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Desert Travels - Motorcycle Journeys in the Sahara and West Africa!

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  #1  
Old 18 Feb 2004
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How many days' water do you need to carry in the Sahara?

I know this is a vague question, but bear with me.

I'm tempted to go to the Sahara this spring/summer, by bike. I know it's the wrong time of year, horribly hot, too much dust...but I'm still tempted. What I want to establish, from a safety point of view, is roughly how much water I would need to carry. From what I've read 10 litres a day will be enough, plus a 20 litre reserve for emergencies. So my question is, how often will I get a chance to top up if I'm trying to see some relatively remote areas like the Tenere and Air? How far apart are the wells? And how likely are they to be dry at this time of year?

Apologies if this irritates those of you who know desert travel in the summer to be insane...I'm the sort who likes to learn by his own mistakes. And I lived in Abu Dhabi as a kid and have fond memories of the heat. But I do of course reserve the right to chicken out on day one and retreat to the nearest airconditioned hotel!
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Old 19 Feb 2004
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OK, having done a decent search I can see why no-one's answered this. Looking forward to finding out how my bike will handle with 100 litres of water, not to mention 60 litres of petrol...

[This message has been edited by nick_horley (edited 19 February 2004).]
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Old 19 Feb 2004
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As you'll read in the 'Desert Riders' story, fuel is distance and water is time, so most trips would be arranged around days between wells.

Most of the water in the deep wells was laid down about 125 000 years ago during the interglacial and then supplemented in the wet phase 6 000 years or so ago. So the wells don't normally dry up in the summer.
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Old 19 Feb 2004
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I tend to think that in summer a single person can get through as much as 20l in a day. Dont forget you are losing water all the time - on a m'bike (I guess you dont mean PUSHbike!?) more than a car.

Ive never had to budget water for a bike trip, so I cant suggest any concrete figures. Look at your route and plan time taken between water stops. Then think "what if something goes wrong - will I have enough water to get to help"
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Old 19 Feb 2004
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I hear you. I'm not a very experienced off road rider so I might use a lot of water falling off, digging myself out etc. I'll take things one step at a time and establish my water consumption before venturing far from civilisation. Determined to have an adventure even if moderate suffering is entailed.

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Old 19 Feb 2004
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Hi,

In September in Mauritania, traveling by car, I drank 9 Lts/day last year...

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Old 23 Feb 2004
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Nick

You don't say it but I guess you're riding alone.

I drive solo in the desert, in a 4WD, but never in the hot season. In the Sahara, I had 120 liters of water capacity.

My safety concept looks something like this. Assuming the vehicle breaks down or gets stuck, you'll want about 4 days worth of water to try to get going again. After that fails, you want to be able to stay at the vehicle for 10 days and wait for someone to rescue you. If no one comes by, you'll want 10 days of water to try to walk out. If the first attempt fails, you'll want 10 days of water for a second attempt at walking out.

You'll want food for all this time, too. A westerner will not do well without food for anything more than a day or two even with plenty of water.

Total 34 days, plus the days between fill-ups.

In a 4WD, you'll want an extra 10 liters to refill the cooling system at least once.

At 3 liters a day, which suffices for me in the cool season, this amounts to about 110 liters.

At 10 liters a day, which seems reasonable for 45-55 degree daytime temperatures, you'd need l50 Liters under the stated assumptions. Obviously this isn't practical for a motorbike.

Even if you decrease the safety margins considerably, a reserve of 2 days of water in remote areas will not get you far. You can't even wait to get rescued and if no one comes by try walking out.

I mean solo driving even in a reliable 4WD is crazy enough, but doing so in the summer and on a bike is much crazier even.

I have no motorbike experience in the desert, maybe someone on this board did what you are trying to do.

I've met a couple on Asskrem in a Nissan Patrol solo driving and they had a capacity of 60 liters total. This seemed way too low to me and I told them.

Now I'm new to this board (first post) and I could imagine people here don't tell other people what to do.

But for me, solo-riding in the Air/Tenere on a motorbike in the hot season would not be something even remotely practical.

