“Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither.”
OCEAN ISLE BEACH - This weekend, I ran a 5-kilometer race through the Brunswick County woods, joined by 50 other joggers including a septuagenarian, an elaborately tattooed woman and an ex-Navy SEAL – all of us completely naked.
I joined this group of nude strangers out of curiosity. Not the lewd or voyeuristic kind. But a genuine journalistic inquiry. What compels people to disrobe in broad daylight, save for Nikes and socks, and perform strenuous exercise? Isn’t naked jogging distracting? Embarrassing? Hazardous to appendages?
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For those of you still with me, here’s what I found out:
After about 15 minutes, you pretty much forget that you’re naked. You can shake hands, make chitchat, enjoy a post-race can of Bud with your fellow joggers, kinfolk in the buff. Nobody mentions that your giblets are showing. Nobody leers. Nobody points. Nobody laughs.
It is a return to Eden, apple uneaten.
“This is a formal gathering of birthday suits only,” said the nude race announcer, whose name, honest to goodness, is Gary Butts. “This is the one time you don’t have to strip down behind a sand dune. If you’ve got more than socks and shoes on, you’re overdressed.”
This race took place at Whispering Pines Nudist Resort, a 35-acre park situated 11 miles from the ocean. I met the owner, John Frick, who told me the place has been open since 1976. The park has a few year-round residents, but most guests rent space in RVs. You enter Whispering Pines through a metal gate with a electronic security keypad, and once inside, you leave what nudists refer to as “the textile world.”
Whispering Pines, and nudist resorts in general, are strictly nonsexual.
Flirt with the guests and they’ll report it. You’ll get permanently evicted. Photography is rigidly regulated. All pictures must be cleared in writing by both the subject and the management. Frick warned me to refer to runners only by first name, as many of them work in medical or legal professions that might not mix with weekend nudity.
But rules aside, the point here is simply to enjoy life in the same state we entered it, living in as natural a state as possible. This principle is so well understood that it hardly needs enforcing. I have attended wakes that were more arousing.
When I pulled my truck through the Whispering Pines gates, any stereotype I brought with me disappeared. I imagined my naked companions would be of the long-haired, granola-eating type. About this I was wrong. The car from Virginia that pulled in next to mine sported a “Go Army” bumper sticker, and the middle-aged couple that disrobed in front of me would have fit in fine at a shag competition.
The variety in physical fitness also surprised me. Some these runners came toned and buff with iPods attached to their arms, ready to run a sub-7-minute mile. Others, like myself, could stand to eat more salads. But at a nude 5k, there’s no shame if body shows mileage. Neither is it a sin to walk.
“This is your bucket list day!” said Butts, shouting encouragement. “If you’re not excited, you’re either dead or drunk.”
About a mile into the race, a fellow roughly 10 years my senior jogged up alongside me, and curious about the notepad and pen I carried in my left hand, he struck up a conversation. In the textile world, he may have been a dentist, or an executive at an insurance company. But in this race, he was just a fellow human being in his original packaging.
“If I can sum this up in one sentence,” he told me, “times and size don’t matter.”
I told him that I’ve run about a dozen 5Ks over the years, and that I was surprised not to miss the support provided by a good garment. It never occurred to me to subtract clothing rather than add more spandex scaffolding.
My new running companion nodded. “Nature kind of takes care of everything.”
We ran three loops around the campus, cheered on by naked spectators on the porches of their RVs. One of them sprayed us with a hose. Butts hollered encouragement from the finish line.
“You see all them white tails over there?” he said, motioning to a group of first-timers. “We got to get them to come back and tan up.”
Butts, 67, and his wife Sue run their own company, Butts A’Runnin’ Race Enterprises, which hosts nude races around the country. He’s been at it for 15 years, watching participation slowly increase. He’s from Statesville, where he works as a physician’s assistant, and fun times for all is his only goal.
I’m not saying nude running is for everybody. I’m not advocating a reversal of social codes in place for several millennia. But after trying nudity for a few hours, I felt a tie to my prehistoric roots. I now salute the athletes of ancient Greece and the tribes untouched by Western civilization, naked and unashamed.
To be honest, the strangest moment of the whole experience came after I left Whispering Pines and bought gas in Columbus County. Only 10 minutes removed from a throng of naked people, I felt awkward at the cashier’s counter, wearing accessories that felt strange and unnecessary.
I’m no theologian, but on the drive home I started wondering why God got so angry that his humans knew their own nakedness. Sure, we’d broken a promise. But by covering up, we’d also started to close ourselves off from each other. Once you conceal yourself in one way, it’s easy to do it in others. Next thing you know, we’re strangers wearing masks, judging one another, learning how to hate.
It’s curious how that all drops away in just 15 minutes’ time.