By Matthew Young, Real WV
“It’s been great. Yesterday was just amazing. I was on a main road – Route 5, which is a tough one. There’s commercial traffic and tractor-trailers, and there’s debris all over the side of the road you’re trying to dodge. But then I find a trail that runs parallel to it for five miles, and I’m riding through farms. That’s stuff you just can’t find unless you’re out there – then it presents itself. And that stuffs been happening quite a bit.”
That’s what Joel Westbrook told me on Saturday after finishing the first leg of his 10% Tour – a bicycle trip that Joel and his dog, Ginger, are taking from their home in upstate New York, to Key West, Florida. Joel and Ginger are making the journey to raise awareness for Shatterproof, an organization dedicated to bettering the lives of those battling the disease of addiction.
Joel spoke to me from the home of a family-friend in southern Maryland, where he and Ginger were taking a much-needed and well-earned reprieve from the road.
“I’m relaxing for the next couple of days,” Joel said. “We’ll get back on the road Monday morning.”
Due to some bad weather forecasted in the northeast, Joel began the tour on March 12 – three days ahead of his original plan. However, despite the adjusted schedule, snow and heavy rains still impacted travel during the first weeks of the trip.
“The weather [mostly] has been fantastic,” Joel noted. “We had a couple (bad) days that we rode through, and then we had to hold up in a hotel for a couple days because the storms were just too much. But that’s all part of it, and it’s just been really amazing.”
Joel said that one of his favorite aspects of the journey thus far has been meeting different people along the way, talking to them about his journey, and about Shatterproof.
“I’ve got this thing about me – because it’s such a consuming process trying to plan the next move, I don’t spend a lot of time promoting the trip,” Joel said. “But I do hand out some (Shatterproof/10% Tour) stickers that I had made when people ask me, ‘What are you doing with this dog in a basket?’ Then I explain to them what we’re about, which is great.”
“I may be doing the actual wattage, but the electricity comes from what all my family and friends, people on social media, and people who I’ve never even met are doing – that’s what’s really carrying the torch. I just get on a machine and pedal,” Joel noted. “It’s awesome, and I can’t thank everybody enough.”
“None of this really happens without support from people who care about us,” Joel said, before adding that the 10% Tour would not be possible without the love and motivation he receives from his girlfriend, Rena Obenreder.
“Rena’s ability to understand that this journey of self-discovery is important for me, that was something I needed,” Joel noted. “She’s not only accepted that, but she’s supported it in an emotional way. That support is amazing.”
Beyond just word-of-mouth, the promotional heavy-lifting for the 10% Tour has largely been done by New York-based filmmaker, Steven Murello. As both Social Media Manager and Content Creator for the tour, Murello is the person behind the vlogs documenting Joel and Ginger’s journey.
‘Him (Steven) and I met working on other people’s art, making sculpture and painting and shaping it,” Joel said. “The initial approach I had was to do all this work myself. But we came to a place where he said, ‘You’re going to have enough to do on the road, let me help you with this and help you tell the story.’”
A 2022 graduate of New York City’s School of Visual Arts (SVA), Steven previously served as a production assistant on the Peacock original series “Poker Face.” His student-thesis film, “False Flag,” was selected for screening at the 2022 Yonkers Film Festival, where it was chosen to receive the Audience Choice Award.
“He believes in the cause,” Joel noted. “I’ve known him now, I believe, for about five years, and he’s seen the transition in me. It’s been a wonderful, symbiotic relationship. It’s basically a combination of my footage that I shoot on the road now, and footage that we shot together with his equipment.”
“He’s been touched by the triumph of man,” Joel added. “Not really me in particular, but what we’re all capable of.”
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of overdose deaths in the United States is approaching 100,000 each year. However, the reach of the disease is far greater than simply the lives it claims – addiction also permanently scars those who are left behind. Shatterproof, with the help of advocates like Joel, is working to change that.
“There’s a rally in humanity that I’m seeing,” Joel added. “It’s pretty special stuff.”
As for Ginger, she’s on the adventure of a lifetime.
“I’m making sure that she’s (Ginger) off the basket exercising, and that she gets some time away from that basket and the bike,” Joel said. “She’s adjusted super well. We’re making time, but really we’re just going on stride. We’re bouncing through the raindrops.”
“We’re all in it together, aren’t we?” Joel asked. “We’re all changing the conversation and trying to do our best with humanity.”
Steven Murello’s selected works can be found on YouTube, at youtube.com/@StoveFilm. For more information about Shatterproof, visit their website at shatterproof.org. To learn more about the 10 Percent Tour, including ways to help support the journey and the mission, subscribe to their YouTube channel.