This is the 5th installment 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.
Occupation: Helicopter ground crewman & professional upland path builder
Appeared on: a Belgian TV show while volunteering building an ecohome that was part of a TV series/competition – and had no idea what was going on!
Project volunteered for: Dilijan Armenia trailbuilding camp 2017
TCT: What is your background?
Matt: I was born in England then emigrated to Australia and lived there for 12 years. Now I live in Fort William in the Scottish Highlands. Before coming to Armenia, I was a professional path builder specialising in upland stone path work on Scottish mountains. Today I work for as ground crew for a helicopter company specialising in lifting anything that needs lifting, including the stone for my old job! In my spare time I go hillwalking, rock climbing, winter climbing/mountaineering.
TCT: This is a grassroots project with a marketing budget of precisely zero. Given that, how did you first hear about the Transcaucasian Trail?
Matt: At my first Explore event at the Royal Geographical Society in London where I heard Tom give a talk about the TCT.
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?
Matt: It interested me, and I’d like to look back on my life and say I lived an interesting one. I’ve found I’m not good at going travelling without a direction; I need a purpose, and the TCT gave me that purpose and a way to discover a country I hadn’t been to before.
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?
Matt: Exactly that. I like hard work. It makes me feel like I’ve used a day wisely to come back exhausted and to be able to look back and see what I have accomplished in a day, week, month. Beside that I thought it would be a great networking opportunity, a way to open new doors to new opportunities and to meet wide a variety of people.
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?
Matt: The closest thing would be building log cabins in a remote part of the Canadian Rockies. Work wise it was similar, it was still hard labour, but the atmosphere was different. Working with just a couple of guys building a cabin in the wilderness or clearing trail on horseback for a week at a time is a very different atmosphere to building trail with local Armenians and international volunteers! Both have their pros and cons! I generally don’t have expectations for these things but enjoy the time I’m having and put everything into it. But the food and company were amazing in Armenia.
TCT: What were the best and worst aspects of being part of the volunteer trail building crew in Dilijan?
Matt: Best – being part of something bigger than you. Worst – I don’t know actually. I guess group dynamics. Every group is different, and adjusting to each new group always took a while. I’m not sure the “worst” is the best way to describe it. It was more of a challenge really. But I was there all summer and after 2 weeks you just get to know everyone and then they leave! And you have to start all over again and readjust to how a new group works and who works well with who, etc. But I think it was definitely a long-term thing and not something average two-week volunteers would have to deal with.
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?
Matt: People do notice it! That’s how I got into it 🙂 I can’t say that I ever looked at gaining a reward from it, but the closest thing would be being able to help Tom make his dream happen. It was just inspiring to see someone dedicate so much into something, that what I was doing for Tom and his dream was minimal compared to what he is doing for Armenia. I have a lot of time for people like that.
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?
Matt: I don’t think it’s something I think of currently. It’s something that I will me more proud of over time. When I see the new volunteers, the new sections of trail, the impact it’s having, it’s then that I think I’ll feel the most about it. I’m guessing that I will have a sense of accomplishment and feel honoured to have been among the first volunteers to build the TCT.
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?
Matt: Haha anyone! That’s the beauty of it. The TCT welcomes everyone, and everyone should have the opportunity.
TCT: How did you use your time off?
Matt: Well. I would commandeer the sweet sleeping spot under the stairs on Saturday and listen to music all day! Other weekends I went to Yerevan, Tbilisi, scouting for Tom, rock climbing in Noravank, plus other escapades.
TCT: Do you have a story you’d like to share that didn’t make it into any of your other answers?
Matt: Yep – the key to a perfect latrine is to make it deep, long, and as wide as a pulaski!
TCT: Is there anything else you’d like to say to potential volunteers?
Matt: Get ready for the saltiest cheese ever.
Have you considered volunteering on a project like this? Applications are now open for trailbuilding camps in Georgia and Armenia in summer 2019! Click here for full details of the programme and to register your interest.
Thanks again to Evan Burgeson for the pictures above.