By Autumn Shelton and Matthew Young, RealWV
Joel Westbrook and his sidekick, a five-month-old puppy named Ginger, have encountered a snowstorm, hot weather and several days of heavy rain as they pedal their way from upstate New York to Key West, Florida. However, Mother Nature has been generally kind to Joel and Ginger as they continue their journey to raise awareness for Shatterproof, an organization dedicated to bettering the lives of those struggling with addiction.
RealWV has been following Joel and Ginger’s journey – aptly-named the 10% Tour to represent the 10% of Americans who are currently struggling with some form of addiction – since they departed New York back in March.
We caught up with them last week to see how the trip has been going. According to Joel, the trip south remains mostly positive. The pair was preparing to ride to Georgetown, South Carolina, but would be making a stop in Pawleys Island to reconnect with some old friends.
“[A friend] had reached out when we were up in Wilmington, and he wanted to know if we wanted to hook up,” Joel told us. “We said absolutely. Our motto is don’t say no. That’s what I’ve learned from other bikepackers. When somebody reaches out, that’s the universe – so you never say no.”
Joel told us that after leaving North Carolina his journey would take him to the Hostess City of the South – Savannah, GA. But while enjoying some much needed rest and relaxation ahead of the next day’s travels, Joel took the time to reminisce on the journey thus far.
“We were just outside of Elizabethtown, [North Carolina]. White Lake it was called,” he explained. “We stayed at this wonderful campsite on the lake. It was called Silver Sands. We had pulled into that place in the afternoon after having a couple of pretty tough days with the elements. We pulled up there, and it was just like paradise, so we decided to stay an extra day and just unplug. The people there were incredible. It’s a small, family-owned place.”
Joel said the serenity of the campground was a welcome change from the corporate motel chains he and Ginger were becoming accustomed to, especially the less reputable ones.
“We’ve had our experiences in some of these hotels,” Joel noted. “It’s just cold. So, when we pulled up to that place (Silver Sands), we knew we had to stay and rest up. It was wonderful.”
At just over six weeks in, the 10% Tour has raised $5,060 for Shatterproof. Joel’s hope going in was that the trip would be able to raise $5,000, a goal which has now been exceeded.
“The people are just phenomenal,” Joel stated. “Everybody has been so great to us. My mind always wants more involvement and more engagement, so I think it’s good for me to settle in and realize this never was about what we’re achieving financially. That’s not what’s most important. This is teaching me that what’s most important is the rallying of humanity that’s happening with the tour.”
However, despite the overwhelming positivity and support the tour is receiving, Joel knows that any honest journey of self-discovery will bring with it a certain degree of loneliness.
“When we were up in Rocky Mount, that was probably my lowest point,” Joel noted. “I had to get a spoke fixed (on the bicycle), so we had to ride past the hotel and find a bike shop to get it fixed.”
Joel eventually found Moore’s Bicycle Shop. While the staff there provided Joel and Ginger with a great experience, the hotel that they returned to did not.
“It was late, and we just needed a clean place,” Joel said. “We needed something that was proper, and it just wasn’t. Then the rains came for two days. We stayed there for a day-and-a-half. The next day it was still raining, but I knew we had to leave. We rode in the rain for 25 miles.”
“At that low spot that I was in, I was trying to find gratitude and stay patient and calm because I knew the answer would come,” Joel added. “I had this realization that no one’s coming. Don’t get me wrong – if you ask, you can always get help. But as a proud man trying to learn about self-sufficiency in my life, when I realized that no one’s coming, I had this thought that no matter what, I’m overwhelmingly grateful that the compulsion has been lifted through the spiritual connection I’m continuing to develop.”
“It’s just a good feeling knowing that I have a solution inside of me, I just have to figure it out,” Joel said.
But self-sufficiency is not all that Joel is learning.
“This trip is not one thing, it just keeps evolving,” Joel said. “It’s teaching me to just say yes. If someone reaches out, you go into that uncomfortable place of transparency with other human beings, and allow them to enter into your world – you allow yourself to enter into theirs.”
“You can imagine that as a person in recovery, that’s not top 10 for us,” Joel concluded. “Amazing lessons.”
For more information about Shatterproof, visit their website at shatterproof.org. To learn more about the 10% Tour, including ways to help support the journey and the mission, subscribe to their YouTube channel.