I have no idea what to pack for a nudist resort get-away. “Very little in the clothing department,” my husband and daughter tease. But it is chilly this June weekend, and possible rain in the forecast. What do they do under these circumstances, crank up the heat to allow patrons to go unclothed? This seems really stupid energy wise in the summer, but patrons do pay good money to go there and romp unclothed outdoors and in. When I ask the resort owner, Myra this question, she tells me the camp’s motto… “Nude when possible, clothed when necessary.” I could interpret the “necessary” part multiple ways.
My writer friend, Jill Gleeson and I are uncertain about so many aspects of this nudist camp weekend get-away that we are about to embark on, and what to pack is just the tip of the iceberg. We do feel a certain security in numbers. We are thrilled that the other has consented to go along on this “life moment.” You might not understand what the big deal is for a woman who has been a life drawing nude model for decades but I am still unsure of what this whole nudist camp will be like. We are braced.
Sunny Rest Nudist Resort is located in the Poconos outside Palmerton, PA near the Appalachian Trail- only half an hour away- another whole world so close to my doorstep. It has been in operation since 1942 and the current owners have recently celebrated their 68th year. Three generations of owners live here and raised their kids clothing-optional. To them and to many, it is a normal way to live.
Before we go through the resort gate “to the world beyond” and check our ID, we stop at the entrance sign with the posed nude babe symbol and shoot a few photos. We whip off our shirts behind the stone wall and spread our arms out over the top. This act gives ourselves away, to everyone who is coming and going- (newbies! ) especially the guy at the gate, who immediately identifies us as the two writer guests- they have us pegged from the get-go.
As soon as we drive up the narrow black top road leading into Sunny Rest, we are surprised to see a naked old dude walking casually down the street, acting like it was the most normal thing in the world to do. (Duh! What were we thinking we would see- lions, and tigers and bears?)
“That old guy isn’t circumcised,” I observe, matter-of-factly.
“But he has a defibrillator,” Jill observes, equally matter-of-factly.
And so we begin our investigation. “Matter of fact” is what this weekend will probably be all about, at a place where not wearing any clothing is normal and matter-of-fact. Jill and I will have to learn to adjust, adopt the same attitude, and attempt to fit in. This remains to be seen.
We pull over by the office to check in and look over into the pool area.
“There‘s more naked dudes over there,” Jill reports and we look, with open mouths, surprised.
A naked landscaper with a baseball hat and sneakers, swings his weed whacker in long arches.
We get out of the car and a naked older couple with sagging skin and rolls of fat walk by heading to the pool area. “Hi there,” they cheerfully greet us. We’re not used to this yet.
In the office, we get our motel room key, the resort’s activity sheet, and decide on a schedule for interviews, tours etc.
A hike through the forest leaves in fifteen minutes. It is cool out still and the owner says SHE is wearing clothing, for she is easily chilled. Jill and I will do the same. THIS we can do.
Only two other guests attend the hike, one is a clothed and is very nice- a hippie-dippie landscaper and another is a nude man who merely wears hiking shoes and socks. We try not to look at him, our first “up-close-and-personal-in- our- face” nudist, but we can’t help ourselves for there is something very peculiar about him. He has no genitalia- no willie, no balls. Where they should be is just his hairy pelvis.
Can he be a transvestite? Jill tells me no, impossible. In her former life as a TV writer, she personally knew a transvestite and getting your genitalia removed was the last thing that you did, after years of hormone replacements therapy. Our hiking buddy was clearly a guy in every aspect, with profuse body hair but his parts are just missing. Wow, we wonder if he was in some sort of accident.
(Later, when I interview owner, Myra and ask about him, she says she has no idea what the deal is. But she never noticed, never looked. Never looks at anyone, never has. )
But Jill and I do. There are so many sizes and shapes of bodies. Variety is the word. And no one cares if they have cellulite or saggy skin or fat rolls, or even missing genitalia. Amazing.
We return to our room to plan out Step 2. We climb the few steps of the patio and pass yet another naked dude sitting on the deck on a towel on a lounge chair, reading a book, “Good morning!” he cheerfully greets us. Jill and I close our motel room, feeling safe and secure and decide on a mode of operation.
“How about baby steps?” I suggest. “Let’s make lunch, take off our clothing and pull two chairs up on the deck and eat naked.”
“OK, we can do that.” Jill replies.
I make a peanut butter and marshmallow Fluffer Nutter sandwich, comfort food, which I have not indulged in in years.
On the deck, in the sun, naked to the world, as we eat our lunch, Jill looks over at me and says, “How are you doing?’
“I’m OK. “ I reply.
