Our first mistake was that we arrived too early.
My friend Louise and I were at Rock Haven Lodge, a family nudist park in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. We were participating in a world record attempt for skinny-dipping, the idea being that at 3 p.m. on that Saturday more than 100 nudist communities across North America would simultaneously skinny-dip at their locations.
Intentional nudity with strangers has never been an activity I found appealing. I pictured either sandy beaches with hippies splashing about in the sand or a dungeon of wild sex parties. But I couldn’t have been more misguided.
Rock Haven is essentially a trailer park community-but where everyone is nude. Within five minutes, I’d witnessed an elderly nudist riding atop a riding mower and another eating a bag of potato chips at a picnic table, his enormous testicles hanging low.
Among other rules, the colony maintains a strict no-clothes policy at all times. After signing a few documents and paying a small fee, we were asked to return to our car and remove our clothes.
Louise and I have been friends for about a year. Our relationship had not included nudity up to this point, but not many of my friendships do. She had added “visit nudist colony” to her bucket list after reading David Sedaris’ “Naked.”
“The idea of exposing your body to a large group of people, seemingly just for the sake of being naked, seems gratuitous,” she said. “But I found it was much more … not only bucking a taboo, but doing so in a way that embraces what makes you you, without the excess of clothing or other markers.”
As for myself, I’m not sure why I decided to do this. I had planned to be in Nashville anyway, and the colony is only about 30 minutes outside the city. I maintain no grand ideas about my “body temple” or connecting with the purity of my “life essence.” And yet, there we were.
I felt extremely vulnerable and silly as I walked from my car in nothing but sneakers, a baseball cap and sunglasses. We were allowed to bring a towel to use as a blockade between our bare asses and wherever we sat.
The Eagles’ “I Can’t Tell You Why” played as we dipped our bodies into the pool. No, really.
My two biggest fears ahead of the experience were accidental arousal and defecation. In retrospect, there was NOTHING arousing about anything at Rock Haven.
Louise and I were the youngest adults-both in our early 30s-by at least a decade or so. As a “family nudist” resort, there was also the slightly disturbing aspect of nude children and teenagers using the poolside area. There was no background check, and as harmless as we appeared to be, it would’ve been too easy for anybody to just walk inside. Voyeurism is strictly prohibited, but it’s not policed. We also noticed Confederate flags visible throughout the camp, which is not a criticism, per se, but worth noting. Many of them were displayed from private residences within the park.
Over 100 people were at the colony that day, many of them either longtime members or enthusiasts. The majority seemed at least somewhat comfortable with the lifestyle.
Louise and I stayed in the pool the first go-round for about 45 minutes. I tried not to ogle her breasts and maintained rigid eye contact when possible or diverted my gaze toward other areas. Unfortunately, many of those areas included penises.
I took mental notes, too. For example, nobody had visible pubic hair. I thought it was an odd coincidence at first, but everyone was well-groomed or completely shaved. Maybe for courtesy?
My head started to burn, so we decided to seek shade in the pavilion. We waited in a short line-row after row of bare buttocks-so I could purchase a commemorative T-shirt.
A large naked man was cooking hamburgers on a flattop grill, and I mentioned to Louise that this man had the most dangerous job at the colony. We sat near the dartboard area (also dangerous) and continued a conversation about relationships and work.
About 20 minutes before the scheduled record attempt, Louise and I re-entered the pool. We wanted to grab a spot on the side so we didn’t have to tread water for 30 minutes. This is when we met Bobby.
Bobby, a retired insurance salesman/truck driver, told us he was “addicted to the sun.” He seemed far more interested in Louise than in me, which I couldn’t understand. Eye roll. His body was an amaranth red and he reminded me of every stepdad I hated growing up.
Bobby talked to Louise about other nudist colonies in the region and how they can get “pretty sexy if we were into that sort of thing.” We are not. I was busy keeping my hands from touching the couple next to me. The claustrophobia was starting to take hold. I kept reaching for my pocket and my keys. They weren’t there! There were no pockets!
I was done. With nudism and especially Bobby.
At 3 p.m., all of us were told to cheer as our photo was taken. The American Association for Nude Recreation will look at the photos from around the country and offer an official tally soon. We had better have broken that damn record.
As soon as it was over, Louise and I dashed for the car. A man approached us as we were dressing and told us that not all nudist colonies are like Rock Haven. He said many of them are more progressive and cater to a younger audience. In other words, we shouldn’t let this experience color our opinion too much.
Later, over a slice of cheesecake-“cheesecake” was our safe word, so it seemed fitting-all we could do was laugh. Louise said she might explore the lifestyle further,but for the sake of everyone, I’ll just leave my clothes on.
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