Sorry that this got too long as usual.

And I didn't even answer your questions, like how far apart are the wells..

Cheers
Frank
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Old 23 Feb 2004
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Thanks. But I don't think walking out is possible in the summer, unless it's a very short distance. Trying to carry more than 20L, even at night, is probably going to be counter productive. I'll stay put, get on the phone and ask my friends to organise a plane. And then spend the next few years paying for it.
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Old 23 Feb 2004
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I would concur with Nick, I am unlikely to try and walk out and I certainly wouldn't put that much preparation in to planning to walk out. I would put all that planning into making sure I have back up methods such as comms to call for help (sat phone, radio), another vehicle to travel with, carrying a light motorbike on the back of the truck if One really wants to travel solo, etc. Slightly off the point of the origonal question but seems a misguided approach.
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Old 25 Feb 2004
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The water consumption figures popping about here look a bit excessive, to say the least. Sure, if you drink with abandon you can easily gulp down 20l / day, but half of that will come out on the other end

Realistically, you need a daily minimum 5-6 litres in the hot season, 3-4 litres in the cool season, if water is rationed properly. This assuming normal activity during daytime, but even with strainous exercise this will only go up with 1-2 litres. Sticking to these figures requires some self discipline (only small sips at a time, only drinking at preset intervals), but will not be uncomfortable. A single 20l jerrycan will give an autonomy of 3-5 days depending on the season. Better yet, get bottled water (cheaply available almost anywhere), and allow yourself 2 or 3 bottles per day. Easier to ration, and the fact that you can always see readily how much you've used up helps discipline.

In an emergency situation, with no daytime activity just rest in the shade, you can survive on just 1-2 litres per day, or 2-3 litres if you decide to walk it out at night.

(Note: above figures are for an average person. Water need/body mass is an almost linear relationship !)

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[This message has been edited by andrasz (edited 25 February 2004).]
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  #11  
Old 27 Feb 2004
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Hi Nick,

on a bike you are limited to about 20-25L max of water and 40-50L of petrol when you want a drivable bike (personal experience). This charge allready asks for an experienced and skilled driver for a save ride.
Once you better know your limits you might increase theese figures.

When you take the figures of andraz you get your range.
So, in the hot season expect not to cover more than 3 days between watering points, better only 2 plus 1 reserve.
I would strongly advise against traveling in Téneré as a unassisted biker.

For your destinations Air and Ténéré you should take (officialy: require) a guide anyway so a 4x4 to could carry your supplys.

Bye, yves

[This message has been edited by Yves (edited 26 February 2004).]
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Old 27 Feb 2004
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Many thanks Yves.

My bike is an 1150GS with aftermarket suspension so I'm going to try to carry more fuel and water than you suggest. Of course the bike may handle like a pig, but I look forward to trying anyway. It should be an interesting experiment.

Can you tell me how access to the Tenere is controlled? Do you need a guide before you can get a permit to buy petrol? What is the system, and is there perhaps a way to beat it?

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Nick
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Old 27 Feb 2004
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Hi Nick

When were you in Adu Dhabi? What school did you go to? My dad worked for ADNOC (later NMDC) from 1976 to 1991 and I was at the American School of Abu Dhabi for the 5th and 6th grade (76-78) then I returned to the UK to enjoy a slightly updated version of Tom Brown's Schooldays! Would be interesting to to see if we share any friends/memories.

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Old 2 Mar 2004
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Last time I was there was 1969 - before the first oil crisis, when there was only one tarmac road and one Arab with any money - the Sheikh. So I doubt we have any shared memories. My Dad worked for IPC - the Iraq Petroleum Company. I don't think any Iraqis worked for it...different times!
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Old 2 Mar 2004
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Quote:
Originally posted by andrasz:
The water consumption figures popping about here look a bit excessive, to say the least. Sure, if you drink with abandon you can easily gulp down 20l / day, but half of that will come out on the other end

The 20l figure is taken from figures published by the British Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. It relates to the maximum one should allow for, for each individual working hard in summer desert conditions.
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