Surviving the Death Road, Bolivia

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The road from the mountains above La Paz to Corioco in Bolivia was voted in 1995 to be the world’s most dangerous road. Estimates are that 200-300 people die on the road each year due to the unstable & rough gravel surface & precipitous cliff faces. These unguarded cliff edges have falls to the valley below of 600m in many places. Mountain biking the road was to be our challenge during our time in La Paz but was made to be a lot tougher…

Warning: the following story contains too much information. Read ahead at your own risk.

Seeking out adventure and the unknown has the side effect that sometimes things go wrong. Outside the comfort zones of home & normal life shit can get real as in this instance.

After sadly farewelling some fellow travelers we had set off for Bolivia from Cuzco, Peru by 13 hour overnight bus along with the Norwegian cuckoo girls. We were excited to arrive in La Paz, the highest capital city in the world. I was feeling good after the Inca trail despite the extensive celebrations afterwards. When we arrived to our hostel, the Wild Rover, we indulged in the customary arrival meal & beer and I was still feeling good. A few hours later the next overnight bus I was riding was the porcelain one!

For those unfamiliar with non western plumbing many older European or 3rd world toilets cannot handle toilet paper & provide a bin to dispose of it. These bins came in handy to spew into while my bowel involuntarily evacuated itself. Travel drugs provided for the occasion had some small effect. After very little sleep, if any, extremely dehydrated & barely able to keep down water, the next morning arrived & it was time to take on the World’s Most Dangerous Road. Yay!
P1280614 The ride starts at the top of the mountain at an altitude of 4700m. There was literally snow & ice on the ground around us so it was bloody cold up there. This didn’t seem to worry the tour operators who were happy to take their time organizing our bikes & safety gear while we froze standing around. Eventually, we put on safety overalls, knee & elbow pads, gloves and a full face helmet normally reserved for motocross and we were away.

The first part of the ride was relatively easy as we cruised down a windy but ashphalted section. It was mostly about getting used to the specialised bikes super brakes & handling and stopped for photos at a couple of viewpoints. The hardest part was getting warmth back into everyone’s fingers once we reached the breakfast stop. I wasn’t able to stomach any food at this point still but was able to have some sugary drinks to give me some energy. The bikes were loaded up & we were driven the next few kilometers to where the REAL death road began.
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The descent in altitude allowed my body some oxygen & I started to feel a bit better. I was even able to tease a few of the girls in our group about their chances of survival over the rest of the ride. The remainder of the ride was tough with the bike suspension failing to dull the punishment of the bike seat over the extremely rough rock trail. Easing the tailbone pain at the time was the extraordinary scenery & regular bursts of adrenaline when nearing a sheer unguarded cliff. The saddle soreness however was to remain for several days.

As the ride continued downhill so did my energy levels weaken & I slowed my riding down until one of the guides asked if I was ok. Rather than explain the situation I told him I was enjoying the scenery which was also true & taking my time. Eventually we reached the end of the road to my great relief.

In hindsight there is no way I should have set off on a 65km, extremely dangerous, high speed downhill mountain bike descent in the condition I was in. But I did, I made it and I have another awesome travel memory.

As our t-shirt says “I Survived the Death Road”!

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