Up at 07:00, get driven to the top of The Most Dangerous Road in the World, mount up on our orange, overbuilt, full suspension, Iron Horse bikes and ride 64 km downhill. The road is a dirt track carved into the side of a mountain which connects Coroico and La Paz. It gained it's notoriety some 15 years ago when some 50 people a month used to die on it. Usually from mini-buses toppling over the side into the deep canyons below which, as you can imagine, would easily up the death count. Since they've built a new pathed road for vehicles, it's really only us mountain bikers who continue to use the old "[Death Road]`http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_Road`".
There are still plenty of grim Gringo tales of travellers meeting an untimely end, like the French girl who stepped back into thin air to let a lorry pass, or the Israeli guy who lost his balance trying to kick his mate off his bike or the Israelis who drove too fast in a hired jeep. All dead.
The first section, some 32 km, is now a paved road and we followed our guide at maximum speed, free wheeling down. We raced down, way faster than we could peddle, even in top gear. Leaning and banking round the corner chicanes and overtaking lorries on straights. Even this bit was cool! We stop at 2 police checkpoints. At the 2nd one we each had to pay 24 Bs Bicycle (read tourist) tax. Then begins the real dirt track Death Road!
The road is full of rocks, stones and shingle. It's wet, cloudy and rather slippery but that doesn't stop Sean and I from tearing down at full pelt, hot on the tail of our expert guides. We were taking the racing line round corners leaving nothing but less than a foot of ground between our wheels and the sheer drops of death below. And it seems there is never a bad time to practice your bunny hops either! I was having a great time and I also impressed Mr Mountain Biker Sean too! Like Wow!
Throw in fantastic scenery, huge views and giant Eagles circulating overhead and following you around - a fantastic day out! We barely peddled once as it's all downhill and we were each greeted with a cold beer at the bottom. Perfect!
We were driven to a posh hotel in Coroico for hot showers and dinner (Thank you B-Side, you've not let us down!) - all very nice. In fact too nice. Rather than go back to La Paz we decide to stay in Coroico and hike up the hill to Hotel Esmeralda. It's owned by a German guy and has the biggest write up Sean has ever seen in a travel book! It is lush, esp at $15 US pppn (a shared triple room with no bathroom). The views of the vast valley below are stunning, from everywhere, the bedroom, the dining room, the veranda, the swimming pool and even the pool table!
The plan tomorrow was to search out some swimmable waterfalls at the end of a 3 hour walk. Chilling in the pool we didn't see any reason why we should leave the hotel. Ever!
Up early at 07:00 to ready myself, today Sean and I are to do some hardcore Single Track Downhill Mountain Biking as seen on the New World Order Volume 6 DVD! Sean is dismayed with my "quick drink" last night. Oh well. We're out with B-Side again and have the same crew, Stephan the driver, Ariel the professional competition rider and Paul, the token British hippie. The tracks are for intermediate / advanced downhill riders (like Sean) - I don't think the crew are too impressed then I tell them I lied on my application form. I'm a complete beginner and never done anything like it before! I mean, how hard can it be?
It's a long windy drive to an altitude of 4,600m where our decent begins - speeding down a dirt track, then off road, over bumps catching air, round a downhill slippery corner where I jam on the front disk brake and find myself leaping head over heels over the handlebars. The extent of the sympathy given is Paul shouting out to the others, "Steve's just done a classic!" I need to move my weight further back behind the seat.
I'm wearing full body armour. I get a feeling I'm going to use it. A bit further on the single track starts - very steep, narrow paths down and along cliff faces, over rocks, boulders, dips and holes. I find picking your line difficult to judge because it all depends on your speed. Too slow when traversing along a slope and your front wheel looses grip, skids and slides down it into the ditch, throwing you off. Too slow into a boulder and the front suspension absorbs all the bikes speed, throwing you over the top. Too fast and everything slides, you miss the turn which usually means pain.
Foolishly I forget to bring water and towards the end of the morning I overheat in the blazing sun and body armour. I exhaust myself at altitude, dehydrate and loose energy. Coming down an amazingly steep zig-zag path with acute corners I loose it, can't find the ground and twist my right ankle. Bollocks. Still I make it back to the van for lunch of fried chicken fast food and pain killers.
We drive to the top of another mountain for the afternoon run. This one is harder, much harder. Same as earlier but with added sheer death drops down the side of 1 foot ridge paths, littered with gaping holes and canyons. These paths are so nasty you would think twice before even walking down them! I can honestly say I was very concerned for my safety (read afraid!) for the first time in a very long time (a decade maybe?). Especially after I came off and mushed up the 3rd finger on my right hand. It swelled up, is bent at a funny angle and looks broken.
Paul says he's genuinely impressed with my riding given it's my first time and says he wouldn't have chosen this as his first track! I'm also pleased that everyone else fell off at some point too (but to a lesser extent). I make it down the mountain, skimmed over a rickety wooden bridge and was greeted with a cold beer. A fantastic day out!
Dinner at Sol y Lunar and Ana &I go for a night cap at Oliver's Travels. I'm sorry to say that due to the heat, altitude, fear, hard work and attentiveness of the day I was exhausted and had to keep it to just the one. I'm up early again tomorrow...