5 Things I Learned on the Portland Naked Bike Ride (Warning: Butts Ahead)

Maybe it’s the Celt in me, or the Gael — a Druidic ancestor beckoning me back to the spirit of my homeland — a skyclad priestess spinning with her arms aloft to welcome the Wild at dusk or dawn — or maybe it’s just that there’s freedom in being bereft of barriers, but, for whatever reason, I’ve wanted to join the Portland Naked Bike Ride for years.

I already knew from my research that the Portland Naked Bike Ride wasn’t about sex or debauchery, drinking or drugs. The culture of the event was tame by all accounts, and I suspect since I grew up among the tribespeople in the highlands of Papua, who wore only grass skirts or phallic gourds and took the body and its parts as a mundane matter of course, it was easy for me to believe. Bodies are bodies are bodies. They serve myriad purposes. And one of them is riding a bike. Through Portland. On a beautiful summer evening. Naked.

I don’t know, honestly, whether I would’ve participated if my family hadn’t been booted from our broader church organization last year. Maybe? I at least would’ve thought about whether being the object of disdain was worth the momentary joy of flying free. Or tried to keep my participation a secret. But I have no one left to impress these days. No one whose approval I must seek in order to stay in good standing, safe inside my community. No one whose contempt carries any power anymore. It’s just God, Greg, me, and our family these days whose respect I seek, and, frankly, we’re kinder and gentler for it. Laid more bare, pun intended. Back to basics, if you will. And far less afraid. 

So the superfluous things are falling away. The trappings of our faith becoming clear. The ways our rules have been more about maintaining the power structure and less about following the radical example of Jesus who constantly upset the religious people of his time to love his neighbors as himself.

And as we sift through what it truly means to follow God, whose other name is Love; as we suss out what it is to love God and our neighbors as ourselves; as we learn how to become people of love, joy, and peace, I’ll tell you a little secret…

I saw it all on the Portland Naked Bike Ride.

 Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. And Self-Control.

And…shhhh… don’t tell, because I think it might upset them… but I think the Christian Church could learn a few things from the crazy naked people.

To wit, 

5 Things I Learned on the Portland Naked Bike Ride

1. All are welcome. All colors. All identities. All body paint. Every kind of glitter. All ages. All shapes. Even white suburban mommies. Everyone is welcome. 

2. Come as you are, and be how you like. Naked isn’t a requirement. “Bare as you dare” is the official motto of the ride. Some folks were fully clad, neck to toes, and others au natural. They all fit in. Every single one. No judgement. No staring. Spectators and participants alike. Just an enormous crowd of people with people-shaped shapes smiling people-shaped smiles like everyone’s allowed. 

3. It is a sacred privilege to bear witness to each other’s stories as embedded in our flesh, and everyone seemed to fundamentally understand amidst loud celebration that we received a glimpse of holiness unveiled. Worthiness written as skin and folds and bone. Scars and ink chasing each other up and down bellies and spines. Every person made in Love’s own image. 

4. Jesus is a middle aged woman with a flower print dress and sensible shoes standing outside her affluent home, waving at the naked riders she didn’t know would disrupt her street that night, shouting, “WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD. YOU’RE GORGEOUS. ALL OF YOU. WELCOME TO MY NEIGHBORHOOD.” Love Incarnate. Divine come to Earth. I’m not saying I cried on the Portland Naked Bike Ride, or that my breath caught in my throat as I rode by her, but I’m not saying I didn’t, either. 

5. Chafing is a real thing, but not as much as you might think. Like LIFE — right, friends? IT’S FULL OF CHAFING. It rubs us the wrong way on occasion. But really, we probably avoid more things because we’re afraid it might possibly chafe than we face actual, real chafing. “BUT THE CHAFING” becomes our excuse. And it’s the one I heard most often about the Naked Bike Ride. “THE CHAFING,” folks say, and also, “WHAT ABOUT THE BIKE SEAT??” And here’s the truth — there was no chafing. And if there had been, a) there are mitigation techniques like baby powder, and b) it would’ve still been worth it. As for the bike seat, I feel like you may need to consult your physician — I mean, what is rubbing off on your seat from your private bits that a little Lysol and a paper towel can’t remedy at the end of the ride? 

In conclusion, friends, the Portland Naked Bike Ride was the BEST NIGHT EVER, and I’ll be doing it for the rest of my life. 

Sending love, as always, and waving in the dark

 

 

 

 

P.S. TOTALLY UNRELATED, except that they love being naked, too: our foster kittens are SO GOOD, y’all! Lily, our wild beast, is hardly hissy at all anymore, and these two will be ready very soon for their forever home. 

So if you’re in the Portland or Salem areas of Oregon, and you’re able to provide a gentle home where these darlings can learn they’re safe, let me know. 

I’d love to introduce you!

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
11 comments
  1. I love that lady waving from her porch so very much.

  2. You are BEAUTIFUL! I love this and you and your family and all the comments!! As I sit here at my computer on a Sunday morning I feel as if I have entered a holy place. Someday I hope we meet face to face.

    1. And I want all the cats! — but not the divorce that would follow. Sigh.

  3. I absolutely adore you. That is all.

  4. Yo! Join our group next year! I think you and I have met in person once upon a time but you are friend of friends of mine and it would be fun 2 do the ride together! I think I was the only person in attendance this year who was accompanied by two pastors The body painting was also epic and this gal Chelsea totally decked me out and I loved it!

  5. OMG, Beth! I am constantly blown away by where and how you find Holiness! I read this aloud to my husband (he was the lucky recipient this time – I share with whomever is closest – I’m an equal opportunity Beth sharer!) He cried. One of my Life Goals is to meet you in person – it will be a supreme treat and honor! Until then, I shall not turn away from the chafe.

  6. Word made Flesh, indeed! <3 You are such a fabulous light in this darkness, Beth! Sending you the biggest, squeeziest, giggliest hugs!!! xoxo

  7. So awesome. My niece participated this year too. And I so wish I could offer a home for that pretty tortoiseshell kitty. Looks a lot like a sweet cat my parents used to have.

  8. You are amazing!

  9. The lady in the flowered dress made me tear up this morning. Brava for participating in that wild ride!

  10. I just needed to say “ I love you!” And, every time I read one of your posts, I feel NOT ALONE in this big crazy world. I know your quirky wonderful family would mesh in perfectly with my own. Although, we are on separate sides of the country, know that I am always waving to you(and everyone else) in the dark, sometimes just the shade, and occasionally even in out in the sunshine.

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