I tried to make a concerted effort to just look people in the eye.
I've been to a nudist camp and I liked it.
The Avalon Resort is in PawPaw, West Virginia. If you're wondering where that is, take your right hand to form a middle finger with your thumb sticking out. This is your makeshift map of West Virginia. Paw Paw would be located on your thumb, on the border of Maryland.
I've always had an attraction to life's oddities. Shows like My Strange Addiction were made for people like me. We want to know about the other side of life. A few years after college, when I learned that nudists lived in the middle of backwoods of West Virginia (a state that is very traditional in terms of values, romantic expectations, and, um ... clothes), I had to experience it. Plus, my body wasn't doing the middle-aged droop that it is today.
I just had one major obstacle: I didn't want to go on this journey alone.
My jiggly bits needed a partner in jangling. This was much harder to find than you would imagine. Everyone was into the idea while we were slinging back cheap beer but the morning after, nobody was answering my texts. (At least it wasn't because of a soul-crushing walk of shame. Silver linings, right?)
It took weeks but through perseverance and some shameless begging, I found one brave soul who was just as fascinated by the idea of a nudist camp as me. To protect his giblets to their right of autonomy, we shall call him Steve. Steve is like me in the sense that he hasn't met an adventure he wouldn't try once.
The Avalon Resort is family-friendly and you don't have to be nude if you don't want to. There are people who stay there in their RVs year-roun, and others come there for their vacations. We decided a weekend was long enough to get a gist of the place.
It was late August in 2008, before everyone carried a smartphone. We printed our directions from MapQuest and were off. It felt like we were going on a secret adventure to a place no one knew about. We were truly in the middle of nowhere, occasionally driving past what looked like a shanty town and rusted out trailers. Houses that were dilapidated and peeling near the road and then, a beautiful house in the distance on a hilltop. That's how West Virginia rolls.
After a few hours and a few wrong turns, we finally arrived. Everything was green. The area was lush and secluded. We're both nature enthusiasts, so that point was comfortable. There was a gate we had to go through once we arrived. We pulled up to the main office and settled up our payment.
We had borrowed a tent from a friend, who probably regretted it after I returned it to him. We didn't really set it up very well and didn't bother with putting up the tarp for rain protection. A rookie mistake. (We also didn't check the Weather Channel before booking the weekend. Oops.)
Initially, we weren't going nude. We decided to take advantage of the clothing-optional policy. I've never had a perfect form and Steve is a slim, active guy but not a beach bod.
Fortunately, this was a mostly geriatric crowd, so I didn't feel like my body had to compete with anyone. On the other hand, most of the people there looked like they'd fought a long hard war against gravity and lost.
I didn't want to stare. I was worried if I looked too much, they would feel like I was staring at their naked bits but I didn't want them to know I was staring at their naked bits even though, I was FOR SURE staring. I felt like a creeper. Everyone else was able to meet me in the eye and give smiles and waves.
My face was hot for the first few hours. I tried to make a concerted effort to just look people in the eye. People chatted with us and were pointing out the amenities, like the indoor pool and the hot tub.
Then something weird started to happen: Naked stopped feeling awkward.
Nudity was the new black. My t-shirt and shorts started feeling bulky like some hindrance I had been carrying around for years and didn't even know I had. Steve and I discussed it, going over pros and cons. The biggest pro being that no one was allowed to take pictures.
After day 1, we decided we wanted to give this full experience a try — going around clothed or in bathing suits wasn't really trying out the local flavor. The fact that they were all senior citizens helped, too. I didn't feel awkward not being a slim goddess. And we had our towels we'd brought, so we'd have places to sit and not mush our bits on places where others bits were.
I started with just taking off my top. I've always been a large-breasted woman, so I felt really conspicuous with my breasts kind of swaying back and forth in the breeze. Plus, it was late August and a little chilly out. You can fill in the blanks. We had to build up to it. Taking off a bit of clothing at a time. After a few hours, we went full monty.
Once we were finally naked, it's not like some crazy passion washed over us and we started giving a show in the hot tub. We were still just friends hanging out. We just happened to be wearing our birthday suits. After the initial curious glance, it wasn't a big deal. We were in the hot tub. Swimming in the pool. Chatting it up at the bar. We were having a lovely time.
Then things took a turn.
The rain from Tropical Storm Fay crashed the party. The rain moved in so fast and cold, freezing cold. People in the bar were watching the Weather Channel. It was supposed to rain like this for the next day.
That's where the unsecured tent comes in. Ever try to sleep in a soaked inner tube? That's how I felt. We ended up huddled on one side of the tent where it was dry in our clothes and sleeping bags. The next morning it was wet and fresh outside, and the rain had stopped. We didn't go on a hike or play naked tennis that day. Instead, we hung out in the hot tub again, ate food, and went to the bar. All in all, we had a fun time.
It's fascinating to me that anything starts to feel normalized for a minute if everyone else is doing it. I don't think I'll ever do it again WHY NOT?, even though it was something I'll never forget and it was a TON of fun.