This is the 7th instalment in a series of Q&As with past TCT volunteers. The aim of this series is twofold: to provide information about what it is like to volunteer with us, and to preserve our antics for posterity.
Raised in: Colorado
Has lived in: New York, Washington, Montana, and Maine
Studied: Natural Processes , i.e. Geochemistry and Eco-Agriculture/Permaculture.
Works: in the ski industry in ski lift operations during the snow months – in the warm months on farms and orchards
Has hiked: about 10,000 kilometers in the past three summers
Can live off: peanut butter, bread, cheese, and wine/beer
Wishes: He were more diligent about practicing art
Project volunteered for: Dilijan Armenia trailbuilding camp 2017
TCT: This is a grassroots project with a marketing budget of precisely zero. Given that, how did you first hear about the Transcaucasian Trail?
Dillon: When I was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2015 I met a guy we all called The Spaniard (he’s from Spain, imagine that). In 2016 I was hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) and ran into him again at a pub in Caratunk, Maine, he was completing the trail in the opposite direction, and knowing that I would be traveling to Europe in May of 2017 for a family reunion, I asked him about long distance hiking in Europe. He mentioned The Camino de Santiago, the Balkan routes, and a new route being proposed called the TCT. Another good friend from the AT had heard of the TCT as well and recommended I look into it. After I finished the AT I started researching my options in Europe and was very excited to find the TCT offering volunteer opportunities building trail, so I arranged for 2 months in the Caucasus.
TCT: It’s quite a commitment to travel to a brand new part of the world to contribute your time and energy to something completely new! What motivated you to join the project as a volunteer?
Dillon: I’ve spent a lot of time over the years hiking on well established trails all over the world. While researching and hiking, it becomes evident that there are hundreds (if not thousands) of people involved with the creation and maintenance of the trails, campsites, parks, ecosystems, and communities around the trails. These are the people that motivate and inspire me to get involved with projects like the TCT.
TCT: Many people would think twice about signing up for two weeks of hard labour in the mountains and sleeping rough. What were you hoping to gain from the experience?
Dillon: I prefer hard labor in the mountains and sleeping in nature to pretty much anything other lifestyle, but to do so in the Caucasus is a pretty unique experience. I went into it hoping to pick up trail building and maintenance skills, to explore a set of mountains I’ve been intrigued by forever, and to immerse into new cultures, communities, and ecosystems.
TCT: Had you ever volunteered or worked on anything similar to this before? How did your time with us compare to your expectations or previous experiences?
Dillon: I haven’t ever done work exactly like this before, the closest thing was working on Eagle Scout projects when I was younger (restoration, short nature walks, that kind of thing). As far as living up to expectations, I thought the work was going to be more intensive, more physically demanding. It was tough, but it wasn’t so bad.
TCT: What were the best and worst aspects of being part of the volunteer trail building crew in Dilijan?
Dillon: Best parts – the balance of International and Armenian crew members, sharing stories, learning language, making friends, exploring the route, and so much more. Worst parts – lavash, tomatoes, cucumbers and salty cheese (especially the salty cheese) for breakfast and lunch pretty much every day we worked. Making friends for two weeks and then seeing them leave (I was based out of the Dilijan HQ for 2 months, so I met 4 different trail building crews plus the long-term volunteers at HQ).
TCT: Trail work is a largely thankless task, which, if done properly, will never be noticed by the people who benefit from it. Where, if anywhere, did your sense of reward come from?
Dillon: My rewards come in the form of the experiences, skills/knowledge practiced, memories, and friendships.
TCT: The biggest trail building operation ever launched in Armenia was accomplished entirely by the labour of volunteers such as yourself. How does that make you feel?
Dillon: It makes me feels both humble and proud to be a part of a project like this. I was really excited about the opportunity to visit new (to me) cultures in exotic, faraway mountain ranges that have intrigued me for a long time.
TCT: We’re assuming that if you’re willing to be interviewed, you mostly enjoyed your time with us! Who would you recommend our volunteer programme to?
Dillon: I’d recommend the program to anyone that enjoys working outside, a bit of physical labor, exercise, clean air, and cultural experiences.
TCT: How did you use your time off?
Dillon: I did a bit of hitchhiking to explore southern Armenia (Tatev and Kapan) with another volunteer. I also spent a few weeks scouting the proposed route (I walked from Dilijan to Tsalva Lake in Georgia, and the entirety of the route built by the crew in Svaneti).
TCT: Do you have a story you’d like to share that didn’t make it into any of your other answers?
Dillon: I have to praise the hospitality, kindness, and generosity of the Armenian people. Everywhere I went I was treated kindly, often I was fed by complete strangers, hitchhiking was easy and felt safe, the Armenian crew was helpful and sweet, and I was constantly delighted by the culture and the diverse landscapes.
TCT: Is there anything you’d like to say to potential volunteers?
Dillon: Go exploring! Plan some extra time if you can because there is A LOT to see and do in the region.
Click here to read more about the upcoming Transcaucasian Trail volunteer camps this summer and to register your interest!