We survived the death road!! And got the t-shirt

Published: June 1st 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

So, we’re skint, sat in La Paz feeling a bit jaded. We’ve got a few days to burn. We’ve done one of the hardest Peruvian treks having never trekked before, so what do we do? With ZERO proper mountain biking experience, we decide to sign up for the “DEATH ROAD” Mountain Biking. Nice.

The whole time we’d said, “Nah not our thing” and “Why bother, if people die on that thing?” I think the amount of denial and pure terror surrounding the prestigious “Death Road” just outside La Paz finally got to us. That and everyone in the hostel having done it and said it was amazing!!

Even though the road is rarely used now, with vehicles using a new tarmac road, we’d still heard all sorts of horror stories of injuries and even deaths!!! We found out that a 23 year old British, Oxford University student, on a gap year had died on the road 7 days before we’d set off. Such a sad sad story which to be honest kept me up for most of the night before wondering luck and what we do when we get the travel bug. It makes you do things well out of your comfort zone.

7am we set off. We jumped in the van up to the highest point - 4700m, joined by a German, Spaniard and a Norwegian girl. The 2nd van had some other Brits, Kiwis and South Africans; 9 of us in total. We were introduced to our guide for the day; Marcelo, and were fitted up with all our gear; knee guards, elbow guards, helmet, waterproofs and our bikes. All were in great condition and were definitely well serviced and looked after. Tentatively we started riding around the flat car park, before heading off down the hill.
The first part was great, smooth tarmac. Getting used to the bike and surroundings and going pretty damn fast. Thoughts of..“This is going well” & “This death road isn’t so bad” were running through our heads. Stopping from time to time to regroup we eventually approached a tunnel....”So this is the start of the death road”....hmm. A small rocky track spiralled down into the distance, no more than a path or a rocky bridleway at most!! Scarily massive trucks had driven up and down this for years.

Immediately I almost fell off my bike as I got used to the terrain, with a little giggle from Iola behind me (Iola - note I kept up with Steve down the tarmac - I was like a speed demon - not the slowest anymore am I - grrr)!!

Now even more tentatively we made our way down, with one of the guides hurtling ahead to get in position to take photos of us. Mentalist.

Within the first few hours we had descended a couple of thousand meters and we were noticing a distinct change in the surroundings and temperature (and sand flies). We stopped for lunch under a waterfall with spectacular views of the corners with sheer 200 meter drops (with no barriers) that awaited us. Intimidating...yes. And this was the most challenging part.

This story is getting a bit drawn out, because “yes”, we obviously survived!!! In the end it wasn’t half as scary as we built it up to be, and by about half way down, we were going pretty damn fast!!! Iola especially, who was the fastest of the girls (Iola - yes, this is correct. Brap)!! The memorial to the young chap who had died the week before was very sad, and it felt quite emotional as he wasn’t doing anything different to us, just travelling and enjoying life, so safe to say it pulled a few heart strings. There were also other memorials to travellers who had died, but this was the most recent.

By the end of the 4 hour ride we had covered 68km and descended 3600m (ish), and it was definitely time for a beer at the bottom to celebrate our survival, as somebody put it very well “It’s not how fast you do it, it’s just the fact that you survive!!”, and we both now have the T-Shirt to prove it.

Anyone one scared of doing it......in a Zoolander voice.....”DO IT”.

Additional photos below
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