The Death Ride – The World’s Most Dangerous Road

29 Jan

For those of you that know Talia and I (and our fear of heights), you may be asking yourselves what persuaded us to ride down a mountain on Death Road, a road that is only about 3 meters wide, is made of gravel and that has absolutely no barrier to prevent you from hurling yourself 300 meters off a cliff with one false move.

The answer?

When we were getting information about the ride from the tour company, Gravity, we asked if anyone had ever died on one of their rides. They said ‘no’ and uncharacteristically that was enough to convince us that this was safe. Looking back, fortunately we didn’t ask how many injuries they’d seen or we may not have gone. Unfortunately we saw a number of injuries first-hand on our day on the Death Ride.

Our day began with a 45 minute bus ride to the top of the mountain where we were given a pair of protective pants and a jacket, a helmet, goggles and gloves. We were then given our bikes and were asked to ride them around the flat area to make sure everything felt good, from seat height to brakes.

After a brief safety talk, which included how to pass trucks – yes, trucks – we were off, beginning the day with an hour and a half long ride down the only part of the road that was paved.

At first, I was terrified. The speeds I got myself up to felt similar to speeds I’d experienced on the back of J.J.’s motorcycle. Factor in passing transport trucks on a downhill 2-lane winding mountain road and let’s just say I was happy I popped an Imodium before the ride or I very well may have literally shit my pants.

Luckily our guide stopped every 5 to 20 minutes of riding so that he could tell us exactly what to expect on the next stretch of pavement.

Just as I was gaining confidence in my ability to speed down the paved mountain road, it was time to begin the 3 – 4 hour ride down the gravel part of the road. This is where I’m so happy we threw our budgets out the window and opted to go with Gravity. Our bikes and equipment was leaps and bounds beyond other groups we saw on the road.

Before we even got riding the first thing our guide showed us was what appeared to be a rusted piece of metal off the edge of a cliff. He explained that this had once been a bus that had gone over and said he was showing us this to remind us to ride within our means.

Back to the ride. J.J. had no problem hucking himself down the mountain, but I was more cautious and Tal more cautious still and Jonny hung back to make sure Tal felt comfortable.

I’m not going to lie, finding my groove on the first 2 stretches of road was one of the most challenging things I’ve done. The cautious part of me was telling me to slow down, while my competitive side was urging me to keep up with J.J. and the Australian extreme sport junkies at the front of the pack. I found my balance (leaning more toward cautious than competitive) as I realized that the faster you go, the more easily you can ride over big rocks without skidding out.

Our group made it safely to the second checkpoint on the gravel road only to find the other Gravity group stopped as one of their riders had skidded out, come very close to the edge of the cliff and was lucky to walk away with only some torn clothing, a few scrapes and bruises and a dis-located or broken shoulder. I can’t imagine that poor guy’s ride to the hospital in a bus along those bumpy winding roads with a potentially broken shoulder.

A little later in the ride I was startled by what I could only assume to be a local guy whipping down the mountain, sans protective clothing, sans helmet. A few checkpoints later, our bus passed us, carrying the local daredevil. His face had been bandaged up with gauze but the bleeding was so severe it had soaked right through. We later learned that the other Gravity guide had found his bike at the edge of the cliff and had been sure somebody had gone over, but minutes later she found the guy and radioed for the bus to come with the first aid supplies.

Luckily by this point we had already passed the narrowest section of the road that has a waterfall running over it and also happens to hold the world record for the largest number of fatalities in a single crash.

The rest of the day was accident-free as far as serious accidents go. There were a few skid outs resulting in some scrapes, bruises and ripped clothing, but nothing compared to the first 2 accidents we had seen. And everyone was feeling pain in their forearms and palms from literally holding on to the handlebars for dear life.

Once safely at the bottom, the majority of the group opted to go ziplining, but because it was a Costa Rican made line and because I’d ziplined in Costa Rica over a similar landscape I opted to save my Bolivianos.

While J.J., Tal and Jonny went ziplining my day ended with a beer at an animal sanctuary. The sanctuary takes in abused animals and tries to re-habilitate them, though the animals are not able to be re-released into the wild as this is against the law in Bolivia (this is currently under review). They say it takes the animals about a year before their personality really begins to come out as that is how long it takes for them to begin to trust again after being removed from an abusive environment.

The sanctuary is run by volunteers that actually pay to work there. Their first 2 weeks cost them 1,000 or so Bolivianos and every week thereafter runs them 700 Bolivianos. The money covers their lodging as well as 3 meals per day (we had a great dinner there so not a bad deal!).

I went on a tour to see the sanctuary’s monkeys and learned that 3 of them had been abused by women and therefore women (even the women that work at the sanctuary) are not able to go near them. The monkeys feel threatened by females and have attempted to bite the faces of the female volunteers.

In addition to monkeys, the sanctuary also takes care of turtles, dogs (an older golden retriever in particular that I fell in love with instantly), toucans and parrots, amongst others. (Yes, they had a snake, no I didn’t go anywhere near it.)

It was amazing to see a spider monkey hang out on the back of a golden retriever as the dog walked around and also have the parrots calmly sitting right alongside the unlikely pair. It was truly an unforgettable experience.

The day finished with a sunset bus ride up Death Road, which may have been scarier than biking down it. For starters, a bus is much wider and longer than a bike and the road is extremely narrow and winding. Secondly, on the ride, you don’t have the opportunity to look at much of the scenery as the main goal of the day is not to die, but on the bus, I saw how far down the drops off the side of the mountain actually were and it was terrifying. Not to mention the number of memorials along the full length of the road that have been placed in memory of someone that has gone over the edge.

All that said, am I glad I pushed myself and did the ride? Definitely. Will I ever do it again? Definitely not. You only tempt death once.

The World's Most Dangerous Road


One Response to “The Death Ride – The World’s Most Dangerous Road”

  1. Carol Clegg January 29, 2012 at 17:51 #

    Reading this, literally made the hair on my arms stand up!!! so glad you’re all safe and sound. Can’t wait for the next epistle. I look forward to reading it every day.

    Stay safe.
    Mamma & Pappa Clegg xo

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