Most of have experienced that utterly terrifying dream of being suddenly and inexplicably naked in public. Much less common would be the person who consciously chooses to risk that level of mortifying exposure and pure panic. And on a particularly magical sun-drenched Sunday morning in May, I felt limp with regret at being one of them.
Mother of everything holy, I’m completely naked on a well-worn trail in the forest. How did this happen?
For nearly an hour, I had blissfully wandered along a Mogollon Rim trail above Christopher Creek, without a care or a stitch of clothing. Until the split-second when my spirits crashed to the ground of cold reality, like a soaring bird seized with cardiac arrest. The rational mind broke through, piercing through the hypnotic trance of childish innocence where I had felt so safe and sane just a heartbeat earlier. Every atom of my body began screaming with hysteria. Mother of everything holy, I’m completely naked on a well-worn trail in the forest. How did this happen?
I had plummeted from the exhilaration of feeling like some invisible woodland fairy—and landed smack dab in the middle of a Technicolor, pine-scented nightmare. Breaking into the nervous sweat of a full-blown adrenaline attack, it was tough to remember why I had decided to leave all my clothes behind.
With nothing else to do but quicken the pace, I tried to retrace the thought process that led me into this predicament. First, the intoxicating beauty of the early morning and the tingling sensation of sunlight on my skin. With no one in sight, an interlude of nude sunbathing sprang to mind. Not that I had ever indulged in that behavior anywhere, at any time before. With no blanket or towel and no soft, inviting ground, I decided to catch those rays on the move.
The thought of carrying anything felt so burdensome and confining that I tucked my clothes out of sight behind a large rock and struck off blithely, ever so lightly, wearing only my Eddie Bauer hiking boots. No real worries about encountering other hikers. Not only did I feel blissfully and completely alone but in such profound stillness, I was sure to hear footsteps and voices in time to run for cover. In truth, the surrounding spindly pines and lichen-covered rocks would only have “covered” something or someone four inches tall—or in lieu of that, four inches wide. That tiny factoid failed to dawn on me until much later.
When had I ever been on a groomed trail in Arizona and met no other hikers? NEVER!
On I went, lost in my dreamy reverie, lifted on the breeze of a natural high—until the trail lurched to a stop and the view opened to a deep valley below. On the opposite hill, a majestic buck stopped in mid-graze to stare back at me, his curious expression seeming to say, “Would you look at that? I've never seen one of those things naked before.” He seemed to hold his gaze for an interminably long time, but then let's be real, I was obviously unarmed.
The openness of the ravine was startling enough, but somewhere along the return trip, my senses snapped all the way back to stark reality. How long could my luck possibly hold out? Maybe no one had been ahead of me on the trail but what about the people who might be coming my way now? When had I ever been on a groomed trail in Arizona and met no other hikers? NEVER! How far away were my clothes? What if some four-legged creature had carried them off? The naked hiker became the naked sprinter, tortured by flash images of horrifying possibilities as the forest whizzed by at a dizzying pace.
First, the flood of relief at the sight of my small rock pile beside the trail. Next, the trembling hands, tugging up and buttoning down. Back on the trail, literally shaking and so weak I could barely walk, I was startled by the sight of a small band of hikers headed my way—out of nowhere, without fanfare or the slightest sound of warning—each one in turn calling out a friendly greeting as I stepped aside to let them pass. The last one turned to ask a question.
“How far does this trail go?”
“Oh, probably another mile and a half. You’ll end at a big ravine. If you’re lucky you might see some deer.”