June 10, 2013

Entering Portland: World Naked Bike Ride.

The day starts off clear and cool.

As the morning moves along, I compulsively check the weather on my iPhone, rejoicing each time the temperature rises a degree or two, and grateful for the lack of rain. Clear, warm, dry weather all make for good riding weather—and I, along with thousands of others, was preparing for a ride.

The checklist is pretty simple: bike light in the front, bike light in the back, water, money to donate to the cause and a basket or side saddle for the clothes you won’t be needing. Partway through the day, I realize I never carry an extra tire tube on my bike. It’s probably time to do so!

The babysitter arrives after dinner while I try on various accessories. They have been elevated to a role where they stand on their own—rather than complement the rest of the outfit. I settle on a rainbow tutu and stuff it into a Chico bag.

What else could I possibly need?

The World Naked Bike Ride was originally started to raise awareness of our dependency on oil. It simultaneously highlights the vulnerability riders face on the road on a daily basis—there is nothing like being on a bike in a city with all your skin showing to make you realize that.

The ride downtown to the starting point at the Portland Art Museum is lovely; it’s warm and beautiful. A group of 20-somethings walk out of a restaurant on our route, hop on their fixies and soon pass us. They weave in and out of traffic, whooping and raising their arms as they glide downhill towards downtown.

It’s hard to tell whether they’re heading to the same place we are or whether the whole city is celebrating the beautiful evening.

As we cross over the river a group of tourists is posing on the bridge in front of the iconic Portland neon sign. I’m tempted to do the same, but am anxious to get where we’re going.

As we arrive downtown, I start to see them….naked people on bikes riding up Broadway in a line. We fall in behind them. People in the street stop with their mouths open, cell phone cameras raised and laughter can be heard ringing up and down the street. Mischief is underfoot in the city.

A well-dressed businessman gets out of a taxi in front of a hotel carrying a garment bag and a suitcase. The bike lane is square between his taxi and the sidewalk and he stands, holding his things, waiting for us to pass. We all shout: “Welcome to Portland!”

Following the line through an alleyway and up a short hill to the park in front of the museum, we are instantly surrounded by thousands of people—people with bikes, without their clothes on. It’s hard to believe how many people there are—as far as the eye can see in either direction.

And it’s hard to believe how overdressed we feel in an instant. It’s amazing how something so normal suddenly feels so wrong when you are surrounded by a sea of  flesh.

It takes us about two minutes to strip down. My husband, who’d planned to wear a Speedo, decides to go au natural pretty quickly. Funny how that little piece of Lycra feels so tiny when you’re at the pool, but here, well, it’s more than most are wearing.

The atmosphere is electric. Everyone seems to have a sparkle in their eye—or many sparkles all over their body. There’s a marching band playing somewhere and people are dancing, chatting, comparing notes from previous rides…every so often a big whoop goes up among the crowd.

And although the rules disallow cameras, there are definitely more than a handful of fully clothed men, cameras in hand, wandering through the crowd, snapping photos. They feel sad and probably sick; I simultaneously feel disgust, anger and sadness.

There are two men with their clothes on standing near my husband. I tell him to lean over and ask the one closest to him if he feels uncomfortable having his clothes on. To our surprise, he lights up. He tells us he just arrived in town from Tacoma. As he got closer to downtown he started seeing naked riders and decided to follow them.

He thinks this is fantastic, amazing and he redeems himself by telling us a story of losing all his clothes on a rafting trip and his adventures making a phone call from a parking lot phone booth surrounded by people who are about to turn him in to the police. A few minutes later he takes off his shirt and he is wondering where he can find a bike to ride at this late hour. We snap photos together and high five.

It’s 10pm now and the start time for the ride—the funny thing is, none of us know where we’re going. For security reasons, they don’t release the route in advance, yet by the time we get started there are people thronging the streets, cheering us on.

It takes about half an hour before the riders around us start moving. I heard somewhere that the line of riders is three miles long. We walk our bikes for a few blocks, getting to know the people around us.

I have a poignant conversation with the guy next to me who has “cancer survivor” in body paint on his back. I give him the thumbs up and he tells me how, like being naked, cancer stripped him down to his core.  This is his seventh Naked Bike Ride—he is alive and thriving and clearly not taking this moment for granted.

Later along the route, I will spot him. He is wearing a sparking, blinking light on his penis.

As we start to move, the riders and the crowd are ecstatic. People on the sidewalk start taking their clothes off in a display of solidarity. I see three guys take it all off, throw it to the ground and start running, barefoot even, alongside the riders. Whoop!

For eight miles, we weave through the city. The streets are blocked and people come streaming out of bars and restaurants, hollering and laughing. The riders chat amongst each other, laughing, singing, but staying present. Riding in a huge group, with so much eye candy, is dangerous. On one downhill we hear the ominous sound of metal hitting metal hitting pavement—it does not sound pretty.

During the last mile or two, I am really awake—being cold will do that to you. As soon as the ride was over, as quickly as we stripped down at the start, we suited back up.

Being naked felt amazing; so did being warm.

As we rode back uptown afterwards, towards one of the afterparties, riders were still coming…and coming. Now it was our turn to stand on the sidelines and cheer them on. They came in pedicabs, on tandems, on tallbikes and small, but all with a common thread.

Earlier in the day, my 12 year old signed on to my computer. He saw the website for the World Naked Bike Ride and said simply: You are not doing that. It somehow seemed all the more reason to do so—not in a reverse act of parent/child defiance, but to really illustrate the natural humanity in the naked body.

What better lesson to demonstrate as a parent than to be comfortable and healthy in our own skin?

Being among thousands of naked people is enlightening—there is no mystery. Bodies come in all different shapes and sizes, and I mean, all different.

You could say that not one of them is perfect, or you could realize that everyone one of them is.


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Ed: Bryonie Wise

{Photo: via Heather on Pinterest}


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