The Accidental Nudist
Shedding years of programming in one weekend
Sunday, October 16, 2005
The Accidental Nudist. Chronicle illustration by Tom Murray
OK, there was a little warning. My wife wanted to camp on our anniversary and I knew of this popular, New Agey hot springs resort in the hills north of Calistoga that had campgrounds, pools, a spa and a decent restaurant. I'd heard the place was, technically, clothing-optional and that there might be one or two people whose wardrobe for the weekend wouldn't fill a coffee mug. But we thought ourselves open-minded and able to deal with the occasional birthday suit.
Might even be amusing, I said.
We checked in and found a shady spot, set up the tent and ducked inside to change into swimsuits, zipping doors and windows for privacy. My first clue that the place was a little different should have been that the showers at the campground restrooms were on the outside of the building, but I didn't give it much thought.
We hiked the woodsy trail toward the main resort area and, descending a small hill and rounding a bend, found the pool area and 100 or so people sunbathing, swimming, chatting and relaxing in hot tubs.
Ann regained the power of speech before I did.
Her unsaid question asked whether we were the only ones at this clothing-optional resort who had checked the box "Yes, please." Our swimsuits were the only wearable items around that didn't require a piercing. I was an ambassador from Earth to Planet Naked.
There's a common perception of nudists. They're out-of-shape hippie types you don't really want to see naked. But that wasn't the case. These were every color, every age and every body type from Lara Flynn Boyle to Shaquille O'Neal. Most were very tan, all over. More than likely, these people were lawyers, meter maids, high school principals and soccer moms -- as well as a few professional hippies -- and a healthy percentage of them looked downright healthy. Some were, ahem, really healthy.
We played it cool, casually dumping our stuff on a bench and wading into the large pool, careful to avoid eye contact and stray appendages. In a new twist on an old nightmare, we were clothed in resort full of naked people, which made me feel, well, naked.
I tried to lie out while Ann read "Harry Potter," but it seemed no matter which direction I looked, I was facing portions of attractive women and men that you can't see on basic cable.
We woke up the next day facing a decision: feel like outsiders or get over the fear and do as the Romans do. I was undecided right up until I walked into the coed locker room by the pool. I stood at a locker, finally resolved to going nude when, as I pulled my shorts down, two young women as naked as Miss May and Miss June walked up and stood on either side of me, each fiddling with a locker. I, like most men, had had fantasies involving locker rooms, but this wasn't it.
I had not been this close to a naked woman who was not my wife since a colleague's bachelor party a few years ago -- even longer since I was also undressed -- and I was suddenly very conscious of where not to look and keeping my arms and hands close my body. I nonchalantly put the same clothes in the locker and took them out three times in hope they would leave so I wouldn't have to squeeze past them.
But the women -- still very naked -- chatted around me, as if comparing stock portfolios. It was not exactly "Girls Gone Wild." They didn't care about my nudity, and they certainly didn't care about their own.
If they didn't care, why should I? I strolled from the locker room jaybird-like, wearing only a towel on my shoulder, and nobody cared. Years of programming lifted and I suddenly got it: It's just skin. Is there really that much difference between bare and a bikini? Is there a powerful underwear lobby? Is it really that wrong to iron naked?
I stood in line for the outdoor shower, soaped up in front of scores of strangers and waded into the hot pool, feeling a little more free. Within 15 minutes, I'd forgotten I wasn't wearing a swimsuit. I didn't consider myself a nudist, but I had crossed a barrier.
It was on the trail back to the campground, after throwing on some shorts, that I ran into the snake, a small rattler I'd spooked -- a reminder that nudity isn't right for all situations and that, sometimes, I really, really like clothes.
The last morning while taking down the tent, we saw a pickup truck full of teenage boys we guessed to be locals. As they drove past a small group of naked people, the two guys in the truck bed yanked down their pants to expose their butts, letting out a hearty "Wooooo-hoooo."
They mooned naked people.
There's just never a rattlesnake around when you need one.