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Posts Tagged ‘mountain biking’

Disclaimer:  We did a bike ride Friday with the above title.  It was slightly dangerous, but it was a decision made by both myself and my wife to do it.  We successfully completed it with no injuries; however, the bike ride is called this for a reason, so read on at your own discretion.

 

When researching Bolivia, we always read about the so-called World’s Most Dangerous Road bike ride.  It is a bike ride that begins about an hour outside of La Paz at the top of a mountain at 4660 meters.  You then proceed to descend over 3400 meters, riding 80 kilometers, into the jungle.  The road got its name in the mid-1990’s because, statistically, it had the most deaths (by way of car, not bike) on a road in the world.  The road is steep and twisting and clings to the side of sheer cliffs with 800 meter drop offs.  So of course after the road received its name, some people had the bright idea of riding bikes down it and capitalizing on dumb tourists like ourselves to shell out a good amount of money to possibly ride a bike to our deaths. 

Now when reading about this before we came here, we both thought, “What kind of moron rides on a road dubbed the “World’s Most Dangerous Road” or “The Death Road”?  After talking to many people who have done the ride and reading all about it on message boards, we decided to at least inquire about it.  So we went to Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking, who had the best reviews for both safety and professionalism by far of the hundreds of different companies in La Paz who do this ride.  They have a nearly impeccable safety record, only one death in the 10 years this company has been doing the ride (far better than every single other company doing the ride). 

So went to Gravity on Thursday to find more out about the ride.  We read a bunch about it and talked to a guy at their office for quite a while.  We felt as safe as we were going to, so to answer my own question from above, I guess we are the kind of morons who do something like this.  In my opinion, it was a very wise decision (depending on your definition of wise, of course).  So we went on the ride on Friday, leaving La Paz at 7:30am with a group of seven, two guides, a driver, a jeep, and nine bicycles.

We drove out of La Paz and went straight up.  After about 45 minutes of driving, we came to a checkpoint, where our guide pointed out the death toll sign for the road for this year on the side of the road.  It read 43.  He also pointed out that was the official death toll, and they all knew that the unofficial toll was higher.  Now we were starting to get a little nervous and wondered why again we would do something seemingly so stupid.

After a short ride, we arrived at the top.  It was cloudy.  And that is an understatement.  We were, again, in the clouds.  Only this time we weren’t hiking and enjoying the views, we were supposed to ride down this road with about 10 meters of visibility, on a slick road, sharing it with cars.  Yes, we are the morons who not only decided to do this, but PAID to do it. 

After getting all of our safety gear, which was a fair amount (even though all the helmets, gloves, pants, jackets, etc. certainly wouldn’t do much good in a 800 meter fall off a cliff, but that’s neither here nor there), we were almost ready to go.  We all received our bikes individually, with our guide going over all the features with us.  He prepped us for about 15-20 minutes on the rules and procedures for riding, reminding us of Gravity’s record of safety and the reason for that record.  Everyone HAD to follow the rules or end up riding down in the jeep.

So, finally, we were off.  A guide started us off, with each person in the group following at a minimum of four jeep lengths.  The second guide brought up the rear, with our jeep right behind.  We would have 17 stopping points along the way to make sure we were all doing well, and they checked the bikes to make sure everything was working properly at every stop (see, perfectly safe). 

The first part of the ride was not my favorite.  The visibility was low, it was extremely cold, raining at times, and the road was paved, which made it somewhat slicker.  And this was supposed to be the easier part (I thought it was harder, Megan thought it was easier).  At least the sheer cliffs weren’t present, yet.

After about an hour or so (and several stops, one about every 15 minutes), we came to a resting point and had our first snack.  We were now off the paved road.  The paved road is the new road, and it is paved all the way down to the bottom.  We went off the paved road to the gravel road (which can still be used by cars, but thankfully there were NONE the day we did the ride).  When we entered the gravel road, we were officially on the “World’s Most Dangerous Road”.  We were again prepped with safety precautions, going over all the rules and the changes now that we were going to be on a road that was gravel, narrower, and had different rules for passing and dealing with the possibility of cars.

So again, we were off.  We were out of the clouds, which was good, but the sheer cliffs (with no guard rails) were now easily visible, which was not so good.  Our guide told us that the first two sections would be a good indicator of whether or not we were going to like the rest (and longest part) of the ride.  If we hated these first two sections or felt uneasy about them, we could ride down in the jeep.  He told us that many people decide to do this, and it was no big deal if we were not feeling confident.

