La Paz: Death Road Biker Challenge
Crossing from Peru to Bolivia via a land border was fairly sketchy. We walked a across a bridge and queued in a decaying building which stank of piss, litter strewn everywhere and machine gun paintings on each doorway. It took a while, I couldn’t answer any of the questions they fired at me in Spanish but I got through – they must have just given up on me. We made our way by bus to La Paz, Bolivia’s capital. I only knew two things about La Paz, it’s home to the notorious Death Road and equally notorious San Pedro prison. Of course, I had to get as close as I could to both of these!
I watched a You Tube video a month or so back, where this group of excitable American lads were taking a bus on the Death Road. They had a Go Pro hanging out the window and it looked ridiculous. I was then really disappointed to learn that the part of this road is now closed to vehicles, probably due to the ‘death’ part in its name. But not to worry, you can mountain bike it! Oh yes I’m a real pro at mountain biking having been on a bike 3 times in the last 20 years, why not bike down the most terrifying road in the world.
At this point I obviously knew the road was hair-raising, that’s why I was doing this. But, I hadn’t yet heard that a guide was killed only a week before as he was hit by a truck on a bend. Oh and the girl that was taking a picture of her boyf and went straight over the cliff edge. Just google it, the stories are endless! I stupidly posted a Facebook status before I left and my family had a fun Sunday afternoon on You Tube, checking out exactly what this Death Road is. You can imagine the whatsapp messages when I logged on 12 hours later!
On the way to get geared up at 8am I started to think WTF am I doing. I really am not a confident cyclist. A 55k bike ride on narrow cliff paths at an elevation of over 4,000 metres was possibly a step too far for my abilities. I put knee pads on, elbow pads, protective trousers, jacket and then a full on crash helmet. We set off along the highway, amongst the traffic and began to hurtle down. We flew down the roads, round bends and had to overtake huge lorries and trucks. To slow down there was no gear changing, just a light squeeze of the breaks. After 30 minutes we reached the start of Death Road.
Nothing I’ve ever done before could have prepared me for hurtling down a windy, rock filled road on a mountain bike. I squeezed those brakes so tightly as the bike flung itself over boulders. I have bruises on my hands and my ass and I think my shoulders locked themselves in place as I held on for dear life. I made my way round tight bends, with sheer drops off the edge of the mountain paths. It took around 5 hours to reach the bottom and I felt every single stone on my path towards the end. But It was one of the most fantastic experiences of my entire travels. I usually dodge experiences where I’m responsible for my fate, usually preferring to let someone else take responsibility for my life. But this has changed me and opened up doors to new adventures as the adrenaline is taken up a notch when I’m responsible for my survival.