If not for making a wild decision six years ago, Brando Yelavich thinks he’d be either dead or in jail by now.
Back then, the young New Zealander was on a very dangerous path, taking drugs and about to join a crime gang he was already working for as a debt collector.
“I was living on benefits, smoking drugs every day to get high, stealing cars and just absolutely miserable with my life,” Mr Yelavich, now 25, told news.com.au.
“One day when I was 19, I woke up and looked at myself in the mirror and wondered what I was doing with my life. It wasn’t living. I decided I needed to change, and I was miserable. I was depressed and suicidal. I didn’t love myself.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do or where I wanted my life to go, but I hoped that if I took a step in a different direction, the right direction, then everything else would fall into place.”
Rather than one step in a new direction, Mr Yelavich took many by setting off to walk around the entire New Zealand coastline.
“After three days walking down the beach, I felt I’d successfully changed my life. I’d given myself a different perspective on life. I’d decided to change,” he recalled.
“I replayed my past over and over again. Eventually, I reached a point where I didn’t want to be dwelling on all the horrible things as a child and a teenager. The tantrums. The bad stuff.
“Instead, I tried to be present in the moment. And so I was. It was incredible.”
Since that 600-day journey six years ago, he’s crossed the Greenland ice cap, kayaked around Vancouver Island and conquered the Himalayas, all building to his biggest adventure yet.
On Monday, Mr Yelavich set off on a bicycle from Steep Point in Western Australia — the most westerly point of mainland Australia. Over the coming 90 days, he’ll pedal 4670 kilometres to Cape Bryon in New South Wales — the most easterly point of the country.
“It’ll be the hardest thing I’ll ever do,” Mr Yelavich admitted.
“The idea of doing something big in Australia was always there for me, from the beginning,” Mr Yelavich said. “Originally, I was thinking about walking around Australia, but I’m not keen to fight off crocodiles. Across the middle seems a bit better.”
He will become the first person to make such a journey, although he’s quick to point out that breaking records — as he’s done a few times — isn’t what drives him.
“The objective isn’t to do it for me. It’s not to try to beat some world record. It’s about having fun and connecting with a place that’s got human history dating back 60,000 years.”
He’s also raising awareness and funds for Beyond Blue, complementing his personal passion for mental health and wellbeing.
Thanks to a satellite phone in his backpack, he’ll document each step of his adventure online.
“I’ve captured every journey with my GoPro, so I’ve been able to document it and share it with others. It’s a big part of it. Social media lets people travel with me.
“I use it as a tool to inspire others to be the best versions of themselves. My act of doing what I love will hopefully inspire others to do what they love.
He’s joined on this journey by a fellow Kiwi, Lauren. She was a “complete stranger who was interested in tagging along”, he explained.
“We’re ordinary people doing something pretty extraordinary, so hopefully we can inspire people and be positive role models,” he said.
“I like my own company but I’m a social person, so it’s nice to have someone come with me.”
This is his life, full-time. The small stretches between expeditions are spent meticulously planning the next.
From the moment he set off to walk around his country as a troubled 19-year-old, Mr Yelavich was hooked on the feeling of being connected to nature, as well as himself.
“It was kind of my journey into manhood, discovering myself. Once I started, I never looked back. I gained an appreciation for the world,” he said.
If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au.