The nude dude below us looks up at us and smiles. “First time here?”
“First hours here.”
“Enjoy yourselves,” he instructs. I’m not so sure of that.
After we eat, we decide on Step 2.
“Let’s go up to the pool. We’ll put our towels around us, walk up, find two chaise lounge chairs in the corner, take off our towels, lay them on the chairs and lay down nude.”
And we proceed to walk up through the scattering of naked couples on chaise lounges, who are middle-aged and older. They all make eye contact and smile and say, “Hi.” NO ONE looks below the neck. ‘Cept for Jill and I. We look at EVERYONE EVERYWHERE for we are fascinated.
(“Creepers!” my kids accuse me on the phone when I check in. “Yea, I guess so, but in the name of literary reporting.” )
As so we are lounging in the sun.
“I am surprisingly OK with this,” Jill announces.
“I’m not crazy about it.”
We soon get chilly and realize we need to get ourselves into the large “Conversation Pool,” which is kept at 96 degrees.
“Should we walk over with our towels around us?” I ask Jill.
“No, we have to do more than this. We have to walk across the pool area nude.”
“Really? OK.” I consent.
So we do it, our towels clutched to our fronts and saying hello and smiling to anyone whose eyes meet ours. In the pool, we submerge to our necks for the air is chilly and the jet bubbles mask what lies beneath.
We chat with those around us. Others hear our conversation and move closer, drink in hand, and ask to join in the conversation. They all tell us about their first time here, why they enjoy it, how long they have been coming.
Everyone simply adores living life without their clothing on. This is the main draw. At home, they walk around the house with their clothing off. If they could go into their yards at home unclothed, they would, but they can’t. Many have high stress jobs. There are lawyers, judges, doctors, lots of nurses (could the fact that they see so many naked bodies in their occupation make public nudity easier for them?) Many went to the nude beach in New Jersey first, then sought out Sunny Rest after realizing how much they enjoyed being a nudist.
I do not notice anyone checking anyone else out, (except for Jill and I) and this surprises me. We did not see one aroused man. Myra says she has not seen one in years! She tells the young new ones, “If it happens, just sit down until you get yourself together.”
Population here is about 50/50 men to women. People own permanent trailers here and come and go when they like. There are over 15 cottages and cabins to rent/lease, you can pull up a motor home to a hook-up, set up a rustic tent camp or stay in one of their 22 motel rooms like Jill and I. About 27-28 families live here full time. Almost everyone owns a golf cart to get around.
The camp is large- 190 acres and there are a plethora of planned activities every weekend. Live bands play at the poolside all afternoon…karaoke during happy hour, scheduled hikes, yoga, zumba, volleyball and water polo games and at night- the nightclub rocks with a DJ. There is even a 7K nude trail race scheduled, open to the public.
“Some folks run it that have never raced before,” Myra tells me. “And, have never been nude in public before either!”
“Doesn’t that bouncing hurt?” I ask.
“One woman wrapped her breasts in plastic wrap to prevent discomfort but ended up ripping it off.”
Single women receive a half price membership to keep gender balanced out. Families are welcomed and there are a few kids running around.
Myra tells me that Sunny Rest is all about community. There is a freedom, a liberation present here and also in the resort goers personalities. “You don’t see cellulite and saggy skin in the movies but you do here. It is real. “
She tells me that Sunny Rest nudists get together in the winter in their own homes, go to one another’s graduations, anniversary parties. They are like a big family. They certainly have friends back at home in their other lives, but they are not the same as their nudist friends. Eighty percent of the nudists know one another after years of attending.
Today, there is a volleyball tournament going on in the sand court next to the pool and a water polo competition in the pool itself. Both games are heavily made up of men with an occasional woman player.
Sunny Rest is growing rapidly. They buy two spots on local Allentown rock radio stations every month and the stations come out to the resort to stage live recordings every year. Although the majority of resort attendees are older- in the 50-70’s range, there are a considerable amount of younger folks (under 35, whom I find much easier on the eyes.) This is because of the marketing wizardry of Irv’s granddaughter, Halsie, who majored in marketing in Susquehanna University.
The local community of Palmerton loves Sunny Rest. Besides employing over fifty workers, their up to 1500 weekend visitors sink a boat load of cash into the local economy buying supplies etc. Sunny Rest owners are also active members of the Lehigh Valley Chamber & Visitors Bureau.
Nudists meet here, fall in love here, even set their weddings here (saving a shit ton on the bridal and bridesmaid dresses).
Halsie says she grew up accepting all kinds of people, without any prejudice, with no concern about how they look. She and her mother, Myra, claims to never notice what people look like.
