After our guides, professional downhill racers, passed out our bikes and gave us a “crash course” in braking and steering our mountain bikes, we were off for the first part of the trip down the paved part of the road. Smooth and wide, this leg was for the real speed demons. We soon reached the dirt road, the officially dangerous part, and I lost my initial bravado. We rode a few inches from the cliff side – with no guardrail to save us – my hands with a death grip on the brakes. A few minutes into it, the road almost claimed its first victim for the day. A young English woman, Jen, didn’t have a good feel for her bike and fell over – her bike slid off the cliff and she went along with it and dangled over the edge a few seconds before being pulled back up. She was fine, just a bit shaken up, and decided to ride on the bus that followed behind us the rest of the way. At least she can brag that she fell off a cliff on her holidays, I told her. Despite the near-death experience fresh in our minds, the whole group got going faster and faster, getting a thrill from swerving past rocks and passing the occasional lumbering flatbed truck that was kicking up massive dust clouds. But let’s just get it out in the open: No matter how cool the lot of us felt, zooming past looming cliff faces and leaning into hairpin turns, in our goggles and fluorescent safety vests, we looked ridiculous to the Bolivians who passed us by – some openly laughing, others staring with a combination of curiosity and bewilderment. I felt like a stupid gringo tourist, but consoled myself with the fact that no one could actually tell who I was with my helmet and eye gear on. Plus it was way too much fun to worry about looking dumb. I stretched out my sore hands, sipped water and enjoyed the vista of lush green mountainsides on the short breaks we took along the way. We couldn’t stop to take photos, so the guides took photos for us, and even shot short videos of us as we rode under waterfalls and through a stream. All the way down, the combination of mud and dust gradually caked my entire body. At the bottom, the others looked at my dirty face with a combination of amusement and pity. Luckily there were no mirrors in the tiny restaurant where we stopped. Exhausted, exhilarated and with a sore butt, all I cared about was enjoying an ice cold Pacena beer. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! LA PAZ, Bolivia – “The World’s Most Dangerous Road,” or as some call it “WMDR,” is not filled with land mines or armed guerrillas. No, it is a combination of instant-death cliff drops, mud and bad driving that led the Inter-American Development Bank to christen this Bolivian road with such a notorious name 10 years ago. The narrow, winding mountain road links the Bolivian capital La Paz to the tiny village of Coroico – it starts at 15,400 feet in the Andes and descends 11,800 feet into the Yungas valley in 40 miles. The perfect road to race down in a mountain bike. Instead of being a major black eye for the local tourist industry, the “WMDR” status has been turned into a marketing coup, with backpackers ready to wrap themselves in macho mystique falling over themselves to bike down the road with one of the several tour groups. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORERose Parade grand marshal Rita Moreno talks New Year’s Day outfit and ‘West Side Story’ remake But what’s the attraction for people with no death wish? When you take your eyes off the road, it’s got spectacular views all the way down. The change in the environment as you drop down into the Yungas valley is extreme. We started our trip on a mountain pass outside La Paz that only two months ago was blanketed with snow. It’s the harsh Bolivian highlands, with sparse plants and people scraping by growing potatoes and herding llamas. It was hard for me to believe that just a few hours later we would be ripping off our wooly hats and sweaters, surrounded by banana trees, waterfalls and butterflies. I had been imagining casually mentioning to my friends back in California: “Oh yeah, I’ve been down the World’s Most Dangerous Road … no biggie.” I was thinking more about the scenery up ahead than about the possibility of falling thousands of feet off a cliff. Little did I know our group would have a brush with death.