financial constraints, families were some of the happiest people Lawson and Tottle met. And there were many more stories along the journey to pull at the heartstrings, leading to countless teary-eyed goodbyes.

"We stayed with another family in Belize who had an outdoor kitchen and leaky roof," Lawson said. "She was trying to keep the kids dry, all of them staying in one bed. (The kids) ended up staying in the tent with us. They are having a bit of a hard time. She had prayed to God that night because she didn’t have food on the table the night before… (Christina and I) want to continue that (hospitality) as a way of saying thank you and helping our fellow humans who aren’t as privileged as we are."

The 19-month motorcycle trip was a lesson in humanity for the couple. One they hope to share with others.

"The reception we got from people, it changed our lives in many ways," Lawson said. "The openness we received and friends we created in a matter of days was unbelievable."

Attendees will get a chance to meet some of those friends through the slide show, including the five families highlighted in displays at the event. It will also allow people to better understand where their money is going.

"I hope people have a good time and walk away knowing they’ve joined and helped a good cause," Lawson said.

"We also want to spread the aspect of the complete freedom of traveling by motorcycle."

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