After 1800 gruelling kilometres of pedalling Brando Yelavich has made it to Uluṟu, marking the halfway point of his gnarly ride across Australia.
Expedition Dust began over 60 days ago when Brando left Steep Point in Western Australia to cycle across Australia from its most western point to its furthest east – Cape Byron, New South Wales.
He’s lost his expedition partner, gained another one, broken a ton of gear, spent nights alone in the desert and had an out of body experience – sounds like one crazy ride. I checked in with Brando at his halfway point to see how the New Zealander is finding Australia’s Red Centre.
Jack Brookes: From what I’ve read in your updates it’s been an epic adventure so far. How did it feel to reach the halfway point?
It’s definitely had its moments, but strange as it may sound, I feel like I’m in sync with the earth. I arrived here in the centre of Australia just as the sun was setting and the full moon was rising! When I began my journey it was a full moon. The stars have truly aligned and opened my eyes to a connection far greater than I originally understood. On a physical level there’s been lots of ups and downs on the body, getting used to riding a bike every single day. And lots of gear keeps breaking and needing to be repaired on the move!
You set off with fellow New Zealander Loren Kett who left early in the expedition. It would have been a tough call, can you explain what happened and what was it like to continue without her?
Lauren and I began the journey together and it quickly became apparent that it was going to be very tough for her. The bikes were unbelievably heavy and almost impossible for her to ride. She was constantly falling off and injuring herself, so she quickly lost all confidence in her ability. I did my best to pull her through and encourage her to keep on trying but eventually we both reached a point where we decided that, although she wanted to be here on this adventure, it wasn’t the one for her. I organised for her to get picked up and continued on alone.
Heading off into the outback alone with no support crew is super gnarly. What was it like pedalling solo through the desert?
Heading off alone was strangely rewarding, it was an opportunity for the first time in a long time for me to really think about me and begin a transformation to better myself. The landscape changed dramatically, once I left the coast, it began to turn into desert riding. I had to get myself and my bike through the desert from one water source to the next. It was an interesting way to live because the only thing that was important was water. Without water I would die and it wasn’t like I could just go and turn the tap on or call a support crew for help.
‘There’s a side to every journey that’s raw and exposing – and it’s generally the side of people’s lives you never see or hear about unless you’re very close to the person.’
I had a new expedition partner join me in Meekatharra. Dylan Joss accompanied me to the Great Central Highway. It was so special to be able to share the journey with him. Like me, he has ADHD, and it was really cool to gain an insight into how my brain works. I thrived off watching how his brain worked and being able to see the similarities between us both. But being so similar to each other definitely had its challenges.
What’s been the best feeling of the trip so far?
The whole trip is full of amazing feelings because I’m out in nature doing what I love. One night I was riding my bike in the darkness, using the stars to hold a straight line as I crossed an open salt lake. I was looking up into space when I had a moment where I felt as if I left my own body. Time stood still, I had this intense overwhelming sense of joy and a realisation that I’m on a spinning planet, tethered to the sun on a beam of light floating in the universe. It made me feel euphoric.
That’s a serious high! But I’m sure there’ve been some lows too. Can you describe the toughest moments?
To give context I’ll need to explain a bit about myself. My entire life I’ve struggled with ADHD. I’m a dopamine seeking missile constantly seeking excitement. I have billions of things going on inside my head every single moment and I constantly become trapped by my emotions and overthink the silliest things. They can send me spiralling downwards into a dark hole of self-pity.
There’s a side to every journey that’s raw and exposing and it’s generally the side of people’s lives you never see or hear about unless you’re very close to the person.
With Dylan I opened up about my childhood and the feelings that I’ve had about myself over the last couple of months. I realised I’ve been running away from a side of myself I didn’t like. Coming out into nature desperately trying to make myself feel different, to make myself to be different, but not accepting the person I am. I decided to stop running and telling myself I hated things about the way I am and instead open my heart to self-love and start treating myself like someone I love. This is me and every day of life is a blessing.
What is it that you’re most looking forward to on the next part of your journey?
Everything! I’m looking forward to sharing this next part of the journey with three more wonderful humans. As I get closer to the East Coast there’ll be more and more opportunities for me to share my message in schools, communities and with people I meet along the way. Positive human connection is something that’s so important in my life. I plan to take every opportunity to help empower others to improve their own mental wellness.
‘The silence in the outback wasn’t expected; desert silence is the loudest thing I’ve ever heard.’
The way you talk, you make it sound like you’re just cruising around, not slugging away on the bike, towing all your belongings. Are there any parts you’re dreading?
That’s an interesting question. I don’t really dread much in my life, each experience that comes – good or bad – is an opportunity to learn and grow. I live in the moment 99% of the time and by doing that there’s no room to dread, no room for fear and no perceived expectation of what could happen. Things just happen and I deal with them accordingly. I know there’s a big challenge coming – crossing the Simpson Desert – but one day at a time.
What have you loved most about the Aussie outback?
The outback is different to anywhere else I’ve been in the world. It intrigued me and I was curious to discover what secrets it contained. The silence in the outback wasn’t expected; desert silence was the loudest thing I’ve ever heard. I could hear everything that was going on inside my head, a continuous dialogue of my life. My thoughts filled the universe between my ears
One of the really special things about the outback is the fact that every living thing out here is incredibly resilient. There’s very little water, it’s hot and cold, it’s dry, arid and somehow life not only exists – but thrives. So far what I’ve loved most about the Aussie outback has been the opportunity to reflect on the human I am today.
Surely you’ve got red dust everywhere it shouldn’t be by now. Is a shower and getting home to your own bed pushing you a few extra kilometres each day? Or will you take the next half a bit slower as you don’t want it to end?
I like to think I’ve got red dust everywhere it should be by now. Up here I have everything I need. After a few weeks your body starts to ‘self clean’. My bed rolls up and fits in my bag… the only thing that pushes me a few extra kilometres each day is the fact that my fiancé is at the other end waiting for me to finish.
I personally think the way that you’re advocating for mental health and the way you talk about it is seriously incredible man. Whether it’s something you’ve learnt from this adventure or previous, what’s your one piece of advice for people to keep their own in check?
I’m on this expedition to expose myself, in order to take the next step. One thing that I keep coming back to is the importance of building a relationship with nature and allowing time to learn about yourself. I believe it’s fundamental to life. My message for this journey is about mental health because it’s something that I really struggle with when I’m not doing the things that give me purpose. My mental health is mine, it’s okay to ask for help understanding some of my struggles but in the end it’s still my mental health and nobody knows me like I do.
There’s no one more qualified to look after your mental wellness than you, so the next time you’re feeling down and sad, remember emotions are real but suffering is a choice, so make the choice to live life and not just die slowly.
To keep up with Expedition Dust you can read Brando’s daily updates. Brando is also documenting the expedition with Aussie filmmakers Ain Raddik and Ben Savage for a film about the importance of mental health and having a relationship with nature titled: Dust.
Feature photo by Brandon Yelavich
Load up the bike for an adventure!