Thursday, December 01, 2005

The World`s Most Dangerous Road

hey troops

Earlier this week I went for a little mountain bike ride. I had heard stories about this so called "World's Most Dangerous Road" or "Death Road" and had to experience it first hand. Everybody I had met during my travels told me about this ride and what an experience was gonna be for me. They were right. This thing was a blast!

The World`s Most Dangerous Road is a twisting, turning, fear imposing, hair raising, bone rattling, teeth clenching, muscle bruising, adrenaline releasing, why in the hell did i sign up for this in the first place type ride. It is a 70km ride that starts outside of La Paz at a brisk 4700m and winds down to Corioco, Bolivia at around 1300m. Some downhill stretches lasted over two hours.

We started off the day at La Terraza cafe to get a little breakfast before we started the ride. I didn't sleep well the night before because I was worried I was gonna oversleep and miss the 745 departure. Our group of guys got there at about 630 in the morning so we wouldn't miss breakfast. One thing that I have noticed here in Bolivia that sometimes annoys me is the concept of time. Ten or 15 minutes in Bolivian Time can mean over an hour, waiting for food can get pretty annoying. Especially if you gotta be somewhere or do something (like ride a bike on WMDR). We thought we got there in plenty of time but had to get takeout boxes cause the bus was leavin. At least we got something to eat.

The WMDR is just a short 30 or 40 minutes away from La Paz and we were on our way. Being one of the last to get my food meant that I was one of the last to find a seat on the bus and I got pretty much the smallest one. About 10 minutes into the ride we were having some technical problems. The bus was puffin some serious smoke and we had to make a one hour pit stop and wait for a replacement vehicle. Not the best sign to see our vehicle breaking down as we are making this trek. To look on the bright side at least it didn't break down during the middle of the ride or on the way back. That woulda been a real pain. After the replacement vehicle arrived we were back on track.

No Turning Back!We arrived at the starting point and tried on our bikes as well as safety equipment. Riding gloves, florescent riding vests and helmets were all standard gear for the trip. We all got a good laugh from the rider who had his helmet on backwards. It was kinda funny, but worrisome at the same time. Ya gotta think to yourself "If this guy cant wear a helmet right, how in the hell is he gonna fare on the ride." Riding goggles were an option that i selected. The Kona I rode was an excellent bike and was the biggest one they had. Each bike was identified by a little sticker...Some people had Pica Chu or dragons as their sticker. I was proud to sport The Hulk sticker. Its all about the gameface, baby!I felt bad for one guy who had the Snow White bike. The suggestion to attach pink streamers to the handlebars and add training wheels was politely declined. Oh, it was also good to see a well-oiled chain true wheels, and hydraulic disk breaks that were very responsive. This bike was ready for the road. There are quite a few travel operators that do the La Paz to Corioco ride. However, the guide books only recommend the group that I went with and that's because they are really the only ones who maintain the production capacity of their bikes. After going on the ride I am glad I paid the extra 20 bucks.

We are ready. We are set. Everybody is primed to get this show on the road. But first a little safety briefing from our friends at Gravity Bolivia.

Rule Number One: Don't Be An Idiot! This is not a race and there are no prizes.
Rule Number Two: Give the person ahead of you plenty of time and space. Don't cut anybody off.
Rule Number Three: When leaning into a right right handed curve you should position the pedals so your right foot is up. Remember: Right Turn - Right Peddle Up; Left Turn - Left Peddle Up.
Rule Number Four: The Ruff Rider Position. The Ruff Rider Position enables you to withstand lots of the bumps on the road. The rider stands on the bike with the peddles parallel to the road and absorbs a lot more shock. If you do not do the Ruff Rider Position then you will feel it in the morning. As our guide Ian said, "If you do not do the Ruff Rider Position you will feel as though you have been fully violated."
Rule Number Five: The 70/30 rule. Seventy percent of your brake pressure should be on the rear brake and 30 percent should be on the front. If you reverse this, then you will do a Peter Pan over the handle bars because the front breaks are super strong and you are an idiot.
Rule Number Six: Don't crisscross your chain. ie..don't position your derailleurs so the chain is on the far right gear up front and on the far left gear in the back or vicea-versea. This is a no-no in the biking world.
Rule Number Seven: Watch out for baby heads. Baby heads are small boulders about the size of...yea, well, a baby`s head.
Rule Number Eight: Stay to the right side pavement on the first portion of the ride. When riding on the WMDR stay to the left and dismount to the right side of your bike when a huge truck comes close. We don't need anybody to become truck bait and we dont wanna hafta send a crew to rescue your bike.

A little for me and a little for my hommies!After we went through the rules we performed an offering to Pachamama. Pachamama is Mother Earth and is performed to prevent any injuries or deaths. The offering is a sip of 90 proof alcohol that can also be used as a disinfectant. We all took sips and winced at the strength of it. So, Bikes...check. Rules...check. Offering...check. We are ready to roll. The first hour or so of the ride was over a paved surface and we were freakin burnin! The hum of the tires and the sound of the air whipping through your clothes was all you could hear. Peddling was unnecessary because my body weight had more than enough momentum to carry me through this portion.

The first portion was more of a "hey, lets get you acquainted with this bike and the rules so you don't kill yourself on the next portion." training portion.

The pavement ended and the second portion of our ride began. This was the real, actual, living and breathing World´s Most Dangerous Road. It was a mixture of beauty and fear because this is mostly a one-way road built for two-way traffic. Paved? Faughettaboutttit! The road is a mishmash of packed dirt, crushed stones, dust, waterfalls, 1000m dropoffs all bundled together with incredible views.

The rules are a little different here on the WMDR. For one, traffic drives on the left hand side of the road so drivers can see how far to the edge they can really get. There are little traffic bays every 50 meters or so which allows drivers to move to one side so they can allow oncomming traffic to pass. Right of way is kinda ignored because the driver with the largest vehicle really rules the road.

The big rule that our guide wanted us to know is whenever there were huge lorrie trucks coming it was best to dismount your bike with a ninja roundhouse kick and put the bike between you and the cliff. Putting you between the bike and cliff would result in death if you were to take a step backwards or something.

So we set off down the WMDR and regrouped every 10 minutes or so just to make sure that nobody was left stranded. Our group had three guides. One would lead, the next would hang in the middle and the last would round of the stragglers. I was definetly a stragler. This was intentional because it seems whenever you are at the front of the pack there are lots of overconfident beginners riding WAY too close and that really got on my nerves. So I hung in the back of the pack and there just so happened to be two french girls there too. I really just like to lag behind, really.

The WMDR will thrououghly shake you. No ifs-ands-or-buts about it - we had a glorious day to ride and the road was ready for us. One stretch really beat the heck outta me because it was nonstop breaking and constant rattling. The ride was so rattling and speedy that my hands began to cramp up from the constant pressure applied to The Hulk.

Huge cargo lorries, huge petro tanker trucks, construction equipment, blind curves are all part of the WMDR. There are all types of imaginable terraine on this road. And they all seem to come together at the same time. We got to one point where there were:
A) two huge tanker trucks coming at us.
B) one lane.
C) huge cliff dropoff.
D) The San Juan Waterfalls falling onto the road.
E) all of the above.

But we surrived. We surrived with the help of some really good guides, common sense, human traffic lights that guided us around blind corners.

more on this when i get back from some dinner.


Anonymous said...

Hey james,
So if your life as a jepardy games what 7 categories would it be?
That's an awesome book.
Thanks for the tip

Anonymous said...

Hey James,
Glad you made it down the WMDR alive! Nice pics by the way!



Avi Abrams said...

really enjoyed your story. glad you are OK