In the early part of 2013, I led a 3-man team in an unsupported walk across the Arabian Desert. We pulled a cart weighing 900 pounds and walked for 40 days, filling up water at 3 wells on route, but carrying everything else with us. We operated under a self-imposed set of rules. That is, to walk unsupported and unassisted. This meant no one could offer any help in any form, and everything had to be carried from the start, with the proviso of water.
Within a week, we were dehydrated and dreaming of water. Our daily ration of 10 pints each was simply not enough. But there was no other way. As the days went by, the ‘dreaming’ became obsessing. Not a moment went by without the thought of water in its myriad forms. I thought of cool mountain streams where I had learnt to rock climb, deep blue oceans, the fridge, a running tap, the sound of a toilet, an afternoon thunderstorm and playing football without a shirt, and the water smashing down on my skin on a hot day. I would look left and right, searching for an oasis. An old discarded water bottle cast out in the sand would grip my attention for minutes as we labored past, staring, hoping beyond hope that there just might be a drop. But it was all in vain.
Some nights I would wake and find my tongue had slid out my mouth, like an old lizard in search of something wet. Dry and cracked, I would milk it back to life with my lips and slip back into the night. There was no respite. No afternoon storm to quell the growing thirst and deep concern that we might just be in trouble. Time and again I promised myself never, but never, to take water for granted. I made elaborate plans and schemes to stretch out and savor the drinking of a bottle of cool water. I tried to etch it in my memory so I would never forget.
After 40 days we rolled into the Park Hyatt in Dubai and downed a burning Pepsi. More followed, then bottles of water, whisky, chocolate milkshake, then beer, all to celebrate. In the days and weeks that followed, I found, sadly, that water quickly lost its mythical appeal. I tried hard to think back and savor it as I sipped it in the comfort of my home. And then it struck. The obsessive passion; the zeal with which I thought about water existed only because of the absence of it. The two, ironically, were mutually exclusive. They could never co-exist in the same moment. I could never savor it now like I did when I did not have it. But not a moment goes by when I sip some water and I don’t think back to those dark, dry days in the desert.
Our lives are simply too tame to really understand the privilege of having. You need to get out. Go do something. Go explore somewhere where you wont have, where you’ve never been.
South African-based Alex Harris has climbed the seven summits (the highest mountain on all seven continents), and became the first African to walk unsupported to the South Pole. Under his brand Xplore, Alex offers guided experiences, coaching and speaking engagements.