Apr 9, 2021 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Kristen Richards | Illustration by Xixi Qin

I first read Aspen Matis’ “Girl in the Woods” years before I had ever even heard of Colorado College. Last summer, I picked up the book again, inspired by its green tree-outlined cover. I nearly dropped the book when I read that Matis had been a student at CC. All of a sudden, the book had a deeper meaning for me — one that felt more personal, closer to home. 

“Girl in the Woods”is a memoir about Matis’ experience hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone at 19 years old. The bookis not only about the physical walking along the trail, however. Matis writes of her childhood experiences growing up in Massachusetts and the freedom that Colorado offered her.

“When it came time to think about colleges, I applied to only one, the Eden glimpsed while hiking with my father: Colorado College,” Matis writes.

Unfortunately, CC was not the haven that Matis expected it to be. Towards the end of her first year, seeking healing after a fellow CC student sexually assaulted her, Matis fled from Colorado Springs to begin her solo hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. In reflecting on her hike, Matis explains the danger and beauty that she experienced. 

If you like books about powerful women in nature, you are sure to enjoy “Girl in the Woods.”Similar to Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild,”“Girl in the Woods” outlines Matis’ journey and plays with the ideas of past and present in regard to a hopeful future. It is not an easy journey, nor is it a pretty one. Regardless, reading Matis’ compelling words, I felt honored that she opened her life to let the world in.

One of my favorite things about Matis’ book is her honesty about the difficulty of her life on the trail. Juxtaposed with her seemingly easy upbringing, the contrast of these two lives allows the space for Matis to reflect. Matis faces dehydration, starvation, and comes face to face with wildlife, such as rattlesnakes, along the trail.

Because the Pacific Crest Trail travels through the desert, a large obstacle that Matis faced during her hike was lack of water. “Water was liquid silver, water was gold. It was clarity — a sacred thing. Drinking was no longer something to take for granted. I’d never needed to consider water before,” Matis writes. This is just one lesson that Matis learns while navigating the natural world.

Towards the end of her book, Matis begins to focus her story on Dash, a man she meets on the trail. This part, for me, lost some of its wonder. So much of the book was about Matis’ journey in expanding her independence and confidence in herself. Part of me wished that she would not lean on someone else for validation of this newfound confidence and self-assurance. This, however, does not take away from all of the inspiration of the book. So much of Matis’ journey along the trail is solitary, and this is crucial to her growth. For anyone looking to broaden their scope of adventure, Matis’ “Girl in the Woods” is the perfect place to find the inspiration for bravery.

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