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The world’s most dangerous road, by bike and bus (Page 2)

The world's most dangerous road © Gravity AssistedWe started at La Cumbre Pass, 4,650m above sea level, where we were given gloves, helmets, jackets, waterproof trousers, reflective vests, goggles, water and our bikes with the front brake on our preferred side. After a safety talk and riding practice in the large car park, we set off.

The ride descends to the town of Coroico at 1,200m over 67km. That’s a drop of 3,600m. The first part is on the new two-lane, smooth highway; perfect for getting used to the bike. The views of the Andean altiplano are distracting, but I needed all my powers of concentration to stay on my bike. Some riders reach speeds of up to 80km/hr. I tended to stick at a more sober 30km/hr. Even before reaching the Unduavi Checkpoint, 1,600m below La Cumbre, one girl in our group fell off and needed stitches.

The checkpoint marks an arbitrary half-way point. As the altitude drops the temperature rises and layers of clothing are shed. Next is an intense 10-km uphill section, attempted only by the fittest cyclists in our group – at 3,000m oxygen is in short supply – while the rest, including me (I wasn’t feeling very well…), hitched a lift in the minibus.

The world's most dangerous road © Gravity AssistedAfter the uphill struggle, the road split. To the left went the new road, safe and comforting. Over the ridge to the right lay the old, dangerous road, hugging the vertiginous slopes of a lush mountainside. I got back on my bike (whose brakes had been thoroughly checked once more by the Gravity Assisted staff) and wobbled over the ridge. It was that or turn back, and I hate to turn back.

This is where the hype was (almost) merited. In places the road is no wider than 3.2m and made more terrifying by the loose rubble that covers it. Waterfalls cascade from rocky overhangs and dash the already questionable surface making it even more slippery, especially for big trucks and buses. To my left the road abruptly gave way to extreme drops of, at times, over 600m.

We were told to cycle on the left, in the wheel ruts closest to the edge. Some traffic does still travel by this road so we had to obey the traffic rules. On the Death Road, vehicles drive on the left, rather than the right as throughout the rest of Bolivia. This gives drivers with left-hand vehicles, and presumably with nerves of steel, a clearer view of how close their outside wheel is to the cliff top.

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Overland Traveller copyright © Emma Field 2010