Such a jumble of emotions and feelings! Such a day! The only thing that spoiled it was that the weather wasn’t fantastically sunny or hot. Although, when I think about it, maybe it would have made the ride a little uncomfortable to have to cycle in temperatures in the mid-20s. Certainly, when out of the shade, it was lovely. In shade, it could feel chilly at times.
I’ll backtrack a bit.
We’ve written regularly about the WNBR on SLN. Ella and I even talked about trying to organise a SL equivalent. We’ve spoken about how we’d like to do it…some day. So earlier this year my husband and I decided that we would do it, this year. I’m not writing this as a participant in Brighton’s WNBR, and smiling to myself as I type, trying to capture the memories of the day and give you an insight into the event.
We’re not residents of Brighton, or indeed Sussex, so we don’t know the town well. We set off very early on Sunday morning, bikes strapped to the back of our car, entering the unknown. I’ve tried to find out information on the ride from the internet, just to get a sense of how others found it. To be honest, I found that while there were thousands of photos of how it looked, there wasn’t much insight into how it felt.
I’m an experienced naturist. I’ll take my clothes off at the drop of a hat under the right circumstances. But this wasn’t quite a naturist experience. It felt rather odd. In a way, I initially felt a little ‘exposed’.
In naturist circles, men will drop their shorts quite readily, while women, even experienced naturist women, will sometimes resort to a pareo to throw around themselves even on a trip to and from the beach. A pareo isn’t practical on a bike, and so I’d dressed in a tank top, cardigan and gym shorts & trainers. I decided I didn’t need undies. My reasoning for choice of clothing was that they were light, and all easily fitted into the bag I was using for the day. They also had the potential to allow me to go ‘as bare as I dared’ on the ride, because I did experience a sense of trepidation as we got closer to Brighton, and closer to race start time. Mr Pookes was, by contrast, entirely relaxed about it. A pair of sports shorts was all he wore while we drove down to Brighton. He was confident of doing the ride fully nude.
I found my uncertainty a little strange. After 25 years of being naturist, and stripping off at any time without any thought whatsoever, I felt almost as if I was back to the first time I went nude in public, the pounding heart, the sweaty palms, the feeling of uncertainty about what I was about to so. Why did I feel like this? Because, as I say, it wasn’t strictly a naturist event.
Although I didn’t mention it to Mr. Pookes, there was a point where I felt I might back out of it and just park myself, clothed, while he did the ride alone.
We found the start point, unhitched the bikes from the carrier and walked, dressed, to the park where the Brighton ride begins, ‘The Level’.
It still felt strange to me. What was disconcerting was the number of men milling around who were dressed, had no thought of getting undressed, didn’t have bikes, but had cameras. Off putting, frankly.
I’m certain there are times when I’ve unwittingly been the subject of someone’s camera while in naturist surroundings, usually not even intended to be there but maybe captured in the background as someone takes a photo of a partner. I’ve no problem with this. I’m not being ‘perved’ at. Maybe I am, subsequently, but simply unaware of it. At least there’s a sense of being accidentally caught in someone else’s holiday snap, and not the main focus of attention. In this case, however, I did have some sense of being ‘perved’, of being undressed by dozens of pairs of eyes. Creeps with cameras, getting their jollies -thus far- by simply imagining the female participants nude. No, I’m not there for your amusement. I finally broached the subject to Mr. Pookes. ‘F*** them’, he responded, ‘just a bunch of sad old lonely w*****s with small d***s’. That escalated quickly! 🙂
Found on Flickr. A girl in the London 2015 ride suffers the unwanted attentions of a man with a camera, and appears to be trying to conceal herself as she rides by. Having witnessed a sense of being ‘perved up’ by ‘dirty old men’, I have some sense of how she feels.
But yes, he was right! There was a rather sordid sense of being objectified by the grimy, down-at-heel and slightly tragic male photographers snapping away, grinning like Cheshire cats. Perhaps this is why males on these rides outnumber the females. No, there’s no ‘perhaps’ about it: it’s the presence of a hundred cameras that puts women off.
Clearly, it’s public space and you can’t legislate to say ‘no cameras allowed’. But maybe the men should consider that they wouldn’t just walk up to a woman in a bikini on a beach and begin snapping away at her without her permission. I have to say that, while researching the ride, I spent quite a bit of time on Flickr, which is awash with WNBR photographs, and was amused by the idea that some photographers had copyrighted their photographs. Oh really? You’ve got the subject’s permission, have you? A model release form? Thought not.
So far, things aren’t great. Fortunately, things are about to take a turn for the better.
As newbies to the experience, we didn’t realise there was a fenced off area for riders, and once inside that, a different atmosphere prevailed. A markedly different atmosphere. People were getting naked quite readily. Mr. Pookes was now naked, and I felt quite relaxed about going topless inside the fenced off part.
Many of the riders, I suspect, are from the Brighton area, and maybe a number who’ve travelled down from London. They’re all, relatively speaking, local, and have been able to plan their journey times with greater accuracy than we did, being some of the first to begin assembling. Numbers are beginning to grow. Mr. Pookes is deep in conversation with his new friends, two gay men who are busy applying body paint to one another and offering it to us. ‘I’ll paint you’, one says, ‘You’ve got lovely boobs. A perfect canvas’.
