As the sweltering heat began to set in, a curious passerby stopped to ask a man on a bike piled high with bags and bottles where he was going.
The cyclist was 23-year-old Chris Colombo, barista by day and dreamer by night, who had spent months planning a journey that would test the human limits.
Chris was born in the small country town of Swan Hill with Italian blood running through his veins: his mother has family from Puglia and Abruzzo, while his father is Sicilian.
“Byron Bay,” Chris replied to the passerby, as if it were St Kilda or Geelong.
Given how loaded the bike was with luggage and the scorching heat of that time of the year, the passerby’s reaction was one of shock.
Just like that, Chris said goodbye to Melbourne, its restaurants, coffee and the boredom of everyday life.
He pedalled north, towards the towering mountains of the Alpine National Park, accompanied by pastel hues, the aroma of pine trees and fatigue...lots of fatigue.
But what made him want to ride all of those kilometres during the harsh Australian summer?
Chris explained that at the age of two, he already knew how to ride a bike without training wheels, and it was one of his favourite pastimes growing up.
But this wasn’t the reason behind his adventure.
He said it was the coinciding of two events which inspired the idea.
A few years ago, during a trip to Cambodia, Chris met Pagna Nhim, founder and director of the Pagna Cambodia Education Fund, a non-profit English school in one of rural Cambodia’s most impoverished villages.
Then, when he returned home after 14 months abroad, he received a bike from his grandfather Luciano, who had sadly passed away three months earlier after battling leukaemia.
“I was unable to say goodbye, and when I received his bike, I knew immediately I had to do something special in legacy of Lu’s spirit,” Chris said.
Chris spent months carefully planning the trip to perfection and most importantly, the weight of the luggage he could take with him during the 38 arduous days of riding.
During his journey, Chris managed to raise more than $6,000, donated by friends, family and supporters of his cause.
The money raised was in turn donated to Pagna and the school that had played a part in the journey’s conception.
Chris said that as soon as he came across the school, he knew he wanted to help in some way, and he ended up living with Pagna’s family for a month volunteering as an English teacher.
The village’s residents live in extreme poverty and receive no government support, relying on people like Pagna and places like his school for a chance at a better life.
“When I left Pagna’s home and school in Lvea Village, I told Pagna I would help him, somehow, when I returned home to Australia,” Chris said.
When asked what his most memorable moment of the trip was, Chris responded quickly and concisely: “From all of the amazing euphoric moments I had the opportunity to live through, reaching Byron Bay was the most liberating.”
“In the five days prior to reaching my destination, I was cycling long days ranging from 120 to 160 kilometres in the torrential downpour from the passing cyclones,” he added.
“So, reaching Byron Bay, not only after a testing week, but after over a year of thinking and planning, brought tears to my eyes and the urge to scream into the stormy skies.”
They were tears of joy, satisfaction and an appreciation of having slowed down and reconnected with himself and his surroundings.
With his monumental journey over, Chris is now starting to think about moving to Italy, to reconnect with his roots and learn the language.
We can almost guarantee that among his luggage will be his trustworthy bike!