“I couldn’t describe what particular people look like if I had to.”
“Nudists are non-judgmental people. They are some of the friendliest people too. They have nothing to hide.
“A nudist camp is not what most people think it is. Women do not look like Victoria Secret models. Men are not leering. It teaches kids that nudity and sex are two different things. And it teaches kids not to be ashamed of their bodies, no matter what they look like.”
“Some people think nudist camps are a cult. Thirty years ago, they were. But here you have such a cross of people. Walk into a grocery store and that’s the kind of mix you find here. And they come from far away- Virginia, Massachusetts, even foreigners seek them out when traveling, as we are members of AANR- American Association of Nude Recreation- the top nude tourist association.”
Sunny Rest complies by certain rules- NO OVERT sexual behavior in public ever. Zero tolerance. No one cares what goes on behind closed doors but if anyone sees any overt sexual behavior, they are advised to report it. A stern warning is delivered first, after that, they are removed from the premises. Three security guards walk the grounds at night.
Co-owner Irv (Myra’s x-husband’s father) takes Jill and I out for a golf cart ride and tells us how he and his now-deceased wife became owners. “I was always wearing uniforms. In the Navy, as a fire fighter. I told my wife I wished we could find someplace where I didn’t have to wear a uniform, or anything! And so we came to Sunny Rest and bought it!”
On our tour, we see a naked man building a house with a straw hat on, work boots, a contractor’s leather tool belt, a knee brace yet he’s working a circular saw. There’s something I find a tad disturbing about this. Kind of like working in the kitchen frying bacon. We pass the tennis courts and there is a woman whacking a serve with a cute little tennis skirt on but bouncing boobies. A man serves it back in a T-shirt but his willie is jiggling just beyond the hem. In the last few hours, I have seen so many men’s penises, so many different sets of boobs- tattoos, piercings. I’m not used to it yet.
Jill and I decide to try being nude one more time by the pool at the end of the day. The sun has finally come out and she would like to catch some rays and put a little color into her blindingly white body. Karaoke is going on and Jill is considering singing a tune as a naked person. She thinks that would be the ultimate nude experience. The singers are horrendous and they are all clothed for some odd reason, so Jill decides not to do it.
Our hippie hiking friend comes over to sit with us. He shares as he makes colored embroidery floss macramé bracelets for his friends. “This place is a little piece of paradise to me, without going to Jamaica. The moment I go through that gate, I feel peace flooding over me. Isn’t this the most relaxed you’ve ever felt in your life?”“Not really,” I say. “I feel at peace pretty much always at home. I live in the woods, I hike and ride my bike every day.”
Actually, I’m feeling a little disconcerted, thinking about tonight’s event- the night club dance. People don’t go nude there, we were told, but wear club dresses or lingerie. “What is that all about?” Jill and I ask one another. That sounds a little creepy. I am getting tired of seeing men’s dangling willies and women’s great giggly butts. I have to learn not to look, but I am still so amazed. One woman looks like she had gastro bypass surgery and her skin hangs in great sheets like waves off of her legs and butt and belly. It is truly fascinating. Above her waist, she looks normal. She must have been one of these obese women who was shaped like a monstrous pear and carried all her weight on her bottom half.
I find myself looking as an artist and like an anthropologist, who is interested in humanity. I drew nude men and women for years in life drawing class and think the human body is beautiful and fascinating . This feels like sensory overload however. I see nude bodies everywhere I look. It is difficult for me not to look at their bodies instead of their faces because it is so new to me.
A new crowd has seemed to gather around the pool and they’re dressed a little sexual, perhaps preparing for tonight’s night club. .. as in women in glitter high heels with lengths of rhinestones draped around their hips. Humm, what is this? I thought a nudist camp wasn’t about sex?
Jill says she must experience a meal nude before this weekend is over. “Go for it,” I tell her. We leave the pool area and head right to the restaurant. I keep my towel wrapped around my body but get quickly chilled as it is damp and the air conditioning is blowing on me.
“I’m going back to the room to get dressed. I want to enjoy my meal.”
I return with shorts and a t-shirt feeling so cozy, and I pass a woman at the next table with gigantic bare breasts that seem to spill onto her plate. Whoa!
I ask the waiter, “Was this hard to deal with when you first came here to work?”
“He says, “I am a nudist myself. Most of the workers are. We get to use the facilities for free if we work here and that is a great deal. Those workers who aren’t nudists often can’t deal with it and end up quitting.”
I can feel myself getting to that point…getting ready to quit this place. One more event lies ahead- the night club and we are bracing ourselves for what could be the epitome (or the nightmare) of the nudist camp experience.