By Michael Piasetzki
It’s a Thursday night in mid-October and Cory Wallace finds himself in a hospital waiting room in Cape Town, South Africa.
It’s a long way from the familiar climes of Jasper, which Wallace calls home, and his native McBride. Wallace is in Cape Town in pursuit of his main passion in life – endurance mountain bike racing.
It’s a brutally demanding sport which can push a human being to the extremes of his or her physical capabilities. It’s also a sport which the 37-year-old Wallace has excelled at since his early 20s. A sport which has allowed him to earn a contract with sponsors Kona Team Endurance and a sport which has given him the opportunity to travel to some of the most interesting spots in the world while competing in races against some of the finest endurance bikers on the planet.
Wallace, who likes to call himself a nomad, is in Cape Town to compete in the prestigious 2021 Absa Cape Epic endurance race, a gruelling eight-day, 619-kilometre event that sees riders climb an incredible 16,000-metres over some of the roughest terrain that’s humanly possible to ride on. Those in the know about endurance bike racing call it the benchmark for all long-distance riders. The event started on Oct. 17 and will finish this Sunday.
“I’m alright,” said Wallace during a WhatsApp call with the Goat last Thursday. “I haven’t been injured. I’m here at the hospital to support my teammate, Christian Janse Vanrenburg, who suffered a broken collarbone in practice today. It looks like he’s going to need surgery.”
It’s been an eye-opening past year and a half for Wallace, who has suffered no less than 10 shoulder separations in his life and underwent shoulder surgery in Banff last January.
When COVID-19 hit in the spring of 2020, he found himself stranded in Nepal, a mountainous country he has grown to admire and love and where he spends much of his time training when not competing. Unable to catch a flight back to Canada, he decided to stay in Nepal for the first six months of the pandemic, where he lived in a monastery with a group of Buddhist monks in a small mountain village 3,000 metres above sea level.
He returned to Canada after that and once the pandemic restrictions eased, he began competing again.
He also set out to beat a world record—and did. Last July, he participated in a particular kind of endurance event called Everesting, which has become somewhat of a craze lately among endurance mountain bikers. Taking its name from the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest in Nepal, its goal is to find a hill and ascend and descend it as quickly as you can, climbing a total of 8,848 metres (the elevation of Mount Everest).
“I hit the first Everesting around the 10.5 hour mark,” said Wallace, an elite hockey player before turning to competitive endurance mountain biking. He played in the Kootenay Junior Ice hockey League.
“That was the fastest recorded 8,848 metres on a mountain bike ever.”
Unfortunately for Walace, even though his mind and will were firing on all cylinders, the smoky air and a stomach problem hindered his chances of setting a record for double Everesting.
“I was trying out a new nutrition program at the time and it wasn’t working,” said Wallace, who accomplished his mark on the Palisade Lookout Trail in Jasper. “My stomach started refusing to accept food around the 12-hour mark. It made things very difficult. I called it a day after the 17-hour mark.”
Wallace’s impressive resume of biking accomplishments include three world 24-hour mountain solo bike championships and two Canadian marathon biking titles. He’s also the current holder of the fastest known time in the Annapurna 24-hour bike championship in Nepal. He also used the Annapurna event as a chance to raise $5,110 Canadian for the Nepali Cycling centre in Kathmandu.
The fact Wallace set the fastest known time and raised the money for a good cause doesn’t surprise Dave MacDowell, a local entrepreneur and bike enthusiast who owned a bike store in Jasper called Freewheel and now owns Smartwool outdoor store in Whistler.
“The main thing about Cory is his humbleness,” said MacDowell, who has known Wallace since was a teenager. “He’s a salt to the earth guy, who was raised properly by his parents and is a very grounded person. He’s also an extremely focused person. When he sets his eyes on accomplishing something he zeroes in on it and takes aim.”
Wallace earns a living cutting trees when not participating in endurance bike events. He’s worked alongside and for local businessman Brendan Taylor, who owns a business called the Source Tree Service Ltd., and an endurance bike competitor.
“He’s been a big influence on my own bike career,” said Taylor. “However he’s in a different league than I am. I look up to Cory when it comes to endurance biking. He’s set the mark for guys like me to follow.”