We have spent almost a month in or at the edge of deserts. From the start water has been a consistent theme. We are lectured by staff on how to conserve and use this limited, precious resource. We discuss it among ourselves: the water we need to survive—always available to us; the water we want for bathing and washing clothes—more rare.

At our desert camp in Abu Dolooa, we have pitched our tents near the large communal water tank. Far from the Nile water comes from bore holes or artesian wells. The tank is surrounded by donkey carts carrying metal barrels. The boys who drive the carts fill their barrels with water and distribute it through the community. They are the taps that keep the village alive.

At Al Qadarif we are delighted that next to our camp an enterprising local entrepreneur has converted three round mud-floored thatched roof huts into shower stalls. For the equivalent of 75 cents we are given a bucket of water (the bucket is an old plastic jug with the top cut off); what luxury to pour water over ourselves with a battered tin cup.

I speak to Steve who is from Tanzania. He’s been crewing for TDA for six years. He drives the LandCruiser, prepares our lunches and is always on the lookout for water sources. It is he who cruises our route to make sure we are not running out as we cycle our long, dusty roads. He has a profound understanding of the ways in which water plays out in the lives of African communities. Water conservation is a matter of life and death.

I talk to Mark, our chef, about water. He is responsible for ensuring the 500-litre tank on the Big Truck is always full. Total water carrying capacity for the Tour is 1200 litres. Every day we consume between 10 to 12 litres a day per person; with staff and riders there are close to 50 of us. We are getting through 500 to 600 litres of water a day. I begin to appreciate how lucky we are even on those many days when there is no bathing, only a wet wipe clean.

Mark tells me a story that underscores the key difference access to water can make. TDA runs a charity donating bikes to communities in different parts of Africa. At one bike donation ceremony a previous recipient spoke about how their bikes were used. In their village, women had to walk for miles to obtain water, which they carried in massive jugs on their heads. Sourcing water took hours out of their day. Adapting the bikes for water transport allowed the women to be much more present in their village. They began to have a strong voice in local governance changing social dynamics in a positive way.

Before starting out on this trek I undertook to raise money for the charity, WaterAid. It works across Africa and many parts of Asia. The work they do providing access to clean water and sanitation makes an immediate and profound impact on the lives of the people they serve. $25 will help one person for life; $100 will support a family of four for life with this essential, necessary resource.

To find out more about WaterAid and to support their work follow this link:

Tom’s WaterAid Fundraiser