The turning point occurred during a game of naked horseshoes.
Prior to this crucial match, my experience at this resort for nudists had been a solitary one—just me in flip flops and sunblock. Not that any of the hosts or fellow guests had been rude, but until that point I had kept to myself, content with exploring the grounds, working on a Sunday crossword, and sunning my taint. It was only after the game of naked horseshoes (and my subsequent meeting with Betty) that I was truly able to doff my caftan of prejudices—without getting burned.
"BEHIND" THE NUDIST RETREAT
The Mountaindale Sun Resort—a nudist retreat located roughly 40 miles from downtown Portland—is celebrating its 55th anniversary this year. The resort itself is on private land collectively owned by the club (and its parent group AANR, American Association for Nude Recreation). With hosts who live there most of the year and others with leased plots, the acreage is essentially campground-like in its administration.
Indeed, as most of AANR's retreats are within a half-hour's drive of interstate freeways, most guests are RVers, suggesting an older crowd. During the school vacation months, a younger crowd (typically in their 40s) descends upon Mountaindale. Many couples bring their children.
With children on site, I wondered if any precautions were taken to avert "indiscretions"—particularly because I was allowed inside so easily. Ernie, the current host, told me, "It's a private club and our members like to keep it that way. If someone comes regularly without a membership, we start to get suspicious. When you apply for membership, we run a background check."
Bob, another member, confirmed that the club is very watchful of new applicants. "After passing the background check, a newcomer still undergoes a probation period of a year."
"We've never had an instance of someone molesting a child, but some rather untoward behavior has occurred—and we dismissed that member immediately."
But what about oglers—or the simply "inappropriate"?
"It's an unstated rule to act gentlemanly or ladylike at all times when you're here. Anybody who doesn't is asked to leave."
"UM... DO YOU HAVE TO DRIVE UP NAKED?"
My friend asked a good question: "Do you have to disrobe before you get out of your car?"
I honestly didn't know, but kept my shirt (and pants) on initially. A naked woman of about 70 greeted me at the clubhouse. She told me it's expected for a rookie to stay clothed until given a tour of the amenities. After that, it's pay or leave.
For $12, I was allowed a day's worth of the retreat's amenities: swimming pool, hiking trails, spa/sauna, tennis court, sidewalk shuffleboard, ping pong, and—of course—horseshoe pits.
Hoping to do some lap swimming, I headed poolward. Though I would be disrobing in front of other naked people, I nonetheless felt the urge to do so privately. I wasn't exactly nervous as I exited the bathroom with just a towel over my shoulder (rules state you must carry a towel at all times, primarily for sitting purposes), but I did feel an odd sensation. Certainly not sexual excitement, as I can attest to not a single stir. As it turned out my erectile fears were ultimately unwarranted, as I was the only one in the pool area. Though not conducive for training, the water was very refreshing in 98-degree weather, and my scrotum was spoiled silly.
I followed up with some reading on the deck. Like a pro, I laid my towel down before I sat. Almost as soon as I turned over, other guests arrived. I immediately became very conscious of my own nudity and nudity in general—so much so, that, as I read, certain words jumped out at me. Words like "imagination" (solely for its centrally located "agina"). And "venison."
I waited until they left before going hiking.
When I was in junior high, my swim coach Chris was pretty fucking hot. He would often swim with us, and then coach from the deck in just a Speedo—which was even hotter. However, when Chris wore only a Speedo and his running shoes, he looked pretty fucking ridiculous.
I thought of ridiculous-looking Chris as I began my trek up one of the hiking trails, looking pretty absurd in nothing but Skechers. After a while, it became more pleasant—a breezy salve for my sunburned nutsack, if you will.
After descending the mountain, I took to the horseshoe pits and found I was surprisingly better at horseshoes naked than when clothed. I was mid-toss when Betty came around the corner, almost beaning her with a five-pound shoe.
"Hi! I'm Betty."
Betty was in her late 60s and, if she weren't white, could have been Nell Carter's twin. She was also stark naked except for sandals and a towel draped around her neck.
"I'm Will. It's a pleasure."
In order to free my hand to shake hers, I hurled the horseshoe. I swear this was her response:
"Care to play?"
"No, thanks. I hurt my back last year and can't even pick up an iron." She laughed. "Thank God for that! But, when you're through, feel free to come join Cindy and me on the deck up there."
This seemed like a friendly invitation—and it was, more or less—but there was a slight demand in Betty's tone. And they did have an ulterior motive. They wanted to screen me, sweetly and slyly. Betty peppered her remarks about her own upbringing outside of Fresno with questions for me: "Are you married?" and "What do you do?"
Cindy, roughly the same age as Betty, wearing only a T-shirt and a Timex, was equally congenial. She spoke of living the nudist lifestyle since 1958, followed by, "Have you been to many resorts?" I didn't mind the inquisition, especially considering it was so pleasant. She compared Mountaindale to another AANR site near Phoenix.
"Down there, it's run more like a business. And you don't have to be social. But, on the other hand, there are so many things to do. They have karaoke every weekend, pinochle on Thursdays, and very little disagreements."
NUDITY, MY AUNT'S FANNY
Loud and gossipy, Betty reminded me of my Aunt Delores, whom (though I would never want to see naked) I adored. I imagined my aunt or grandparents—all very similar personality-wise to many of Mountaindale's guests—as nudists. I then speculated on how my life would've been different had I toured the nudist circuit with my relatives as a child. Would I be less self-conscious? Would I be more intelligent (some—mostly nudists—claim that nudist children are smarter than others)? Would my taint be naturally tan?
I do know I wouldn't want any sycophantic reporter mocking my loved ones who happened to enjoy nude sunbathing and shuffleboard. I might be able to giggle at the writer's insecurities and his foibles—and hope that after he donned his clothes, he took an intangible something with him.
Though not for me, I'm glad I visited—and not just for airing out my nutsack. Before recognizing my own loved ones in these nature lovers, I was satisfied to portray them as caricatures—which would've been simple and unfunny.
The lesson learned: Nudist camps are not hilarious. Will Gardner playing naked horseshoes is hilarious.