I’m not going to lie, it was a little disconcerting at first, but honestly, I thought it was better than the first section that was supposedly “easier”.  The visibility factor was huge, and the fact that we didn’t encounter any cars was also huge.  Again, the Pachamama was on our side and we got great weather with no rain the rest of the way, so again, that made it easier.  We stopped often, and our bikes were constantly being checked, so that built our confidence as well.  But each time we gained confidence, our guide reminded us not to get too confident because that was the number one reason for accidents. 

The extra money we plopped down for going with Gravity was money well spent.  They were very professional and kept us informed and safe throughout the entire day.  As the day went on, everyone in the group realized what order we should go in, so passing each other was at a minimum, which was also safer.  I personally got braver as the ride went on, going faster and faster, which was a huge adrenaline rush and made the ride spectacular, for me.  Others decided to keep riding their brakes most of the way down, feeling safer and more confident.  It was a personal preference for each person, and the guides were great to encourage everyone to go at their own comfort. 

We started the ride at about 9am and finished at about 2pm.  Five hours of nothing but a descent down a mountain, with spectacular views all around us.  It was awesome and an incredible experience.  When we started, most of us had on at least 3-4 layers, with hats and gloves.  When we finished, we were all stripped down to t-shirts and sweating profusely.  At the bottom, we all met at a lodge that is an animal refuge.  We all received our free beer and t-shirts proclaiming that we survived “The World’s Most Dangerous Road”.  There were all types of animals running around, including several monkeys who were very affectionate, jumping in our laps, playing around on our bags, and in one case, pooping on Megan’s backpack.

We all had lunch together at the animal refuge and were able to take showers (our first hot showers in about 2 weeks).  After lunch, several people from the tour went up to Coroico, which is a town we passed, about 7 kilometers up from the bottom. 

Our cab that took us up to Coroico was a huge truck, and we all sat in the back with our luggage.  It was a really cool experience, one that made us realize again how lucky we were to be on this trip.  Here we were, in freaking Bolivia of all places, after riding the “World’s Most Dangerous Road”, riding in the back of a pick-up truck with another American, two Ozzies, and one Kiwi, talking about travel and the differences in our cultures. 

This (the car ride, not the bike ride), was a huge reason why we wanted to come on this trip.  We all stayed in the same hostel, which is set above the town amidst a jungle, with a pool, hammocks, and a stunning setting.  The place we are staying at also has a restaurant, and Megan and I and Katherine, a woman from New Zealand (who has lived in London for the past 9 years and is traveling for 7 weeks, by herself, before moving to Sydney), decided to eat at the restaurant.  We had a wonderful time before being joined by four more people from our ride who randomly ended up at the same restaurant (3 Brits and a Swiss man).  The other three who were staying at the same place joined us as well, and we had a marvelous time eating and drinking and talking and telling stories about our travels, our countries, our cultures, and anything else under the sun. 

Again, this is why we are doing this.  It’s so eye-opening and beneficial to experience other cultures and talk to people from around the world.  I think it would do everyone some good to be able to chat with others and get their viewpoints about certain things, whether it’s politics, travel, education, food, television, whatever.  Just to see the differences and similarities of other cultures makes one more accepting and understanding and more likely not to buy into typical stereotypes, and I personally believe that makes the world a much better place to live in.

We leave this afternoon for a 14 hour bus trip to Rurrenabaque, which is a jumping off point for trips into the Amazon Jungle.  Our computer is officially shot as far as internet goes, but we have been typing up posts and picking out pictures, so there is a small gallery that I uploaded from the internet cafe for this post.  We have a few more posts ready to go (from Copacabana and Lake Titicaca) that we can hopefully get up next weekend when we get back to La Paz.  We´re just having to adjust with no computer of our own, but we really want to keep the blog going because it´s so nice to be able to communicate with everyone who´s reading it.   

Have a Happy Thanksgiving everyone, we are going to miss pigging out on turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, drinking beer and wine, and watching football.  Think of us as we’re in the jungle Thursday getting mauled by mosquitos and seeing monkeys, anacondas, alligators, pink dolphins, and eating rice and tuna (again, I ask the question, what kind of moron does this again?).

Until then, love you all and miss you!!

~Adam        

      

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