Cycling the 'Death Road'...

Trip Start Oct 05, 2012
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Trip End Apr 01, 2013


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Flag of Bolivia  , La Paz Department,
Saturday, December 29, 2012

...or the World's Most Dangerous Road is one of those 'must-do' things on most people's lists who make it to Bolivia. Google this and you will find loads of links showing old footage of buses and trucks making their way slowly along an uneven, gravel road which is no more than 3m wide with a sheer drop into the valley below, some of which will also be shown slipping from the road and falling... It's recognition as the 'World's Most Dangerous Road' came from the fact that there was on average 200-300 deaths per year on this stretch of road when it still formed the only route into this part of the northern Bolivian rainforest. This has all changed since 2007, when a new Tarmac road was completed and which is now used by the majority of traffic. There is still some traffic, but largely limited to the support vehicles for the various biking companies who offer daily tours down the road and some vehicles from the local communities in the valley. So much less of a risk, but obviously still some...

Why on earth would I want to do this then?? Basically, it's just one of those 'must-do' things which I knew I'd regret not doing. I was scared though, which is why I opted for the company with the best safety record - Gravity Assisted Biking - who's only death on the road was rather unfortunately because of a heart attack instead of any sort of cycling mishap...

The day started at 7.00am, when I met the rest of the group at the assigned cafe somewhere in the centre. We then had a slow drive from La Paz up to the dizzy heights of La Cumbre, located some 4700m above sea level. Although the sun had been shining in La Paz, it was completely different up here due to the fog cover which quickly hid the very small amount of sunshine still visible. We then started the task of putting on the safety gear - there was ALOT - and testing our bikes. So much so, that by the time we had assembled, toasted Pachamama with a sip of 95% drinking alcohol and were ready to set off the rain had arrived...

The first 20km or so was on the new tarmac road so no real need for the full suspension bike which we had, but a good opportunity to test brakes etc. To be honest, there wasn't as much traffic as I'd thought there would be and free-wheeling for most of the way was actually great fun. Unfortunately, the rain got heavier and heavier which made seeing through our glasses incredibly difficult. I did try without them but this proved even tougher as the rain just went straight into my eyes. This was the worst part of the day though. Not only were we going our fastest speeds on the tarmac, but the weather was definitely worse at such a high altitude.

After passing through a drug control checkpoint, we were all piled back into one of our support vehicles (the other having suffered a complete electrical failure) and driven 8km uphill to the start of the actual Death Road. Our safety briefing was great, although a little peculiar to be told to ride on the outer edge of the road right by the huge drop - apparently to do with right of way being with uphill traffic, and them always remaining on the inside which was in affect a blind corner for traffic in either direction. Our guide finished off with just a very simple warning - 'Just don't ride like a f***ing idiot!!'.

And so we began the cycle down...it took me a while to get used to the suspension on the bike, and also the sensitivity if the brakes. It would be as easy to have gone over the handle bars simply by braking too hard, rather than because of the large pieces of rock which were strewn over the road!! But once I'd mastered the braking and also got used to the bouncing motion of the bike I could relax a bit and pay more attention to our surroundings. Initially, any view we could have had was totally obscured by the fog and light drizzle, but the further down we got the more the visibility cleared up until eventually we could see into the valley. And of course, the full extents of the sheer drop which at some points was as much as 600m!! Although, in actual fact it wasn't constantly a vertical drop and much of the time there was a great amount of vegetation which would have caught you had you been unlucky enough to have fallen and slipped over the edge. Or atleast that's what I told myself, even as I continued to cycle rather slowly and sensibly down. I certainly wasn't taking any chances, and found myself in the back half of the pack for all of the cycle. Safely first and all that...yes, boring I know...

As well as the valley, we also got to appreciate the height of the surrounding mountains and the huge number of waterfalls. A lot of these crossed the road, one section in particular requiring us to cycle through 4 in a row. One of my favourite parts, and captured on video by one of our guides!!

The cycle was over all too soon as we reached the town at the bottom of the road, very mud-spattered, soaked through and desperately in need of a hot shower. Luckily this was also provided at our lunch destination - a nearby animal sanctuary - which was very lucky as the 3 hour drive back would have been too much to bear had we had to do it in our soaking gear. As it was, the drive back was eventful enough as we followed the route of our earlier cycle back up the Death Road. This wasn't better than the actual cycle, but it was a way to keep the adrenaline going, especially the really narrow bits where we had to go underneath the waterfalls again!! I really enjoyed it, but there were others in the van who spent most of the journey with their heads turned away from the cliff edge!!

So, all in all a great day and one I'm glad I had the guts to do. Although, if I'm honest it was a whole lot scarier in my mind that it actually proved on the day ;-)
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Comments

Pigwig on

Really brave Fooft, I'd have been terrfied - probablf first over the handlebars ; 0
Hopefully the weather dries up soon

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