anybody ride the "Highway of death"?

This is the highway that connects the capital of Bolivia (La Paz) with Brazil, to the east. It’s a scarey trip, with narrow turnouts (no guard rails), with 5000 foot drops off the sides. The highway was built , starting in the 1940’s, and is a major truck route-it looks scarey as hell to me! Does “Lonely Planet” advise taking this route?

Yeah, I’ve done it back it 2002. It’s every bit as sketchy as described on the TV show. I was too cheap to pay for the American (European?) company and ran with the local Bolivian company. It’s not all that dangerous on a mountain bike, as you can just as easily kill yourself flying off the side of a cliff in California. I scoped out the bikes pretty carefully at the beginning and snagged one that was more or less functional. Half way down, someone snaked mine and I ended up with a pile of shit with a marginally functional suspension and somewhat questionable brakes.

It is a fantastically beautiful ride, and the bus ride back is way scarier than the bike ride down. It was pretty foggy in spots and raining quite a bit. I’m not surprised that the one Israeli girl died. From a statistical perspective, there’s bound to be at least a couple of accidents, and if you haven’t spent much time mountain biking, you might get more of a head of steam going than you expect.

The trucks actually switch sides of the road. That is, you drive on the left side of the road so you can see the edge of the road and try to keep your tires from slipping over the side of the cliff. I really have no idea how those truck drivers can make that trip. Seriously huge huevos.

It was fantastically fun and I recommend it highly. You only have to pedal for about a half a mile during the entire descent. I’m pretty sure Lonely Planet recommends using the expensive American tour company.

Is that the only route or is there an alternate one?

I’m pretty sure they are building an alternative route, much of which is on the other side of the canyon. You can see bits of the road gash carved out. It appears to be a bit wider with more modern engineering (Didn’t the TV show say that much of the current highway was dug with picks and shovels?) and follows a more sensible rideline route. This being Bolivia, I’m sure it will be complete within 60 or 70 years.

I think the highway terminates in some village down in the Amazon jungle. The bike ride stops once the road ceases to descend. I don’t think the road is part of the Trans Amazon highway (All the Google references to this road imply that it doesn’t actually go though to the Pacific). In other words, there ain’t no other way back except a plane or a boat down a river.

Wow, how timely! Two of my friends are in South America right now, and one of them just did a bike ride down that very road last week. Here is what he had to say about it:

A Canadian dude I met in Tibet last year told me that he went on a bus trip down that highway in 2002. He said there was torrential rain and the wiper didn’t work on the driver’s side, so the driver’s assistant climbed out onto the windshield with a rag tied onto a piece of string that was wrapped around the entire windshield. The assistant then got back in and pulled the rag backwards and forwards, clearing a tiny smear of windshield for the driver to see. All this was performed while the driver was hurtling down the road at a high speed. IN THE DARK.

I would do anything for travel, but I won’t do that.