I find myself laughing uproariously at this. After all of the unwanted attention from sad looking perves, I find this rather charming, disarming and not remotely sexually charged. My new gay friend, Simon, (already added on Facebook, and later in the day given the url to SLN which he appears fascinated by) is busy loading a brush that he wants to apply to my topless self next. Just as soon as he’s finished off touching up his boyfriend. Ooh, get your minds out of the gutter. Touching up the paint he has applied to his boyfriend.
Do I let him? Do I politely turn down his offer? Who knows! 😉
There’s power in numbers. As more riders arrive, and more disrobe, the presence of pervy photographers, relatively speaking, seems smaller although you know they’re out there, waiting, poised.
My friend texts. She had ridden the London event on Saturday, and texted me a very excited text on Saturday night, describing how awesome it was. ‘There were even passer by cyclists who didn’t know the event was on stopping, stripping off and joining in! Males and females!!!!’ This sense of community was maybe one of the few things that sustained me on the drive down. This next text simply wishes me ‘Good Luck! Be awesome! You’ll love it!’.
There’s a growing sense of camaraderie amongst the riders now, and I’ve fallen into conversation with two young women in their early 20s. Neither have ever gone topless in public before, never mind nude. They’re nervous. ‘It’s bare as you dare’, I tell them, ‘you can ride in your undies’.
‘Don’t have any on! We dressed light!’
I nod at them, understanding their thinking, exactly the same as my thought processes have been. Their eyes dart nervously around at all and sundry.
I can tell from their body language that each is hoping the other says ‘I can’t do this…let’s go home’, but neither wants to be the first to say it out loud.
They had my sympathy. I recalled my own first venture into naturism, and it wasn’t quite as daunting -the focus of a hundred cameras and phones- as these girls’ possible imminent debut.
Simon has finished painting an elephant’s ears around his boyfriend’s genitals, the penis serving as the elephant’s trunk. My newly acquired female friends are fascinated by the paint job, which Simon’s boyfriend Jeff is no showing off proudly. ‘You next darling!’, Simon says, pointing at me. Mr Pookes laughs and I grin back at him. My tank top comes off and I’m topless in the riders’ enclosure. ‘Ooh, I knew they’d be lovely’, Simon says, casting an artistic eye over my boobs and deciding what to paint on them. Disappointingly, he gets called away and so it’s a rather less artistic Mr. Pookes who is left with the paints. I glance down. I think I could have been more imaginative with paint wearing a blindfold. ‘Shorts off’, he barks, and I’m now confident enough to remove my shorts and let him do his work, however poor his skills with a paintbrush may be.
With me going topless, and then nude, my two young female friends finally decide to cast off their own T-shirts and they, too, stand topless and awkward within the riders’ area, giggling awkwardly, trying to cover their breasts and then finally deciding to take some selfies of the moment.
‘How do you feel?’, I ask neither of them in particular.
‘Exposed’, laughs one. ‘Free and….empowered!’, grins the other. They hug each other in an act of solidarity and delight at their collective bravery before daubing one another with paint and giggling constantly. I’m sorry to say that I lost them in the crowd sometime after and so didn’t get to know at the time whether they went fully nude. However, having seen video footage of the start, I’m happy to say that both appear to have fully stripped off at some point.
‘Finished’, grins Mr. Pookes, in a manner that suggested he’d just applied the final touches to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. ‘That’, I say ‘is awful. Let me reciprocate with an equally awful paint job.’
Amateurish body paint applied, it’s now time to start. My hear is pounding and I find myself talking incessantly to Mr. Pookes as we exit the riders area and run the gauntlet of photographers. It’s almost as if I’m thinking ‘if I don’t shut up, no one will see me’. More realistically, if I keep talking and focusing on Mr. Pookes, I won’t be focused on the pervy photographers.
I relaxed when we got out of the park and onto the roads. Less crowds, people going about their business not even paying attention to us, and a sense of those who now were taking photographs were taking them less as a sense of voyeurism and more one of ‘capturing an event’. My feeling was that, had it been a clothed bicycle ride to raise awareness of something, they’d still have taken photographs simply because it was now just another event.
The ride stopped for a bit of an impromptu disco at a lawned area near the seafront, sorry but I don’t know its name, and I’m almost certain that numbers had swollen enormously. It now seemed, to me, that many casual cyclists had come along for the disco and were now getting into various states of undress. There now seemed to be many more females, many of whom weren’t fully nude, but certainly topless.
I was now fully relaxed into the event, but was feeling the chill from a bit of a breeze. Despite this, I was determined to see the ride through fully nude, and not resort to putting on my cardigan, no matter how sensible an option that might have been 🙂
Yes, we made it to the naturist beach where the Brighton WNBR officially ends. Lots of naked people, of course, but it just didn’t feel warm enough to clamber over the pebbles and actually go into the sea. We watched people playing around, a mass of happy humanity that nudity had brought together, if only for a little while. With the ride now officially over, so was the police’s acceptance of nudity, so it was with some regret that we put our clothes on and cycled back to the car. I felt fabulous, carried along by a wave of euphoria at having undertaken my first WNBR. Once through our front door it was straight onto SLN to capture my feelings and the memories the day has provided.
Next year? You can bet on it!