British traveler Tom Allen has come up with the idea of creating the Transcaucasian Trail – an ambitious, 3,000-kilometer hiking route that will crisscross Armenia and Georgia all the way from the Iranian border to the Georgian-Turkish frontier, and will make odysseys on foot through these rugged and hardly accessible mountains possible, the CNN reports.
Allen’s strong resolution comes from his adventurer background. Before becoming the Transcaucasian Trail’s “explorer in chief,” for several years he toured the world on a bicycle, curating one of the world’s most successful bike touring blogs and filming a few acclaimed independent adventure documentaries.
“Janapar: Love, on a Bike” (2014) recounts how Allen, who is originally from England, met his Armenian-Iranian wife Tenny and ended up staying in the region – a most romantic prelude to getting involved with trail-building operations.
“Armenia is somewhere I ended up accidentally, but seeds germinate where they fall, right? So here I am, building a trail for everyone, helping other people in a way that aligns with the values I’d developed on the road,” he said.
The Transcaucasian Trail launched in 2016 as the “Transcaucasian Expedition” thanks to a grant and 4×4 vehicle Allen received from the Royal Geographic Society and Land Rover in London.
By the end of the summer of 2017, his team of local experts and international volunteers completed the first 100 kilometers of trail, through Armenia’s Dilijan National Park.
At the same time, a sister operation led by the Transcaucasian Trail’s co-founder, American and former Peace Corps volunteer Paul Stephens, has completed a section of the trail in the Svaneti region of northwestern Georgia.
“Quite simply, we will both keep forging ahead for as long as it takes to connect the two trunks at the Georgian-Armenian border,” explains Allen.
The final, enormous trail may take up to a decade to complete, says Allen – and several months to hike in its entirety. Hikers will be able to join the first fund-raising expeditions in the summer of 2018.
Besides the vehicle and the initial financial grant, Allen has also been sourcing funds locally.
“Forming an NGO was a necessary step to receive funding and form partnerships with other local organizations,” he explains.
“At this stage, we are partnering with Caucasus Nature Fund, [which] supports small infrastructure projects in the protected areas of the Caucasus, and the Hovnanian Foundation, whose current focus is on developing hiking in Armenia.”
Another important issue is, given the bloody history surrounding Armenian national borders, how much neighboring Azerbaijan will make or break the project.
As for Azerbaijan, Tom Allen said: “Azerbaijan hasn’t been left out. We just haven’t found partners there yet.”
“Development of the trail eastwards towards the Caspian Sea will depend on finding another Paul or Tom who makes it his or her life’s work to bring it into existence. And as much as I’d love to kick off the process in Azerbaijan myself, I’ve got my hands full already.”