Death Road, Bolivia – a story of survival

​There we were, climbing to the peak of the mountain at 4800 metres in preparation for the exhilarating descent. The oxygen deprivation was slowly becoming visible as some of us panted for air at every word, others talked and walked slower to avoid exhaustion and some stopped every few steps to try and take a deep breath. We had been told never to try taking deep breaths in such thin air, but it’s the natural reaction. As we arrived we saw the two wheeled instruments laid out according to height, suits and helmets in front of them and most importantly a picnic of tea, bread and jam. We tucked into the marvellous feast before getting dressed and finding our allocated bicycles. We tried and tested them, looked at breaks, re adjusted seats and looked down at the long road that we were about to face. 56 km of road, downhill winding routes, meeting with other vehicles, waterfalls, narrow paths and cliffs so steep but beautiful that plunging to your death was not even a thought as we admired the breath taking views.

We straddled the two wheeled speed machines, posed for a few photos as we were poised and prepared for the descent. The guide started 10 metres in front of us. And off we went. The first section of road is smooth tarmac for 20 km which allowed us to reach speeds of nearly 50 km per hour on the bikes. The wind swept past each of us as we practically flew down the mountains. We didn’t show any signs of slowing down, not even for curves. It was seemless, it felt like we could go on forever on that road. Some of us howled in excitement, taking some of the paths with jumps, screaming in ecstasy, the adrenaline urging us to go faster and faster. It was freedom. At this point all the fear swept away. No one cared if they fell off the mountain, the only thing that mattered was the velocity that we could reach as we continued down the mountain.

The effortless ride soon gave way to the gravel path. The mountain bikes were more than prepared, good suspension and responsive breaks. However, the riders were tricked. We were comfortable on our tarmac descent only to be met by huge stones, landslides and a whole 36 km of road that made each of us sound like red Indians ahh-ing and tapping our mouths at the same time for effect. Our wrists soon began to ache with the continuous impact and struggle to break on the slippery gravel. The previous night’s storm began to show its remains, huge puddles, muddy paths, and all of us looked like we had an untimely accident on the bikes as the brown slime dripped from the top of our backs to the wheels of the bikes. We were not discouraged. This was going to be the most scenic part. We rode on.

Some of us started feeling aches on previous injuries, dislocated shoulders, bad knees, weak backs and broken coccyx, everything slowly but surely started to twinge as the suspension seemed to do little each time to ease the pain. Many couldn’t get up for long periods of time on the bike any longer. Others kept hitting big rocks which swerved the bikes slightly. Yet we were determined, all damned if we were to give up now so close to the end and so close to the buffet lunch and swimming pool we were promised at the start of this adventure. We continued, riding through waterfalls, getting absolutely drenched and dry within instants. We took each corner carefully this time, as the unpredictable nature of the road made us all slow down in pace. The last 10 km or so were flat, forcing us to pedal after all the hard work downhill. It was picturesque, sunny and the lush green mountains covered the path that was once upon a time brought death to many cyclists. Up until 2014 an average of 300 a year used to die on bikes and larger road vehicles. We paid our respects as we calmly made our way to the final stop. Exhausted and completely overwhelmed by the ride we stopped. We survived. We were death road survivors. 3 to 4 hours of cycling later and we were stood looking back at our challenge, a challenge we had overcome with sweat and what looked like shit on our backs. We did it.

**********

Woah, this is a very different post to what I have written before, and even if you didn’t like it I enjoyed it thoroghly. Combining my love of travel and writing into a creative piece was quite fun.

I have to say, some advice as always: if you are not a confident cyclist this could be quite tasking and at points intimidating. So do your research and watch some videos and see some photos.

Finally, if you are but still want to try it, hell just do it!

Lastly, this is from personal experience, if you had a case of travel tummy and the runs the night before, either be sure you can control yourself and are hydrated enough for it, or don’t do it. I was so determined to finish it that even feeling like death on death road (ha!) I still carried on.