Death Road Ride - El Camino de la Muerta, My Bike, and Me
I had come to the top of the Yungas Road, also known as Death Road this morning. I had been making the trek northward from Patagonia with no idea of what I wanted to do or where I was going. Along the way I got drunk in a bodega in Mendoza, got the flu in Salta, and ate real locro in Jujuy. Fun, but not real adventure. Then over a cup of coffee in a grimy bus café, an Aussie couple told me about the world’s most dangerous road, Yungas Road. They showed me a map and explained how I could rent a bike and a guide for the Yungas Road which connected the Northern Bolivian rain forest of Bolivia to La Paz through a mountain. It was guardrail-less, paralleled six hundred metre drops, and was often swamped in thick, rising fog. The couple insisted that trek down this road was worth ten trips anywhere. That afternoon I bought a ticket to La Paz, and hunkered down in a hostel for the night. After a long sleep, I inquired about getting a guide and bike. The owner smiled and made a call. Forty minutes later I was in a beat up Jeep driven by a silent yet friendly middle aged man with a greasy yellow mountain bike strapped to the top.
I took a breath and began my journey down Death Road. The bike picked up speed and my wrist tightened on the brake. My adrenal glands began pumping. I had been on a road like this one outside of the small Chinese city of Lai Wu. It was smooth and wide. This road was anything but. My front wheel hit a rut and I swung the handle bars to the left. I could see the edge of the canyon on my right and felt my muscles lock. The road got steeper and although the road looked scary, I felt a rhythm in my wrists. I worked the brakes only slightly and let myself go faster down the hill. The gravel popped underneath the wheels and a thick wind came up. The adrenal feeling returned in full force. I continued to steer, fast, steady, and carefree. The landscape beside the road was wide and vast, and seemed to lead me safely to the bottom. In retrospect, I realized it was also handy that there were no vehicles on road during my trip down.
Every minute seemed like an hour, yet it was only some minutes. I brought my bike to a halt and looked up. I wondered how far down I had come, but it soon donned on me that it wasn’t important. Just coming down the way I did was enough, knowing that hundreds of people over the years had died on this stretch, both in bike and car accidents.
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