WATER


For obvious reasons, I think more about water when I am travelling than when I am at home, where I have a refrigerator and a tap. I have never felt the same about crystal-clear cold water from a rippling stream since Dartmoor in the early 1960s, when I saw a cow standing in the water, contentedly emptying its bowels and its bladder at the same time as it drank from the stream.

Springs are (or can be) another matter. A good one is indeed a wonderful way to quench one's thirst: I do so whenever I can in the Pyrenees, for example. Even then, there's always the question of how to transport some of the water for later, because there is very rarely a cold, clear, bright, clean spring handy when you want one. Most water-bottles, after all, add a flavour of their own. If you're desperate, this doesn't matter. Furthermore, few water bottles are actually very clean, and bacteria can breed quite fast in warm, sunlit spring water: opaque water bottles are generally a better bet than recycled, clear ones. I use Milton tablets, as sold for sterilizing baby bottles, to clean my water bottles every day or two. You need to wash the bottles quite carefully afterwards or the stink of chlorine is overwhelming.

For really demanding situations, where I'm unlikely to find any clean water at all, I have been known to use (or at least carry) commercially available water purifying tablets or even a water purifying straw, though I've not seen the latter for a while. Two problems arise with purified water, though. One is that it tastes awful, so you drink as little of it as you possibly can. The other, less serious, is that many of these products seem to be designed for American survivalists. An American quart is for all practical purposes equivalent to a litre, viz. a good deal smaller than a full-sized imperial (UK) quart: 32 fluid ounces instead of 40. US fluid ounces are slightly bigger, but a 4:5 conversion factor for pints, quarts and gallons is accurate enough for all practical purposes.

There are all kinds of assertions about how much water we "need" every day. Well, if you're hiking or (worse still) working hard in hot desert, it can easily go as high as 5 or 6 litres, but if you're sitting on your arse in an office, a couple of litres may be more than enough. Motorcycling in hot weather is surprisingly dehydrating, because you're sweating to cool down and the sweat is being evaporated rapidly: look at the salt stains on your clothes. This is where the occasional slice of sausage comes in handy. A banana or two per day will do no harm either.

Also, although it is often said that we cannot live without water, this is not absolutely true: it's just that we can't live without it forever. There's a limit to how long you can live on beer, though it's probably quite a long time if it's decent beer: that's what I normally do in India. Weak beer during the day, at least if I'm riding a motorcycle; strong beer in the evenings. I've had some wonderfully named strong beers in India: Godfather, for example, at 7.5%, or Knock Out, though Godfather is (or was when I last tried it) a much better beer.

Or you can buy bottled water. For my money, Perrier tastes least disgusting hot (and water always gets hot on a long summer ride on a motorcycle), and while half-litre bottles or 250 ml cans cost a lot more than litre bottles, you don't end up with half a litre of hot, flat Perrier half an hour down the road. Hot, yes. Flat, no. Beware, though, of the thin-walled 12 ounce/330 ml cans. I have not carried these on a motorcycle since two out of six rubbed through from the vibration, not just losing the water but soaking the other contents of the bag on the luggage carrier behind the saddle; ironically, waterproof clothes.

Perfection is a portable refrigerator, which is what we use if we're travelling by car. You have to remember not to leave them plugged in overnight, or you can flatten the battery, but the best of them can be operated on both 12v in the car and mains voltage in the hotel room. Inexpensive Peltier-effect coolers don't cool much, but they do't need to: even a few degrees cooler than ambient can be wonderfully refreshing,and if you can run them most of the day and all night, you can keep a reasonable amount of fluid reasonably cool at all times. Even a bottle of Cava for when you stop in the evening.

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