Illustration: Saksham Arora
What started with a bike ride to the Khardung La pass at 20, snowballed into a series of adventures: a round-the-world trip on a Yezdi Roadking in the mid ’90s and the 2017 Trans-Siberian Odyssey, among others. In late July last year, I, along with riders Avinash PS and Deepak Gupta embarked on a 51,000 km ride from Anchorage, Alaska. Ninety nine days later, we arrived at Ushuaia, Argentina, concluding the Dominar Polar Odyssey across 15 continents that was marred with brutal terrains – slush, blizzards, snow storms, rainfall. My choice of ride for the latest journey was the Bajaj Dominar 400 cc and we tackled several rugged zones along the way: the loneliest road (Dalton Highway) and Coldfoot in Alaska, Tuktoyaktuk – land of the Pingos, Rocky mountain ridges of Canada, Route 66: the mother road of North America and the Bolivian Dakar rally desert roads.
For someone who has managed to get the rubber side down across all seven continents, here’s my pick of the top five deathly trails and what gives them the daunting tag.
1. Death Road, Bolivia
Topping the list is the 60 km long, single lane mountainous road that got its notorious title after numerous deaths were recorded along it. Also known as the Yungas Road, in certain stretches it drops to up to 2,000 feet deep.
When we started, it was well past sunset and raining heavily. Although we missed out the scenic views, riding in the dark through waterfall curtains was thrilling. It is possibly the only road in the Western Hemisphere where we get to keep left and that is a big consolation as we are away from the cliff. Knowing the terrain before you venture out and speaking to locals about weather conditions are important.
The road is at an elevation as you pass the La Cumbre Pass at 15,260 feet and the oxygen flow can be challenging. It is a desolated area with unpaved stretches and prone to landslides, so watch out for debris that can throw you off balance.
Best season:Summer (November to March)
2. Road of Bones, Siberia
This is a 3,000 km, desolate highway and at Kyubeme, (1,200 km before Magadan), the road deviates towards the 400-km-long abandoned Old Summer Road. When I attempted this in 2017 (Trans-Siberian Odyssey), I was able to lead only 156 kms to Tomtor due to extreme flooding ahead. This region is prone to extremely high water levels, washed out roads and the presence of grizzlies and wild dogs.
Tank up well because you can easily run out of fuel on this highway. Wildlife encounters can turn dangerous, so drive slow. The sudden rise in water levels can be daunting: we faced neck-deep water and en-route Tomtor, we had to cross six waist-deep water crossings. None of the riders knew swimming which made it challenging.
Best season:Summer, but conditions are aggressive throughout.
3. The loneliest road: Dalton Highway, Alaska
Very few roads on the planet offer the degree of isolation this one does. Set in a bleak, remote setting, it is the world’s loneliest road with just three towns on-route and no medical supplies, restaurants or gas stations. There are limited options for stay and food, and if you do happen to have a breakdown, chances of finding help are rare. Take special care to ensure that your vehicle is in good shape as the road is unpaved in most parts. Getting across to the Arctic Ocean is a challenge as the area is cordoned off by private oil and gas companies.
Best season: Summer (June to August)
4. Frozen Road, Dempster Highway, Canada
Commissioned in 2017, the highway is frequented by adventure travellers given its harsh terrain: desolate, unpaved, hostile in nature, and set amidst the freezing Arctic Circle. The roads here are made with natural materials so the mix of sand, stone and clay make for a deadly combination when it rains. We witnessed heavy rainfall that the region had not seen in the last 15 summers!
We kept skidding and a team member fell down a few times during the 100-mile ride. So choose your tyres wisely and remember to tank up.
Best time: Summer (Mid June to Mid August)
5. Silent ride, The Pan-American section of the Atacama Desert
This was the most boring of the lot as it’s a 2,000+ km long, straight and flat road that cuts through the desert. It is very easy to fall asleep while riding as it is pretty lonely and a quiet zone. I came across many cars and buses that went off the road, and burst into flames. I took frequent breaks, stayed well-hydrated and kept chewing gum. As Indians, we have the advantage of riding in high temperatures, but this was difficult given the dryness and gusty winds. I’d suggest getting an early morning start, a break during peak afternoon, and ending the ride by early evening.
Best season: October to March
Deepak Kamath will be at The Big Biking Commune at Mamallapuram this weekend.
— As told to Nidhi Adlakha