Scared to death I pulled on my breaks praying I wouldn’t go over the edge. Sometimes activities live up to their reputations. Billed as the “death road”, the world-famous La Paz to Coroico mountain bike ride is a spectacular and thrilling downhill ride on a dangerous, old, gravel road. Popular on the backpacker circuit, we had heard about the ride as far away as Nicaragua and were practically salivating to get to Bolivia for it.
Suiting up in moto-cross gear, we felt invincible, especially when we saw that the other tour groups were only in reflective vests. I’m not going to lie, the gear was cool. We zipped down the asphalt, where riders have been clocked at over 80 km/h, hugging the curves and pedaling hard on the straight aways. Loving the adrenaline rush of the speed, I was still a little nervous and pretty liberal on the brake. I have no idea how fast I was actually going, but trust me, I was on the verge of out of control.
With so many riders out on the road I expected to see many more crashes. After all, its not called death road for nothing. Twice along the road we saw memorial plaques to riders involved in fatal accidents, one only a few years ago. Fortunately or unfortunately, whatever your opinion may be, I saw only one person skid out the entire 5 hour ride, and he jumped right back up and onto his bike. Nothing like last year’s tour de france crash.
The gravel section was incredible. Only about one lane wide, the old gravel road was in terrible shape. Besides the steep downhill grade, the road was marked with potholes and big rocks. Vibrating and shaking because of the rocky surface, we navigated the serpentine turns white knuckled. Literally riding on the edge, it was the perfect balance of fear and excitement. I loved every minute of it.
The stories we had heard and the scars we had seen seem to be urban legends for the road, while not exactly the safest, was certainly not a death sentence. In fact, it seems that most of the people who crash or go over the side are experienced mountain bikers trying to do tricks, while the rest of the people are just trying to make it down in one piece.
Five hours of downhill riding from 4800m to about 1200m and we were still in one piece. Pulling into Coroico for a celebratory beer, buffet and swim, I wanted to do it again.