Mountain Biking The Worlds Most Dangerous Road – Death Rd Bolivia
After a sleepless night and a close call last night with a stolen bag we’re a little shaky this morning.
We needed to get a few supplies for our rafting adventure that starts tomorrow but all was lost as we entered a restaurant and Elena had her bag stolen. Lucky for us our passports weren’t in the bag as they were in the morning ( doing our checking in to each of the tour operators. Still it was a harrowing experience and one we hope not to repeat on this journey.
I have to leave early as my meeting place is a few blocks from Ananay Hostel. Oliver’s English Tavern is not far from were the booking agent offices was we visited yesterday. With Elena locking the door and heading advice not to open the door for anyone I briskly walked the empty streets of La Paz. The door leading to the stairs is open, I’m early, our meeting is at6.30am and I’ve walked so quickly it’s only just 6am, I plonk myself down and the Spanish speaking batman hands me a breakfast menu. It’s not long before other adventurers arrive and I’m tucking into bacon, eggs, toast and black coffee.
Departing at 730am sharp we’re ushered onto a small bus and a mini van. The bike are secured a above. It’s time, I’m finally doing to, the famous Death Road in Bolivia.
The North Youngkas Road was built to service the small village of Coroico. It was built after a war between Paraguay and Bolivia. The Paraguay prisoners of war built the road using the most basic tools. The conditions were terrible and rumour has it that none of the prisoners survived building het road, hence the road earned a nickname, Death Road.
It wasn’t until 2006 when the world heritage associations was looking at various roads around the world that they named the road The Worlds Most Dangerous Road due to the average death toll of over 300 people per year.
In 20013 the Bolivian Government built I new road into the valley and now the locals consider that to be to new Death Road as crazy Bolivian drivers and Drunks negotiate the turns and twists between La Paz and Coroico .
Our guide Kerran is a crazy British Guy who joke is throughout the introductions as the bus climb up and up through the narrow streets of La Paz. We do the typical “My name is and I’m form..” introductions. I’m in a group of 19 today. There’s a couple from Australia who’ve been working in Canada on the Ski Fields who I strike up a conversation with. We’re now entering the snow line and my ears are popping wi the sudden climb to over 4000m above sea level. The mountain bike warning sign and the large green highway sign with various names, distances and open/closed signals indicates we’re here. Kerran announces we’re now officially on Death Road. The mountains are covered in snow, I’m glad I put on the long underwear as even in the bus the temperature is slowly changing.
We pull over into a gravel car park next to a small lake. There’s a farmer herding lamas in the distance. Kerran jumps up from his seat “We’re here”. All the bikes are unloaded and we’re soon donning the Pants and jackets supplied by Gravity Assisted, the downhill mountain biking company I researched before embarking on this journey.
As a side note, if you’re coming to do this trip research to tour operator. Some don’t speak English and some have very little safety equipment should something go wrong. I found that Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking ticked all the boxes for me. Check out their website.
There’s a long tradition of honouring Patchi Mamma the goddess to looks over us as we embark on the Worlds Most Dangerous Road. An offering of what looks like a small bottle of water is passed around. Kerran goes first explaining that we are to tip some on the ground, some on our tyres and then sip from the bottle. This shows respect and safe passage for the road, the bike and us. Did I say the bottle was water? Sorry it’s more like fire water! For those who have every tried Absinthe you’ll know what I’m talking about, for those who haven’t, take the strongest alcohol you can think of and double the alcohol content.
With my head now spinning we go over the safety features of the bike and the does and don’ts of mountain biking Death Road. Gravity Assisted are notorious for their briefings and ensure we all understand before we go any further. Each of us get to test our bike which are set up to our specific requirements, height and weight. Even the brakes are a adjusted to make the experience as safe and comfortable for each rider.
Setting off in single file Kerran asks us to be mindful of travelling distances between our bike as we’re still getting to grips with them. It’s now a 20km downhill sealed section of road with switchbacks and breathtaking scenery. Kerran’s instructed us to focus on the road and not on the scenery as where you look is generally where you’ll ride and no one wants to go over the edge. The bike handle great and there’s plenty of meat on the tyres, I’m still not pushing it too hard, after all it’s not a racing bike is this is not a race. There’s serval stops as to coast downhill. Even in top gear I can’t keep up with the peddling, so I just tuck myself into the most streamlined position and enjoy the ride.
