My ex-boyfriend, Warner  had actually asked me, “Hey, do you want to go camping?” I was like, “I haven’t been camping in ten years. That sounds really homely. Cool. I’m still just your friend. We’re friends now. I’m not going to touch your butt. I’ll go camping with you. As long as you don’t drink too much and try to touch my butt, we’re cool.”
I had already lied to my family about where I was going and told them I won a trip through work. I couldn’t tell them I was going camping with an ex–too many questions. Every year for Christmas, my dad makes a family newsletter and updates all of his contacts about things that happened this year. My dad bragged that I was doing so well at work that I won a trip. And here I was, blatantly lying to my dad and going camping with an ex-boyfriend.
So we make the arrangements and fly down to Florida. He had told me to pack light and I did. I had some tanks tops, because I was going to Florida; I packed some yoga pants, because that’s what I drink beer in. We take a mid-day flight on a Friday, arrive in Ft. Lauderdale around 7 p.m., grab the rental car, and drive about an hour away to this campground.
We’re pulling up to the campground, about 100 yards from the front gate; Warner turned to me and said, “Don’t laugh.” I giggled, confused. “That’s a natural instinct,” he says. I replied, “OHHH OKAYY, COOL GUY.” We drive through the gated entrance and there’s a man standing there to greet us. He’s tall, and older. He looks like a tan, naked Gandalf. My teeth are digging into my cheeks. I’m having a REALLY HARD TIME NOT LAUGHING RIGHT NOW. Gandalf approached the car and said, “Are you here for the drum circle?” I took a deep breath and said, “Well, I’m here to camp.”
We go to drive to our campsite, and there’s naked people everywhere. And I’m shocked, I’m used to March in Chicago with about three scarves on. The butts. The butts were everywhere. I had no idea this many people had body piercings. I turned to Warner and snapped, “This was not the camping I signed up for. And this is why we originally broke up, by the way, because you lie.” Warner smiled. He got me. I was trapped for the weekend.
He dropped me off so he could park the car farther away and I’m alone and trying to set up a tent for the first time in a decade. There’s naked people everywhere. It’s dark. And I’m mad. Three naked guys around twenty-five years old approached me; they were wearing nothing but hemp necklaces and flip flops. One of them asked, “Do you need help with that?” Frustrated with everything about the situation that Warner got me into, I say, “Yes, thank you” to the three nudes. They moved really quick. They started setting up the tent all for me. My job was to hold the flashlight, which I was trying to do as strategically as I can because I didn’t want to highlight any genitals. It’s so hard to do, ’cause the light is just shining, and they keep moving. The tent was up in less than two minutes. Thank god.
I look up and notice the drum circle. It’s a bunch of drunk (and maybe high?) white people. They are dancing in a circle and beating the drums. They’re doing a hippie dance and the flames are glowing and illuminating their skin. I’m taking snapshots in my brain and thinking, ‘This is what my grandma thinks hell is.’
I realize my flight back to Chicago isn’t until Monday morning. I’m stuck with my ex at a nudist campground. I decided I was going to do two things to make my paid time off worth it. I was going to drink heavily and I was going to just take off all my clothes and join. I didn’t want to be the prude who covered up. I had to blend in. For about the first five minutes, I’m awkwardly standing around a tent while sucking it in and watching. I’m watching the way people talk to each other, especially the body language. I realized that I needed the beer that Warner was bringing. I also realized that when people speak here, they’re not just talking into each others’ dicks and tits. They were making eye contact. They were confident. They were comfortable. They were happy. Everyone here was naked. They were vulnerable. And for the first time in my life, I saw people who were just being themselves and meeting new people comfortably.
Warner met me and saw the tent was set up. He was carrying a Styrofoam cooler that we had bought. It was full of beer. I’m naked and pounding beer after beer. “So?” he says. He’s gauging to see if I’ll sink or swim. I’m going to swim. “It’s not so bad,” I replied.
The days that followed were some of the best days I’ve ever had in my entire life. I got over the self-conscious thing. As a bigger woman, that’s something that’s always bothered me. I quickly adapted. I was happy. I had never felt so comfortable in my own skin. It had taken a plane ticket, twenty-five years, and a couple of beers to feel this way. And it was about time I relaxed already.
There were awesome activities to participate in. There was a naked yoga class, volleyball, hiking around the camp grounds, barbeques, body painting, a live band, and nice new people to meet and hang out with. It was awesome.
I was surprised at what little role sexual intercourse plays into the nudist lifestyle. I thought when we arrived that I would somehow be tricked into an orgy. It wasn’t about sex; it’s about being yourself. And loving the body you’re in and being comfortable and OK with that.
On Sunday, a group of campers headed to Miami. We were going to the nude beach. I did two things for the first time: I went into the Atlantic Ocean and I peed in it.
We arrived back in Chicago on Monday. I was completely sunburned. Like charred. But at least I didn’t have any tan lines. My roommate was helping me that evening put aloe on my back. I asked her, “Lisa, how many times does someone go nude camping to be considered a nudist?”
“Once,” she replied. So I guess I’m a nudist.
Beth Casey has shared her stories at Grown Folks Stories and Story Club. She teaches people how to impress their Tinder dates with home cooked meals on a budget at BethCaseyCooks.com. When she isn’t pretending to work at her day job, she can be found on her sofa, eating a bag of croutons, and watching Law and Order: SVU.