In 2008, Aspen Matis left behind her quaint Massachusetts town for a school two thousand miles away. Eager to escape her childhood as the sheltered baby girl of her family, Aspen wanted to reinvent herself at college. She hoped that far from home she'd meet friends who hadn't known her high school meekness; she would explore thrilling newfound freedom, blossom, and become a confident adult. But on her second night on campus, all those hopes were obliterated when Aspen was raped by a fellow student.
The academic year commenced; Aspen felt alone now, devastated. She stumbled through her first college semester. Her otherwise loving and supportive parents discouraged her from speaking of the attack; her university's "conflict mediation" process for handling sexual assaults was callous—then ineffectual. Aspen was confused, ashamed, and uncertain about how to deal with a problem that has—disturbingly—become common at institutions of higher learning throughout the country. Her desperation growing, she made a bold decision: she fled. She dropped out and sought healing in the freedom of the wild, on the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail leading from Mexico to Canada.
In this important and inspiring memoir, Aspen chronicles an ambitious five-month trek that was as dangerous as it was transformative. Forced to survive on her own for the first time, squarely facing her trauma and childhood, she came to realize that the rape was not the only shameful burden she carried with her as she walked. She found herself on a new expedition: to confront—and overcome—the confines that had bound her since long before her second night at college.
A nineteen-year-old girl alone and adrift, Aspen conquered desolate mountain passes and met rattlesnakes, bears, and fellow desert pilgrims. Among the snowcaps and the forests of America's West, she found the confidence that had eluded her all her life. After a thousand miles of solitude, she met a man who helped her learn to love, trust, and heal. Then from the endless woods she blazed a new path to the future she wanted—and reclaimed it.
What emerges is an unflinching portrait of a girl in the aftermath of rape. Told with elegance and suspense, Girl in the Woods is a beautifully rendered story of emotional and physical boundaries eroding to reveal the truths that lie beyond the edges of the map.