Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A GREAT IDEA: The World's Most Dangerous Road - on a mountain bike!!

About 30 trucks a year (two last week) and a cyclist or two plummet over what has been labelled the "Death Road". As it happens, mountain biking down the said byway has become quite a backpacker attraction. So it was that a whole bunch of us (notably Dave, Mik, Will, Cath, Nicky and myself) found ourselves in skimpy cycling gear at 4,700m wondering quite what we were doing.

The ride involves 3 stages, adding up to some 67km of adrenaline. The first is on well paved road, hurtling down at some stupid pace on open road and past trucks with monstrous peaks looking down on your insignificance. Then follows a relatively grueling up hill section that made my lungs want to burst. Then the dodgy bit...

From the edge of the newly paved road you descend all the way to 1,200m on a windy dirt track with mudslide-prone overhanging cliffs to your right and precipitous cliffs falling down to the left. To give you some perspective, on much of the road trucks can't pass each other, which leads to some very interesting maneuvers I can tell you. We actually saw a crane retrieving the remains of last week's victims.

Now, for cyclists this is not actually that dangerous. Many people do it every day and I believe only 15 people have died in some 10 years of the activity - it is though really quite a rush. The inevitable few times when you hit a rock or slide and lose a bit of control are quite a sensation. As is the all too obvious precipitous drop that you have to get mightily close to - it is the rule of the road that the traffic coming down (like us) has to drive on the drop side.

So did any of us fall off... or break limbs.. well very very nearly. My only scratches came from a mistimed skid right into Dave, but a very VERY lucky Swede has someone looking over him. After hitting a rock at a mighty pace he lost control and was thrown from his bike towards the cliff edge. As you can imagine Bolivian roads are not littered with helpful road signs as many of our homelands are, but instead the metal protrusions are rather rare. This makes it even more remarkable that an imminent fall (and consequences that it not comfortable to think about) down a very large cliff was stopped by one of these rare posts. If it was not for him rapping himself around the piece of metal and being flung on to his back dazed and confused on the precipice, a fall of several hundred feet may have been the only life experience he had left. Many people took it markedly slower after that incident, others did not.

A rush indeed, but after a bit of relaxation at the bottom, a statistically far more dangerous period of time faced us on the re ascent on the didgery bus. I was on the cliff side where you measure the gap to the edge not in feet or metres, but in inches and centimetres. For a true idea of the absolute comedy of that ride back up into the clouds a video we made does a damn good job - it will be on show!

So there we were, we had made it back up and the driver got a sincere round of applause. In one day including the return journey to La Paz, we had ascended and descended a combined height roughly equal to mighty Everest. Like many other interesting things I have done on this trip - highly recommended.

Oh and one more thing to put a chill down the spine - Dave's breaks failed twice - BUT all are safe and well - we survived the world's most dangerous road!!
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