I recently lead a mountain climbing trip to Bolivia. My partners for this adventure where my brother and our dad. While climbing is our primary goal it isn't the sole purpose. We rarely miss a chance to add local cultural flavor–a museum, archaeological ruin, good restaurant, wine, tequila, etc.
So we were in La Paz when we found our schedule changing. No matter how sound your plans and schedule may seem back at home once you are 'in country' the day-to-day realities of weather, health and group dynamics will cause a schedule change. While at Oliver's Travels, a mediocre English pub, we noticed they were resellers for Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking.
So we signed up for an all day 66 km ride starting at Zongo pass (almost 16,000 ft) and ending in the jungle village of Coroico. The first 22 km is on paved road that you share with all the cars and trucks. The remainder is the 1 to 1.5 car wide dirt road that was carved into the side of the mountain.
Guard rails? There aren't any…
After meeting our guide, Dale (a Brit), we (14 clients from USA, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Holland, England)
were taken to Zongo pass via a private bus that had all of our bikes on top. From the detailed paperwork we filled out when we signed up we were given a helmet, gloves, neck warmer, black pants & jacket with a high visibility vest.
After a very thought provoking orientation—how many times did Dale say people died or ended up in a hospital?—we gave an offering of a rot gut Bolivian liquor to Pachamama (Mother Earth) by spilling a little on the front tire of our bike.
Is it eating through the rubber???
Soon were were off and spacing ourselves to avoid any multiple rider accidents. One thing we soon learned was to share the road. Bolivia is so mountainous that there aren't many highways or even roads in the country thus the few roads that do exist are busy!
Soon the easy part was over and we were about to start down the unpaved (i.e. dirt, rock, mud) section of road. Dale briefed us on more techniques on surviving to Coroico. Once out of the Altiplano it started to rain. The pants and jackets that gravity assisted provided were excellent in keeping the dirt and mud off you. Every other group that rode by only had the high vis vests and helmets while their personal cloths were getting muddy.
Being carved into the side of the mountain the road was very windy with plenty of switchbacks. Controlling speed was very important as well as staying in the left tire track through the rock and mud. Even with very fat tires the rocks could easily cause a loss of
balance and send the biker crashing. Not good when the drop off the side of the road was 50 – 1000 feet of near vertical cliffs and jungle plants.
As a safety measure we had frequent rest stops. This also allowed the guides, one in front and one at the rear, to do a head count so see if they still had 14 clients.
We didn't lose any clients this trip…
Gravity Assisted has been in business for almost 10 years and has had only one fatality. A bus passing a group of bikers on the paved section blew a tire at the same moment which sent the bus into a biker and over the edge of the road. Talk about being in the wrong place and the wrong time!
Our adrenaline filled day soon ended.
A nice add-on Gravity Assisted included in their cost was a shower, beer and buffet at a wild animal preserve/shelter outside of Coroico called La Senda Verde. (Additional beer was only 15 bolivianos) Getting the chance to relax, eat and interact with various birds and monkeys was worth it.
The ride back to La Paz was up the road we just rode down.
The price for this full day of adventure? $75 USD–worth every penny!
Get out and explore the world!