A book designer by trade, local writer and outdoors enthusiast Joshua Powell spent years bringing the work of other authors to life. But when he decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 2012, he realized that he’d finally found a topic worth covering himself.
“Everybody’s going to have different experiences, but I can honestly say that once I finally got out there, I knew I was doing exactly what I wanted to do,” Powell said.
“The Pacific Crest Trail: A Visual Compendium” is aesthetically pleasing, to say the least. The photos, colorful graphics, lists and anecdotes that fill its pages chronicle Powell’s hike in about as much detail as humanly possible.
On the trail, he used a voice recorder to capture his observations and journaled in the evenings.
“It’s not all amazing, jaw-dropping scenery,” Powell said, referencing the rainy day, achy muscles and sore feet side of the hike. “But I really wanted to convey how you can still find small moments of beauty in the mundane or small bits of inspiration even on those boring stretches.”
While staying in Belden, California, with a couple of “trail angels” – a merry band of altruists who live in towns along the Pacific Crest Trail and help hikers out from time to time, offering everything from water to temporary lodging – Powell stumbled across John Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row.”
His hosts happily sent him on his way with the book, and, during the next several solitary evenings, he quickly fell in love.
The physical size of the book appealed to the hiker in him, but Steinbeck’s style called out the writer.
“It’s a very small, lightweight paperback, so I could throw it in my pack and not worry about the extra weight,” Powell said.
“I would pull it out and read it from time to time, maybe 10 minutes before going to sleep, but it ended up having a huge effect on my experience.”
He started seeing connections between his hike and the plot surrounding the character of Doc in “Cannery Row,” an early thru-hiker of sorts himself.
“That was kind of shocking to me, that this book I just randomly happened to find, by a very famous writer, actually had this direct connection to what I was doing,” he said, explaining how he went from casually reading “Cannery Row” to tracking down every bit of Steinbeck he could find.
Having spent so much of his career focused on graphic design and “the visual” in general, Powell was surprised to find how much he enjoyed the writing.
“What I dream about most is just being able to continue doing this,” he said, hinting at his hopes to expand his work into a series covering the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Northwest Trail, among others.
“The design, the writing … I just had so much joy from reliving the experience.”
To aspiring writers, Powell recommends reading as much and as widely as possible. And to hikers, “don’t let your fears get the better of you.”
“The Pacific Crest Trail: A Visual Compendium” is available for pre-order at Auntie’s Bookstore. For more information, visit joshuampowell.com.