This is the 4th 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.
From: Brighton, UK
Occupation: Web developer and keen bike rider
Spent a summer: training show cows
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?
Paul: I have grown up on a bike, riding all types, and when it came to setting off long distance touring, Tom’s writing had me hooked. His antics have intrigued me since, and I was excited to pitch in.
[Editor’s note: Tom is also the author of Janapar: Love, on a Bike, which is a book about a long distance bike trip that turned into a love story.]
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?
Paul: For me it was part of a dream summer escape by bike, something I had pondered at the start of the year and worked tentatively towards. I rode across eastern Europe where I volunteered for the Transcontinental Bike Race, caught a ship over the Black Sea, and wound through the Caucasus to Dilijan to help a project I believed in with a family of like minded people.
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?
Paul: Certainly a personal escape from the usual modern rigmarole, but more a chance to get involved with something new and exciting, in a part of the world that really intrigued me. There is an energy amongst us strangers meeting for the first time that makes two weeks of grubby labour a truly warming and growing experience, beyond the calloused hands and lavash addiction. It may be the simplest sleep you get but it will also be the deepest.
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?
Paul: Slinging a Rhino (yep, plenty of fun terminology) and battling dense roots all day was first for me, but that was the same for most of us. Our experienced master builder Hans talked us through the many different roles we would all share, suiting all abilities. I was amazed at the efforts the TCT team had gone through to get us volunteers to the point of digging: renovating the HQ, sourcing tools, and laying on fantastic food to keep us fueled.
TCT: What were the best and worst aspects of being part of the volunteer trail building crew in Dilijan?
Paul: As cliche as it might sound the campfire stories and rapidly developing humour are a big part of the experience, as is meeting new characters from many corners of the world while singing Chop Suey and trying to learn Armenian. However, sometimes it’s a relief have an expansive rambling forest on hand to take a little personal sanctuary in. Besides, nothing quite helps build friendship like removing hard to reach ticks from one another.
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?
Paul: A chance to focus on a simple task like digging is underrated and strangely cathartic for me and maybe others, but, in stepping back from that, helping to slowly draw a line on a map that brings people to wander the landscape and local charms is worth it.
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?
Paul: Tired, bit hungry, but happy.
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?
Paul: A few friends who enjoy their travel and some with Armenian heritage have already expressed interest.
TCT: How did you use your time off?
Paul: A gang of us took a taxi (thanks Afon) for a much needed swim and laze at Lake Sevan.
TCT: Do you have a story you’d like to share that didn’t make it into any of your other answers?
- Victoria’s cooking 👌
- Chasing Hans on a mountain bike and subsequent tumbles.
- Nailing up some of the first trail marks (cheers Val for fixing).
- Waking up with a frog on my face.
- Oh, and the start of something special x
TCT: Is there anything else you’d like to say to potential volunteers?
Paul: It’s as tough as you might think and twice as memorable, just give it a try.
Also, bring gaiters. Socks full of rocks start to drag.
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.
Big thanks to Evan Burgeson for the pictures above.