Mary O´Sullivan, You Are Not Going To Like This
The World´s Most Dangerous Road. The Road Of Death. The Road Of Sheer Terror and 1000m Cliff Faces. The Road That Strikes Fear Into The Hearts Of Mothers The World Over.
I´m afraid the boys and I went down it at an average of 40kmph yesterday, on mountainbikes and then drove back up in a rickety GMC van afterwards.
It had taken us a number of weeks to decide whether to proceed or not. The arguement flittered back and forth:"It´ll be the experience of a lifetime!""Yes, but the drop, man, the drop!""Okay, admittedly there are 1000m falls to the left hand side, but think of the scenery!""A truck went off yesterday, killing the driver, his wife, and their cargo of sheep""But the excitement!""It´s cursed. Said so in Wikipedia""Mary Harney sprung from that valley""Have you seen the pictures?
""Of the Israeli with half his head missing? Went off last year"
In the end stupidity won, and we walked silently to the Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking agency in La Paz, looked at some pictures, examined safety records, cross-examined the staff. Soon enough, we were hyperventilating, signing insurance disclaimers, picking T-shirts and requesting decidedly non vegetarian food for the trip down. Yet more debating:"You guys are the best, right?"(Heavily accented English) "We haf nefer lost a customer""And injuries? How about injuries""Ya, last year we haf a man fall down and break his skull but he was trying to catch a butterfly and was a stupid pixiehead. I am sure you are not pixieheaded focks now, are you?""No""Gut. You Irish are sometimes stupid pixieheads and I do not like it"
As we settled into restaurant chairs later that night we discussed the wisdom of the decision and agreed it was the correct one. The company we had selected was the longest established and safest of them all and, as darling Sieglinda had pointed out, had never lost a customer. It would be stupendous. It would be a once in a lifetime experience. But, as someone else said, you only have one lifetime. And who could blame us when confronted with this?
As we ascended from La Paz to our start point at 4500m, my heart began to pound and the air started to get thinner. The group made gallows humour jokes and we guffawed at the profound stupidity and danger of what we were about to attempt. We were introduced to our guides, Anne and Rodrigo, and began to feel a little more secure. Anne is 13th in the world mountain bike rankings, and Rodrigo is a member of the Vertigo team, one of the top outfits worldwide. We received a pretty firm lecture on what and what not to do and took charge of our safety equipment and Kona bikes, complete with shock suspension and disc brakes. After an Almayra ritual asking the Earth Mother for protection (swig of 95% alcohol, cry of "Patchamama sancta terra!"
) we took off on the initial 18km paved highway descent.
What a rush! Cruising at 50kmph around beautifully cambered s-bends with the wind whistling through your ears at 4300m is quite a pleasurable experience, especially when equipped with the best bike money can buy. Pretty soon, the look of terror turned to a broad grin and a little giggle or two, why not? If you are an inch away from oblivion at speed, you might as well allow yourself a little humour.
Cocksure and swaggering, we pulled in for our first drugs check before cursing and spluttering out way through a 6km uphill section which was a little taxing as the oxygen concentration was of the order of 0.00004%. Redfaced and panting we arrived at the entry point to the vaunted, much famed Road and stopped for another lecture. Anne:"Okaaaay, you are aboot (she´s canadian) to cycle down the most dangerous road in the world! Word of advice! Don´t fuck with it! It has killed more people than Jeff Dahmer on a good day! You are an inexperienced cyclist an a road you´ve never seen before! And do not fuck with me! If I see you cycling in a way that endangers you and those around you I will put you in the bus where you fucking belong! And I do not like accidents! If you fall over the edge through an act of bravado, and survive, I will wait until you crawl on one leg back up to the ledge and then I will fucking kill you myself! And boys- no metaphorical comparison of cock size, please!"
The safety directions are straightforward but they work: don´t be an idiot (as outlined above), park your bike and yourself on the cliff edge, bike outermost, if a car or truck is coming. Obey the whistle at all time (i.e. stop when your guide tells you). Finally, don´t overtake on a blind bend. It was only after the third bend, when the leader of rival company group went over the handlebars while trying to overtake a truck on a blind bend, a sheer drop to his left, did it become apparent how important the rules were. The guy was a total gobshite, unsafe, and putting his entire group at risk.
We zipped off down the mountain at as great a speed as we dared, as it allowed the bike to ride over the large stones littering the track and kept everything going in a stright line. The views were simply breathtaking, but looking at them for too long wasn´t a particularly good idea, as it detracted attention from the road ahead. Everything was dandy, and that old competitive urge began to creep in, especially amongst the boys. That is, until we noticed the crosses marking the final resting places of guys who thought they
should be in front. So progress was slower thereafter, but none the less exhilarating. The terrain ranged from altiplano to pampas to jungle as we sped under waterfalls and through rivers, a 1000m drop perpetually a metre to the left. Oddly, the drop became less of a factor; it was apparent that the oncoming traffic was a greater danger. It seems to me that going down by bike is safer than by car- you have greater control, can handle the terrain better, and at the very least can jump off of things are getting a little too exciting. Off the bike that is.
Soon, the end beckoned and we cruised to destination, dust laden, sweat dripping and over the moon. As we sank the best tasting beer of all time surrounded by tropical wildlife, a sense of acheivement surrounded the group and a great whoop went up. We´d survived, unscathed, and would have something to lord over the rest of humanity for the rest of time:Oh yeah? Well I did the World´s Most Dangerous Road. How´d ya like that?Muiris´s Top Eleven Rules For Surviving the Road Of Death
1. Go with Gravity. They have the best bikes, the best guides, and a proven record.
2. Don´t do it cheaply. Cheap means standard brakes and no suspension, and death or a broken face.
3. If you think there´s something wrong with your bike, stop and refuse to continue until you are satisfied the issue has been resolved.
4. Wear something to protect your head, your eyes and your lungs.
5. When you encounter a truck, car, or van, stop and park your bike. Don´t try to cycle the tightrope between the 1000m drop and the impatient lorry driver.
6. Cycle on the left, about a metre in from the edge. Do not cycle in the middle or try to overtake on a blind bend.
7. It´s not a race. If you want to show everyone what a big man you are, walk through Jobstown, naked, shouting "Affluence!"
8. Go at a speed with which you are comfortable, but fast enough to ride the bumps safely.
9. DON´T admire the view, take pictures, adjust your waistband, or called your mother while in the saddle.
10. Don´t pretend to be dead. The guides don´t really like it.
11. If you can´t handle it, get in the bus. Noone will call you a chicken.Other News
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It is back with a vengeance. Bolivia is Heft Central.Next Time on this bloody thing that noone reads:The boys enjoy wildlife in the yunga of Runnebaque....John informs me that he can kill me with one finger....Yet more deep thoughts.....Dave falls for a Spider Monkey named Kevin.....
All this and more on Hefty Women, sending Bolivian truck drivers over the edge since 2006