How Aspen Matis Healed In “Girl in the Woods”

How Aspen Matis Healed In Girl in the Woods - Aspen Matis on the Pacific Crest Trail
Aspen Matis on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Photo: Aspen Matis

A celebrated new memoir, Girl in the Woods, tells the coming-of-age story of a young woman’s hike along the Pacific Crest Trail – from Mexico to Canada – in the aftermath of trauma.

If the premise sounds familiar, it might be because Cheryl Strayed wrote about her own journey along the trail in her best-selling 2012 memoir, Wild. The book was subsequently adapted into the 2014 movie of the same name, starring Academy Award-winning actress Reese Witherspoon.

But Girl in the Woods isn’t by or about Strayed. Aspen Matis, the author, ventured onto the Pacific Crest Trail in 2009, three years before the publication of Strayed’s memoir. Yes, the books have plenty in common. Both feature triumphant stories of survival in the wake of personal trauma. But don’t go thinking you’ve “been there, done that,” just because you’ve read or seen Wild.

Even Cheryl Strayed says: “Mercy. I love this story.”

How Aspen Matis Healed In Girl in the Woods - Girl in the Woods by Aspen Matis
Girl in the Woods ($25) by Aspen Matis

Girl in the Woods is compelling from beginning to end. The memoir opens far from the worn tracks of the Pacific Crest Trail, at Colorado College. Matis has arrived eager to start her adult life. But on her second night of college, before classes have even started, Matis is raped by a fellow student.

Trying to make sense of what happened, Matis spends the rest of the semester at school, feeling both confused and ashamed. Finally, she leaves school and seeks salvation in the form of a gruelling hike along the 2,650-mile-long PCT.

Matis’s five-month-long trek is brought to life with delightful detail. We, as readers, become lost in her world: we meet fellow hikers; deal with rattlesnakes and bears; battle starvation, and conquer humbling terrain during each thirty-mile day.

And most importantly, we share in Matis’s liberation. As she describes her sheltered upbringing in a small Massachusetts town and her feelings of freedom as she heads to college, we can practically taste her relief. As she heals and rebuilds her confidence in herself with every step she takes along the trail, we can feel her growth. And as she is forced to survive on her own for the first time, we can identify.

Happily – mini-spoiler alert – Matis doesn’t just survive. She thrives.

Girl in the Woods ($25) by Aspen Matis

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Read these stories next:

In “Wild,” How Hiking the PCT Can Make Life Soar
How Amanda Lindhout Found Hope As a Hostage
If You Watch One Doco This Year, Make It “He Named Me Malala”

By |2018-10-14T17:23:51+00:00October 20, 2015|Adventure, Books, Entertainment, Solo Travel, Travel|

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