When the pandemic trapped Cory Wallace in Nepal, the pro bike racer rode it out in a monastery

·3 min read

As a professional mountain bike racer, Cory Wallace is accustomed to new adventures and high adrenaline situations.

Which, as it turns out, were pretty good attributes to have when he found himself waiting out the pandemic in a monastery high in the Nepalese mountains.

Wallace spends his winters training in Nepal, then returns to Canada each spring to compete in the bike racing circuit. In March, when the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 pandemic, he was in the Solukhumbu region near Mount Everest for a 10-day training camp.

"We were in the mountains and Trudeau called all of us Canadians saying, like, now is the time for you to come home … and I was deciding what to do," he told CBC Radio's Edmonton AM on Friday.

It would be a 12-hour drive back to Kathmandu and Wallace, not sure how easy it would be to find a flight once he got there, was worried about getting stuck.

Submitted by Cory Wallace
Submitted by Cory Wallace

"So I just decided to stay in the mountains," he said. "I thought, I'm in the Himalayas deep, deep off the track right now. It's a perfect spot for pandemic. So I'll just stay here."

For the first six weeks, he stayed at the home of a friend, trying to be mindful of the Nepalese government's ever-changing COVID-19 restrictions. "It's like every day the government in Nepal would make a new decision — no one can move, people can move, all the tourists have to go home, the tourists can stay. There was a bit of chaos."

But with no end to the pandemic in sight, and his own worries about overstaying his welcome at his friend's home, Wallace started looking for some new digs.

He'd been past the monastery, which was about a 90-minute ride away, numerous times while out on training rides and had gotten friendly with the monks. They had made several invitations for him to stay with them, and finally he took them up on the offer.

Submitted by Cory Wallace
Submitted by Cory Wallace

"I went up one day on my bike … saying like, hey, like I might need a place to stay, are you guys still all right with this? And they're like, yeah, yeah, 100 per cent, just come up. So the next day, I filled my backpack up, hopped on my bike … and then, yeah, that's where I was."

So he stayed with the 35 monks for the next few months. When the monks gathered for early morning meditation, he would do his own meditation in his room and then he'd hop on his bike to explore.

He said he was never bored. The monastery had Wi-Fi, so he could work on his computer, and he had a room with a view — straight off a cliff, overlooking a 600-metre drop to the valley.

As a thank you to the monks, he did a fundraiser in which he rode the elevation of Everest in a single day, using the monastery access road.

Submitted by Cory Wallace
Submitted by Cory Wallace

"It was three kilometres long, 350 metre vert. I did it 25 times one day, it took me 18 hours. So that was a good way to keep busy as well," he said.

With monsoon season approaching, Wallace started making plans to return to Canada. Worried about his health, he opted to avoid getting a ride to Kathmandu in a crowded jeep and decided he'd ride his bike the 300 kilometres instead.

"It was so cool because … there was no traffic. So the highway was just free for just myself," he said.

"I wasn't sure how people were going to respond to me, since there was a pandemic and I'm the foreigner guy biking through there, but everyone was awesome."

Wallace arrived back in Canada in September, after 11 months in Nepal. On his return to Jasper, he took supplies and headed for a remote family cabin to quarantine.

"It's pretty amazing to come back — like a fall time weather, the security," he said. "Canada is such a nice country to be from."