I was up at 6am for an early breakfast before heading to the meet up point (which was at a British Tavern!) for a mountain bike tour, down the "Worlds Most Dangerous Road". This 65km downhill bike ride was one of the things I most wanted to do in Bolivia and after hearing a few horror stories about some fatal accidents, I decided to book with the best operator I could find, Gravity Tours, who assured my safety.
My group (12 riders, so nice and small) was bused up to a start point about an hour out of La Paz, at a place called La Cumbre (4700m). The group were a nice bunch and a mix of nationalities (French, German and British) and ages. During the bus ride our guide Marcus (Australian) explained the day to us in detail and went over safety instructions, he also handed out protective clothing which also doubled up as giving more warmth because it was freezing cold at the start. Once at the snow covered summit the bikes were off loaded from the top of the minivan (which was also our back up vehicle following behind the group during the duration of the ride) and each rider was fitted and given instructions on safe braking techniques. This was to come in very handy considering you were pretty much braking the whole way down to avoid flying off the side of the road with a 400ft drop!
The group were eager to get going and after a quick offering to "Pachamama" by way of throwing a few drops of the local alcohol over our bikes and the ground, we set off single file with Marcus at the front and another guide at the back behind the slowest rider. The first section of the ride was on Tarmac and was used also by trucks and public vehicles, the descent was pretty fast paced and the scenery spectacular, the group made several stops to ensure all riders were comfortable and at each stop Marcus would explain what the next part of the ride had in store for us. The weather started to turn very cloudy and as we got lower and closer to the actual "Death Road" rainy. It was at this point just before we entered the "Death Road" that I realized my back brake was not working correctly. Given this is the most important brake as we were constantly told "the front brake is not your friend" (due to the fact one would go flying over the handle bars if not used correctly) I was rather relived when my bike was switched for the spare, but also nervous that I'd now be doing the hardest part of the ride on a bike i was not really familiar with.
"Death Road" was narrow, scary in places and fun. There were very few cars and I soon got used to the unpaved road. As we got lower down the rain stopped the clouds disappeared and we were treated to stunning views of mountains, countryside and coca plantations. After around 6 hours of downhill biking we reached the end which was an animal refuge called La Senda Verde where the main attractions were the rescued monkeys. A rather basic late pasta lunch was provided and the mini van then bused us 3 hours back to La Paz.