Mountain Biking The World´s Most Dangerous Road

Trip Start Mar 14, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Bolivia  , La Paz,
Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The World's Most Dangerous Road, or as Bolivians more affectionately refer to it, Death Road, was named in 1995 by the Inter-American Development Bank. Their simple measurement? Deaths per mile! This is long before anyone thought tourists would pay to hurl themselves kamikaze style down the twisty, dirt road that has no safety barriers and drop offs in some areas as much as 3000 FEET! When a vehicle or mountain biker find their way off the edge, death is pretty much inevitable.

On average, 26 vehicles per year(one every two weeks!) fall off the single-lane road killing between 100 and 200 people per year. In July 1983, Carlos Pizarroso Inde drove his bus over the edge, killing more than 100 passengers in Bolivia's worst ever road accident...and that was just one incident that year!!! Depending on who you ask, 7 or 8 mountain bikers have plummeted to their death since 2003 for reasons such as failing to negotiate one of the road's 200-plus turns, being bumped off the edge by a passing vehicle, or even as simply as losing concentration and stepping backwards off the cliff trying to avoid traffic(we were required to dismount the bikes for passing vehicles). The half-way point is marked by a monument donated by the Israeli government to commemorate the site where an Israeli girl plunged to her death in August, 2001. The roadside is littered with flowers, memorials, and crosses from the years of tragedy. Just three weeks ago, a German tourist missed a turn and fell 45 feet off a deadly cliff, to be saved by the ONLY tree sticking out from the precipice. He escaped with a broken collar bone.

So what's the attraction to all that? Mountain biking down this road is fun and statistically safer than taking the bus...which unfortunately, we have to use to get home. The road starts at La Cumbre at 15,400 feet (4700m)in altitude in extreme cold temperatures in the mountains near La Paz and plunges down 11,800 feet of vertical to 3,600 feet in Coroico, a small village on the edge of the Yungas Jungle at the Amazon basin. Temperatures here are pleasant and warm. Our journey took us through bitter cold, dry mountain air, then through the clouds, rain storms, dense fog, steamy humidity, and finally, warm dry air at the bottom. All the while the vegetation changed around us dramatically with the climate. And all this in a mere 40 miles (64 km)!!!

I did not take so many pictures with my own camera. I decided to leave it in one of the chase vehicles when I learned the tour operator trashes between 5 and 6 cameras a year from all the mud and dust and that they will be taking pictures for us. Although the pix aren't that great, they commend themselves on hiring guides based on their riding, first-aid, and rope rescue abilities before their photography skills. I guess that's fine by me. I can't recommend this activity enough, especially for experienced riders who will be able to keep up with the lead guide. It is fantastic!!! At the end of the ride, I spent a couple days in the pleasant little town of Coroico before returning to La Paz.

For further reading and a rather grim article on one of the mountain bike fatalities on the Death Road, Click here

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