Girl in the Woods - Aspen Matis
Girl in the Woods is Aspen Matis's exhilarating true-life adventure of hiking from Mexico to Canada—a coming of age story, a survival story, and a triumphant story of overcoming emotional devastation. On her second night of college, Aspen was raped by a fellow student. Overprotected by her parents who discouraged her from telling of the attack, Aspen was confused and ashamed. Dealing with a problem that has sadly become all too common on college campuses around the country, she stumbled through her first semester—a challenging time made even harder by the coldness of her college's "conflict mediation" process. Her desperation growing, she made a bold decision: She would seek healing in the freedom of the wild, on the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail leading from Mexico to Canada.
In this inspiring memoir, Aspen chronicles her journey, a five-month trek that was ambitious, dangerous, and transformative. A nineteen-year-old girl alone and lost, she conquered desolate mountain passes and met rattlesnakes, bears, and fellow desert pilgrims. Exhausted after each thirty-mile day, at times on the verge of starvation, Aspen was forced to confront her numbness, coming to terms with the sexual assault and her parents' disappointing reaction. On the trail and on her own, she found that survival is predicated on persistent self-reliance. She found her strength. After a thousand miles of solitude, she found a man who helped her learn to love and trust again—and heal.
Told with elegance and suspense, Girl in the Woods is a beautifully rendered story of eroding emotional and physical boundaries to reveal the truths that lie beyond the edges of the map.
I know, the first thing you are going to say is, "Sara. Come on now, Cheryl Strayed did this with Wild and it was so good they made it into a movie" and I'm going to tell you SHUT UP. I say that because I fully understand why Wild was as popular as it was and that's because it came at a time where us card carrying vaginas needed a woman to show us what being a true adventuring, independent woman was. Unfortunately, I really hated that book because Cheryl wasn't like-able. Just a series of terrible choices because her mom died. I mean, I get it, your mom dies and that's awful but to leave a really great guy for a drug addled loser and then hike off into the woods and be fully shocked at how hard life is? Shut up and move over.
Here we have Aspen, who growing up as Debby really struggled. Her parents loved her but they didn't parent her well. Her two older brothers had it better but her mother treated her as a mute. Not just a mute but a mute fully incapable of caring herself. A passage close to the front of the book reads,
"Through middle school, I didn't shave my legs or use deodorant. Girls began to ask about my hairy legs. One day in eighth grade, I found deodorant in my locker with a note written in girlish handwriting, unsigned. It told me I smelled. It was true. I was hurt. But after that I still didn't simply commit to wearing deodorant daily, instead passively subjecting myself to adolescent years of whispered disdain. Basic hygiene was a terrible struggle. Anything my mother didn't do for me, I didn't do for myself."
She goes on about how she wasn't allowed to dress herself and any attempt to do something on her own was shut down immediately by her mother who, for whatever reason, wanted to control literally every aspect of Debby's life. When it comes time to go to college, Debby picks Colorado College. Far away enough from home but in the woods she loved as child. She sees it as a fresh start, finally free of the oppressive home that held her back. She remembers how her parents met- on the second night of college, and she holds this is a fairy tale of sorts.
But for her, the second night of college turns her into a rape victim. Not just a rape victim, but one who questions herself, who is let down by the college and even worse- shamed by her own family. She reaches out to her mother who gives her icy silence and treats it as nothing. She reaches out to her brother, the one she's closest to, and he asks her what she had done to bring it on basically.
Stunned and frozen, she decides that she is going to drop out of college and hike. She has big plans to hike the PCT and be a thru-hiker (one end to the other) and she is looking at The Kickoff as a new beginning. Like the first night of college. She wants to find herself and be more. Her parents reluctantly agree to help her financially though it's obvious they have little faith that she'll make it very far.
One of my favorite passages reads,
"Looking into my reflection above the sink, I dreaded what I already understood to be true: I wouldn't reinvent myself at Kickoff. Just being some place new couldn't just suddenly imbue me with new confidence. Fleeing to the desert didn't transform me into the poised and lovely woman I wished I were. I was here- on the PCT at last- and I was suddenly aware of how uncomfortable I still was in my body. I was awkward in Newton and at college, and here on the trail I remained just as uncool. This place wouldn't change me. Nowhere could."
Amen. Seriously. She figures this out at the very beginning of her hike and this is something a normal person (looking at you, Cheryl Strayed) doesn't figure out until some mid way point in the hike.
So much of this book spoke to me because I get it, I felt like I really understood the author. She was so much easier to relate to. She was more of an average 19 year old girl setting off on an impossible journey and I found myself rooting for her.
Don't even get me started on how damn happy I was when Dash comes along. But I won't go into that because it ruins the ending for you. But Debby is DAMN LUCKY to have survived because shortly before Oregon she gets a weird infection, thinks it's no big deal. She reluctantly has to go home to have it taken care of and as it turns out, it could have been fatal. But it's that trip home that reminds her of what she left behind. Her overbearing mother suffocating her. She does return to the trail because she is adamant she will finish and I was thrilled. So much of this book is absolutely amazing. It is far and above, a thousand times better than Wild. It just is. I know I'm in the minority on my dislike for Wild but whatever. I just really enjoyed this book. I also have to say, I learned far more about the PCT from this book versus Wild so there is that as well.
It almost makes me want to hike it. BUT, let's be real, I'm pro nachos and ice cream. I would never make it. In the meantime, you can find this book on Amazon as well as Barnes & Noble. Happy reading, lambs!
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