Published: September 24th 2008September 18th 2008
The air is thin and your lungs feel like they are going to explode. At an elevation of 4760 metres above sea level you begin to suffer the effects of altitude and a serious lack of oxygen to the brain. You feel fearless as you cycle through the clouds and down dirt roads at lightening speed. You begin to feel your bike slide on the gravel while dodging boulders and pot holes. You look down the side of the road into oblivion. The fear takes over and you wobble for a moment on you mountain bike. Suddenly it hits you, you are cycling down the Worlds Most Dangerous Road!
Back in December I was sent a link from a work colleague (thanks Dan) regarding the Worlds Most Dangerous Road (Yungas Road). As soon as I had seen the photos and read about the insanity of another adrenaline fuelled adventure, I knew it had to be done. Based on my record of disasters since leaving the UK I did reconsider the situation but decided "What must happen will Happen" (Gino, India 2008).
The four of us (Ben, Lisa, Ryan and myself) signed up with a company called Gravity to cycle
40 miles down the Yungas Road. We joined the rest of the team (14 people) for breakfast. The team consisted of cycling enthusiasts and lunatic backpackers from all over the world looking for their next fix of adrenaline and adventure.
We were soon on a mini-bus with mountain bikes strapped to the roof heading high into the Andes mountains. Everyone nervously chatted between themselves while looking out of the window at the stunning landscapes and beautiful mountain scenery. Before we knew it we were looking down on the clouds just outside a small Bolivian town called La Cumbre. There we made a few last minute operations before cycling down the Worlds Most Dangerous Road.
The team leader spent some time going through safety checks and procedures while I became familiar with my $6000 mountain bike. My bike was only a week old and shimmered away in the sunlight. I had to wear 4 layers of clothes to combat the ice cold conditions. I found wearing the gloves, face mask and cycling helmet incredibly irritating.
Our team leader insisted on telling us horror stories. He mentioned that it is possible to lose control and go over the side,
plummeting 3000 metres to your death. He warned us that trucks still use the road and could push us over the edge. He told us to look where we were going and to maintain a safe breaking distance. Apparently only last week someone crashed into a team leader and the handle bars made them a new arsehole, Ouch!
We all set off flying down the road at lightening speed. Luckily the start of the road is sealed allowing us to cycle completely gravity assisted without worrying about boulders and pot holes. Bolivian truck drivers would often try to scare the shit out of us by sneaking up and honking their horn. They would then attempt to drive as close as possible creating a strong side draft. I couldn't help but think that they are a bunch of fucktards.
As we ascended down the road we eventually stopped at the Drug Enforcement Check Point. Apparently the check point is funded by the North American tax payer as part of the war on drugs, yet no one ever gets searched. The Bolivians take money from the Americans and lounge around drinking beer all day. Bolivia makes a lot of money
from the drugs trade, it is not in their interest to stop anyone trafficking cocaine. They seemed to be more concerned ensuring that we did not take photos of them lazing around. We basically stopped to use the toilet and continued without being searched.
We eventually hit our first up hill stint. There was the option to sit it out in the support vehicle but there was no way I was going to give up! I grit my teeth and endured the pain in my lungs and body while cycling 7Km up hill at 4500 metres above sea level. I remember hyperventilating the thin air and feeling like my lungs were going to bleed. I got the same pain in my chest that I had in the Potosi mines. It was painful but rewarding upon reaching the top. We then continued down hill towards the old mountain road.
As the sealed road turned into a dirt road, the conditions became more dangerous. There were boulders and pot holes everywhere together with narrow roads, blind turns and shear mountain drops. One mistake and it would be all over. It took a lot of concentration and balance to navigate the
treterious roads which seemed to get worse as the mountain roads deteriorated into insanity.
The stretch of road between Martyrs Of Democracy and San Juan Waterfalls was definitely the most dangerous part of the journey. The drops were spectacular. The road was narrow, just wide enough for a single vehicle. I have no idea what I would of done if I had to cross a vehicle heading up the mountain on one of the blind corners. It was intense and I felt uneasy.
While descending down the road I lost control and hit a large bolder sending me hurtling towards the edge of the mountain road. My heart was pounding so fast that I felt like I was going to have a heart attack. I had to stop for a while to calm myself down and re-orientate myself before continuing down the road.
As we descended further we cycled under the San Juan Waterfalls. Apparently the waterfalls are eating away the road making conditions extremely dangerous. It was a strange feeling cycling through a waterfall 3000 metres above sea level with a shear drop at the side of the road. The views were spectacular.
down the World Most Dangerous Road and cycled through a deep river which had flooded the road. One of the guys managed to flip his mountain bike and land in the river head first. It was hysterical, he was soaked through and extremely pissed off!
After cycling 64kms and descending 3650 metres we eventually arrived at the small town of Yolosa. We celebrated with a cold beer, collected our free T-shirt and visited an animal rescue centre before returning to the top of the road in the mini-bus.
Going back up the Worlds Most Dangerous Road in a mini-bus was far more scary than cycling down. Both Ben and Lisa were very nervous. Ben had a constant look of concern while nervously playing with the wounds on his face. I was not surprised, after all they were in a bus accident just over a week ago. Their bus had flipped over on a mountain road and nearly dropped over the side of a mountain! (photo of their bus is featured in my Elevation blog). Apparently this is quite common in Bolivia, adding to the insanity of the situation.
The road was just wide enough to accommodate the
mini-bus. The wheels of the mini-bus would often come extremely close to the edge of the mountain road. This time I was not concentrating on where I was cycling so I could spend some time taking in the shear drops. My heart was pounding, it was bloody insane!
As we ascended back up the roads we drove through the clouds. It was late afternoon, the clouds had become so thick that we couldn't actually see where we were going. There was a nervous silence on the bus while I looked around at everyone's worried expressions. We were driving so close to the edge it was surreal!
We eventually made it up to the top of the Worlds Most Dangerous Road and back into La Paz. I was exhausted by the days events. I feel asleep by 9:00pm, it was a very long and exhausting day.
Note: Watch the movies attached to the top of this blog:-
Movie 1: mini-bus up the worlds most dangerous road
Movie 2: Cycling down worlds most dangerous road