Naked and Nervous

We know there are varying degrees of what’s appropriate for naked behavior from region to region. Most hikers/mountain folk that I know in Montana see it as a right. When you’re in the trees, no one can get on your case for letting your butt cheeks shine. Especially when swimming in the cool mountain water.

In the mid-west, where I grew up, I have family members that can’t even handle us mentioning the naked bike rides in Portland and Seattle or our love for skinny dipping. When I was new to the mountain culture, I recall feeling daring and bold to let it all out. My surrounding company was sort of like, “So what. You’re clothes are off. What’s the big deal?” Craig and I think it’s great. I’m not entirely comfortable being naked in front of people, but I want to be. When no one else is around, I love the way it feels, and no time more than while swimming.

We’ve been trying to navigate this situation in New Zealand. We are by water often. It’s hard to get away from the ocean in New Zealand (not that we would want to). We usually dip in with our hiking shorts on and, in my case, a sports bra. When we find ourselves alone with the coastline, we strip nude and run into the water like happy children, free as the wind blows.

A couple days ago, we were finishing up our river trip. The Te Araroa routes you down the Whanganui Journey. An incredible river that sweeps you along through some breath-taking scenery, in a wild, historic river canyon that you can enjoy for days. It’s remarkable.

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We were soaking up some shade for a long lunch break. Out of the national park boundary now, we were appreciating how quiet it was. Not a boat went by, the whole hour we were eating our hummus wraps and drinking a beer. It was a hot one. Temperatures in the high 20s C, which is sticky-hot in New Zealand. Our dip in the river was much anticipated. Naturally, there was less need for clothing now that we weren’t seeing others, and it felt great. We dove in and came up smiling at each other. Ahhhhhh, what a good life we have.

Then, an unexpected sound rang over the valley. I chuckled and said, “That sounds like children.” Mostly kidding, playing out a scenario one would find in some Ben Stiller film. Just a moment later, three kids in life jackets came running down the hill, heading right for the very same swimming hole we were nervously treading. They jumped right in. Their dad came around the corner with an older boy, who swam laps across the river for training. Even in our time of awkwardness, we acknowledged that this boy was a badass. Craig and I had been timid about going 2 meters away from shore, let alone swimming across the current.

His dad watched him and yelled coaching advice, all the while having conversations with us about our journey. He told us stories of growing up with this mighty river. He is Mauri and has a lot of connection to the river itself. There were annual paddle trips, swimming lessons with uncles just tossing you out of the boat, and sad stories of friends losing their lives. We had a surprisingly good conversation for floating heads with things to hide. This changed my attitude toward the dark tint of the water. I was a bit of a snob at first with it. ‘Montana streams are crystal clear’ I thought to myself as I put a foot into the murky unknown.

I was just about to brave up and ask him to toss me my swimming clothes, when he headed quickly toward his son and started yelling urgent directions to him, “Go with the flow! WITH THE FLOW!” The boy was in control, but working a bit too hard. There were three kids jumping off the rocks behind us, who seemed distracted enough, and the father and son in front of us were rather focused on the river. So I made a dash for it. Just 20 steps from concealment to clothing. I snatched it up, slipped it on, and tossed Craig his shorts. If the kids behind me noticed, they didn’t let on. As for the dad, I’m sure he knew the whole time. You don’t grow up on the river without being able to recognize when you’ve caught someone with their knickers down.

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