Liverpool’s Carla Powell shortlisted for CBC’s nonfiction prize

by Brittany Wentzell

  • <p>CONTRIBUTED PHOTO</p><p>Carla Powell wrote about her hike on the Inca Trail and submitted the story to CBC. She&#8217;s now been shortlisted for their nonfiction prize.</p>
  • <p>CONTRIBUTED PHOTO</p><p>Powell hiking the trail.</p>

In the middle of the night, Carla Powell rolled over and switched on her laptop. She had just decided she was going to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu and booked the trip then and there, leaving herself in a state of disbelief.

That decision, and her subsequent non-fiction story, has gotten her onto CBC's Nonfiction Prize shortlist. Powell is one of five people to make it to the list.

If she wins, Powell will attend a 10-day writing residence at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, have her story published on CBC Books, and receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts.

Powell's story began after losing her best friend to cancer.

"I've lost every significant person: You know, the big ones in your life - your best friend, your brother, my mom, my dad, my immediate family is gone" said Powell

"The straw that broke the camel's back was Krista, my friend who died five years ago."

It was her inability to shake that loss from her that made her want to hike the Inca Trail. Although Powell has always been one for unconventional "vacations" (like spending months at a time with a Bedouin tribe in Jordan), she admits her body doesn't look like the typical hiker's.

In fact, the title of her story - The Road to Machu Pichu starts at 385 lbs - refers to the weight she bore just before training for the hike.

In her story Powell says she gained weight with each tragedy that struck. She knew she had to train for the trip though.

She walked around Western Head, Queens County, weekly. The circuitous route is over 17 kilometres. She climbed her stairs in her Victorian period Liverpool home. She walked around Pine Grove over and over again.

The day came to leave for the trip and although she had trained hard, Powell was still over 300 pounds and just starting to recover from a bout of pneumonia. She was worried.

"For the better part of a year as I was anticipating this trip, I was stressed."

But as she hiked, Powell felt lighter and the steps came naturally and easier to her.

"I felt like it was physically hard, but it was enlightening me."

Powell spoke about how proud she was when many turned around on the four-day trek from altitude sickness and she kept going, shocking guides, hikers, and the men who carry the tents up the mountain sides.

"I am ... a big woman, I literally didn't see anyone who looked like me on the trail. Everyone looked like CrossFit trainers."

But she became a bit of a legend and even an example her guide used to motivate others to keep going.

"I felt unburdened and I felt like everything was slipping away for me; it felt like a walking meditation," she said.

By the end of the trip Powell didn't want to stop walking. She had shed weight, but not just physically. Powell felt she had left Krista and all of her losses on the mountain.

It's been almost a year to the day that Powell went on her trip to Peru and Bolivia, and since then she's taken in experiences like canoeing in the Amazon along with numerous other hikes. She says everyone keeps asking where she'll go next, but says she's still living off the high from that previous trip.

"I keep saying to them 'Why don't you do something?'" she laughed.

Powell says she's always been a writer of non-fiction and has entered the contest once before. The competition is blind and she's up against some already published authors.

If she wins, Powell says she'll continue to work on an ongoing book during the residency.

Her adopted hometown of Liverpool has rallied around her, with dozens of shares and best wishes on social media. She's also gotten media attention from her home town of Drumheller, Alberta.

"I'm really humbled by this," said Powell adding that she feels Liverpool is claiming her as their own now.

The jury - authors Carmen Aguirre, Dave Bidini and Charlotte Gray - will choose the winner on September 19.

Past winners include authors Michael Ondaatje and Carol Shields.

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