There’s a tunnel ahead with a no bikes sign and Kerran is signalling us to pull over into the small gavel path on the right. So far our downhill experience has been traveling on the right hand side of the road, as is the protocol with travelling around Bolivia.
Due to a tragic death where a girl on a mountain bike entered the tunnel and was hit by a drunk Bolivian driver travelling the other way with no lights the decision was made to create a gravel track for all mountain bikes to use. This was our first experience on a rocky track. Kerran said to trust our bikes and not to get on the brakes too much on the larger rocks as this makes the bike unstable, instead try to avoid them but if we have to just ride straight over them. This section is a little demanding after the smooth road and I really wonder what I’ve got myself into, but as soon as it starts the path ends 200m later and rejoins the road.
We continue downhill and come to a small village that collects a small payment for what I assume is a road toll? As the next 8 km is uphill and Kerran has offered us a sandwich, buss ride and drinks we all are unanimous in the decision to get back on the bus for this section of the journey.
The bus pulls off the road and down a gravel driveway. OMG! This isThe Death Road! We’re finally onto the twisty, narrow, original road that’s taken so many life’s over the years. We pull up and the bikes are unloaded. Kerran goes through the mandatory safety speech and everyone is left in no doubt that this road kills those who don’t respect it.
With the spacing that’s been drilled into us at every stop we set off, we’re now riding the much published gravel road that was once the main highway between La Paz and Coroico. It’s rocky, bumpy and narrow, yet we’ve been told it’s not the narrowest section of the road. I’m getting to grips with the bike and trying to go as quick as I can, which isn’t that fast as you do have to concentrate on the loose rocks along the path. It seems that since the new road has opened not much maintenance has been given to this killer road.
Kerran has advised us the we should keep left now as in this part of Bolivia the road rules change. The rule changes so that in a left hand drive car if your on e left you can see over the 600ft cliff and see how much road you still have before crashing over the edge. It’s a sobering thought as we traverse in the left tyre track where there are less rocks. This tyre track is literally a few feet from the perilous cliffs that have claimed so many victims.
With Kerran promising to buy a beer for everyone who stays on their bike sim determined not to crash or worse go over the cliff today. Kerran’s only got 100m of rope and these cliffs well exceed that!
We reach the narrowest point on the road, it’s a mere 3m wide and with huge overhangs. It’s hade to comprehend that only a few years ago you would have seen large trucks going through this narrow pass. You have to respect any driver who would have traveled this road, they would have to have nerves of steel.
With water pouring from above and the stones as slippery as hell, somehow I managed to get through the narrow ledge that posed as a road only to be rewarded with a steep downhill section with tight switch backs and demanding more concentration.
Keeping my elbows bent and trying to take as much bumps out with my knees my bike seemed to be very unstable under me, It felt slow, I glanced down and &$@k I had a flat tyre! I must had hit a rock too hard.
With other riders flying around the bend I needed to get out of the way and wait for our support bus and mechanic to quickly change y type. I felt a little like a race car driver waiting anxiously to get back on the track.
Getting to the next stop point all the others had eaten lunch and were now just waiting on me. With a quick bite to eat I’m soon off on the afternoon downhill. We’ve dropped a considerable height as we’re now in the hot and steamy jungle and the road is flattening out.
We reach a level section and for the first time we have to peddle along the road. It’s bloody hot as I’m still dressed for the cold higher altitude. With long underwear, pants and the leggings provided by Gravity Assisted my legs are becoming like jelly and reaching the checkpoint I stumble off the bike. Like a drunk I make it to the small Banos (toilet).
There’s only one more downhill section to go, the road now is populated with small farms and houses so we have to be mindful of children, chickens and other animals on the road. Also traffic has increased as I follow a HiLux creating dust in front of me. The bus is now waiting out front of the bar as we round the corner. We drop our bikes and strip out of the gear supplied by Gravity Assisted. We’re all hot, dusty, dirty and thirsty. Since no one dropped their bikes all day Kerran came good on his promise of a beer and with the barman giving us access to the roof top seating area we we soon exchanging our experiences.
This road has been an awesome challenge, one that I know I’ll be bragging about for years to come. Kerran made the day and Gravity Assisted Downhill Mountain Biking really know how to make the journey interesting with history along the path.
If you come to Bolivia, put this on your bucket list, it really is a must do.