This is the 2nd 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.
From: Northern Ireland, but currently living in Bristol, UK
About to finish: the masterpiece that is The Brothers Karamazov and would love to learn enough Russian to one day read Dostoyevsky in the original language.
Project volunteered on: Svaneti Georgia trail camp 2016, Dilijan Armenia trail camp 2017
Quote of the interview: “Please use whatever photos of me you have; I am certain I look equally bad in all of them!”
TCT: What are you up to right now in life?
Paddy: Earlier this year, I returned to the UK after almost five years working in sunny Ghana. My first role there was finance director at the Right to Dream sports and leadership academy, where I also coached the girls’ football team and taught financial education. After my time in Dilijan this summer, I spent six weeks WWOOF-ing at an equestrian centre in France. It was an awesome experience, speaking French, taking care of some beautiful horses and riding every day in the forest. I love speaking French and Italian, and I hope to organize future hiking trips in these two beautiful countries.
I am currently helping Bristol-based social enterprises including The Bristol Bike Project and Impact Mentoring to manage their finances. Going forward, I have just signed up for the UK Mountain Leader course, which I am super excited about starting! I am also interested in Tristan Gooley’s work on natural navigation, and I have just started learning about Open Source Mapping from Alessandro Mambelli at Cartisan, who is a friend I met last summer in Georgia when I was volunteering with the TCT in Svaneti.
I am interested in potentially re-training as a psychologist, and in future, perhaps working in an area that allows people who have mental health issues to benefit from sport, exercise and the outdoors. To that end, I am taking some online psychology courses and researching exactly what this process would involve. I have found Prof. Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning and Personality lectures absolutely mind blowing, and I have recommended them to many of my friends.
TCT: This is a grassroots project with a marketing budget of precisely zero. Given that, how did you first hear about the Transcaucasian Trail?
Paddy: I believe I heard about the TCT on the Escape the City (ESC) website. While working in banking in London, I met the ESC founders at one of their events. They told me about Right to Dream, which turned out to be my first step on the road to West Africa. I always keep an eye on their interesting and exotic employment and volunteering opportunities.
Disclaimer: I am a (very) small investor in ESC ☺
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?
Paddy: Many different things attracted me to the TCT project including:
- Visiting new countries – first Georgia, then Armenia
- Volunteering in a beautiful, natural environment
- Being part of the very first stage of a long-term project
- Doing something I had never done before, and learning some new skills
- Having fun and meeting interesting, like-minded people
- Giving something back to the international hiking community
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?
Paddy: Having already been in Georgia in summer 2016, I already had a fairly good idea of what to expect in Dilijan. In particular, I was looking forward to seeing Tom, Alessandro and Vahagn again! I loved the physical aspect of the work this summer; it was so fulfilling to put in a hard day’s work that involved zero computer screens, and where any meetings took place outside under a clear, blue sky. If there were a next time, I would love to get some experience working with a chainsaw.
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?
Paddy: I had just as much fun in Dilijan as in Svaneti the previous summer. The people were great and everything was well organized. Having [the dogs] Garlic and Soujouk around was a huge bonus; I really miss those slobbery little dudes! It still amazes me how a group of volunteers, strangers for the most part, from all over the world, speaking languages including Armenian, Arabic, English, French, Italian, Portuguese and Russian were able to bond so quickly and work together so effectively. In large part, I credit that to my friend Tom Allen and the brilliant team he has assembled.
TCT: What were the best and worst aspects of being part of the volunteer trail building crew in Dilijan?
Paddy: We had lovely weather and I thought there was a great atmosphere and enthusiasm in our group. For the best part, one can look no further than 3-in-1 [instant coffee powder], which kept us all alive during those misty, early mornings! Although Quizmaster John’s masterful performances around the campfire come a close second. While I cannot recall any real downsides, I am sure that nobody enjoyed the copious ticks! As a vegetarian, it was, at times, a bit of struggle for me to survive on so much lavash and salty cheese.
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?
Paddy: I derived a lot of fulfilment from the friendships formed, the ridiculous amounts of laughter we had and the interesting, stimulating conversations that took place while we were hacking away at seemingly never-ending tree roots. I am still in regular touch with awesome people including Addie, Alexandra, Hagop and Val. For me, knowing more about trail building has led to a much deeper appreciation of hiking and especially for all the planning, skill and hard work that goes into building a long-lasting path.
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?
Paddy: I am proud of what we accomplished, and I sincerely hope that the TCT will encourage more people to visit Armenia and experience the beauty of the Caucasus. I hope that visitors will benefit from our labour and treat the environment and the people with respect.
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?
Paddy: I would recommend (and have already recommended!) the TCT to anyone interested in hiking, trail building, conservation, travel or nature.
TCT: How did you use your time off?
Paddy: As well as hitting up Kchuch several times for delicious meals on the weekends, we visited some local monuments, caught up on reading (and sleeping) and went zip-lining at Yell Extreme Park, which was well worth the journey!
TCT: Do you have a story you’d like to share that didn’t make it into any of your other answers?
Paddy: Val, Addie, Alex and I had an interesting adventure in Yerevan, searching for a much-talked-about outdoor gym, near the river. I successfully got us completely lost, and at one point, an elderly, Russian-speaking man brusquely escorted us off some private property. Thankfully, we found the gym in the end, giving Alex yet another opportunity to best me in a physical contest. This time, it was pull-ups. That evening, she proceeded to beat me in an arm wrestle at Dargett. Although in my defense, she had a lot of assistance from one of our inebriated Russian friends!
TCT: Is there anything else you’d like to say to potential volunteers?
Paddy: Come with an open mind. Study the packing list carefully and ask the team if you have any questions. Be prepared for ticks. Buy an Armenian SIM at the airport. Lastly, and most importantly, watch out for Barry Louise!
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.