- All Ages Were Represented
I don’t usually ride at night, but here I was setting out at about 9:30 p.m. The evening seemed to grow lighter as the rain ended, and a matte-gray sky gave way to fast-moving clouds and a coral-colored sunset. It was cool for June, even by Portland standards, but I warmed up as I rode. I kept to the back streets, riding slowly, riding solo. But when I got within a few blocks of my destination, I saw more and more bicyclists. Two young women passed me on Sandy Boulevard riding no-handed, their arms spread outward like wings. I imagined them as fledglings, too big for the nest, eager to break out and fly. [End Page 48]
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As I cruised the last stretch I could see hundreds of already naked people milling about at the start area. Organizers expected ten thousand riders to show up. Maybe there were that many, but I was already too distracted by the still-forming pageant to count. The word “sweet” came to mind. Innocent. Everyone was laughing, pleased with themselves but not sure they should be. No one swaggered, though many preened. Everyone seemed dazed, dazzled, slightly off balance as they boldly or shyly joined a collective ritual, took up a friendly dare, rose to a private challenge. Whatever their individual motivations, something akin to joy filled the air. It was infectious.
Of course I was still dressed. For a few moments longer I could stand aside and simply gape at the spectacle. Picture hundreds—no, thousands— of women wearing nothing but cowboy boots and stockings; women wearing panties but no bras; women naked except for helmets; women wearing nothing at all. Young bodies painted with slogans, anointed with talismanic signs and bright splotches of color. Breasts covered in handprints laid on with inked palms and fingers, laid on by touch (an act both protective and revealing)—small breasts, large breasts, round, ovoid, ellipsoid, oblate, pendulous: a study in solid geometry or an invitation to lust. Picture thousands of lean, young, naked men. Picture me: old, out of place. All of us on bicycles. Woodstock in motion.
Actually this was the World Naked Bike Ride—Portland, Oregon, version—an annual event meant (officially, anyway) to declare the bicycle a worthy alternative to the car.
People congregated behind a chain-link fence in an area dominated by a large clock counting down the remaining seconds. The clock’s digital precision seemed incongruous at such a gathering, but whether the clock suggested good organization or ironic counterpoint or was just a random prop scrounged up by event planners, I didn’t know. Still, with no other assistance available, I looked to it for help, and with three minutes remaining, I took off my jacket. As far as I could tell, no one was paying any attention to me; no one looked at me; no one recognized me. In spite (because?) of my being alone, I felt out of my element. I posed questions I couldn’t quite answer: Why was I doing this? Could I just pick up and go home?
I tried not to look at the clock, but it was huge and illuminated and without ambiguity. I scanned the crowd again, trying to convince myself that—here, now—no clothes was the norm; I fleetingly wondered what a nonconformist might be in this situation. Running out of time, I took a deep breath before I wrestled off my pants. Because I didn’t like the thought of my bare feet touching the pavement, I kept my flip-flops on, and they [End Page 50] got stuck in my pants legs. I leaned on my bike for support, but it gave way, and I had to jerk myself upright. I felt increasingly foolish and out of sorts as I got closer to taking my place among the naked, yet I also began to feel younger and part of the group. Next I pulled off my undershirt. Now I was wearing a bowler hat, flip-flops and...