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WORLD'S MOST DANGEROUS ROAD

 

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Pulling Wheelies down the Most Dangerous Road in the World

On average, 150 people die every year along a stretch of perilous road from La Paz to Coroico. Due to this fatality rate, it is referred to as the World's Most Dangerous Road, narrowly snaking its way over the mountains, steep 600m drops just inches away from the tire. Seven years ago, an opportunistic New Zealander named Alistair saw the appeal of mountain biking down the 64km road, and created Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking. His company has since guided 15 000 travelers of all ages and ability down the dramatic, bumpy path. Unfortunately, his success has led to a spew of competitors; several of who care less about the state of the bikes than they do the dollars tourists will pay to ride them. Subsequently, there have been seven recorded deaths by bike, and until the regulations loudly touted by Gravity Assisted are put in place, there will no doubt be more. This road is no joke, but all the way down, I had the biggest smile on my face.

Mountain biking to the quaint, mountain-jungle town of Coroico has become immensely popular. When Jenny told me in Copacabana that her biggest regret in South America was not doing it, I knew I had to. Sure, it is risky, but Gravity is serious about their bikes (2003 Konas with Hayes hydraulic brakes, Marzocchi front suspension, Shimano Deore shifters and 2.5inch tires, for those who geek out at this kind of thing) and safety.

There were 20 people in the group, with three guides and two support vehicles.

"We have 200m of abseiling equipment," says Alistair, "any further and we'd just leave you." He is serious about biking, and also bizarre facial hair. The first 23kms are paved, exhilarating and cold. At 4300m, the weather changes quickly and every layer of clothing counted as we descended to the dirt road. I could barely feel my hands, but taking a corner at speed generated all the heat I needed. By the time we hit the dirt, the rain had started and we were quickly covered in mud. The bikes were given a safety check, and our group, consisting of various ages, was given a quick lesson in jungle biking survival. Going down, you keep left against the edge, unless you want to ride headfirst into a truck (which has already cost two tourists their lives). Go your own pace, don't bunch, don't look over the edge or your bike will follow. My elbows and knees were pummeled like overworked shock absorbers, the rain and mud adding to the overall insanity of mountain biking a death road in Bolivia. My ass, well, lets not even go there. Six hours later, with frequent break stops, we arrived exhausted, soaked to the bone and ready for the cold beer awaiting us – the advantages of a Kiwi-founded company. I arrived at the hotel in Coroico uninjured and well proud of myself, jumped in the pool, showered and got stuck into Happy Hour at the pool table. My clothes were drenched with mud, including my shoes, and seeing as I didn't pack my sandals for the overnight excursion, I was barefoot. Buzzing from the achievement, high on being below 3000m for the first time in weeks, a little drunk on Pilsner, I didn't notice the shard of glass until it was firmly in my heel, blood dripping everywhere. Six hours down a perilous road, and a sliver of glass foils me. Where's the justice? I'll be catching a bus back to La Paz this afternoon, up the Most Dangerous Road, at the mercy of a driver who might have checked his breaks when Nixon was in office. Until then, it is another day in the office, typing away amidst the humid jungle hills of Bolivia.

The original of this "note" can be found here.


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