Apparently there is such a thing as “nude hiking enthusiasts” - personally, I can’t imagine anything more uncomfortable, unappetizing and wrong, and I’m just talking about hiking with my clothes on. I don’t want to know where you might get poison ivy or ticks if you go hiking nude, and I certainly don’t want to think that any of the middle aged, tubby tourists I saw on my last trip to a National Park might be nude - ever.
It might sound like the set-up to a particularly unfunny “Benny Hill Show” sketch, but the NEW YORK TIMES says that it’s quite real, and it’s causing a lot of grief in the hamlet of Appenzell, Switzerland, where nude hikers have caused a commotion in recent years by taking up their right to bare arms - and everything else - while hiking in the Swiss Alps. Because nothing says “let me take my clothes off” like snow, bitter wind and subfreezing temperatures.
The townspeople are generally against nude hikers, because…well, wouldn’t you be? (Let’s face it, most nudists aren’t exactly supermodels, no matter what your 13-year-old fantasies might have been). Unfortunately, Swiss laws protect people’s rights to be nude, so as of right now there’s frighteningly little the people of Appenzell can do to keep the nudists off their mountain.
So why put yourself at risk of the worst case of frostbite known to mankind? According to one enthusiast, it’s all about the freedom, man…
Konrad Hepenstrick says he almost never meets people who are bothered. “You greet them, and they greet you, though in winter, of course, many ask, ‘Aren’t you cold?’” he said, picking at a lunch of coarse, spicy Appenzeller sausage in a restaurant high on the slopes over the town. Unseasonable snow showers clouded the view of the surrounding peaks, thwarting plans for a nude hike with this reporter.
Mr. Hepenstrick, 54, is an architect who loves to hike in the altogether. In winter, he said, he has hiked for hours in temperatures well below freezing, though he does concede the need for a hat and gloves. He has hiked in the nude for about 30 years, he said, and has crisscrossed the hills and mountains around Appenzell, as well as in France, Germany, Italy and even the Appalachians.
His companion, a schoolteacher, also hikes, though she will not do so au naturel, he said. So why does he take off his clothes? “There’s not much to discuss,” he said. “It’s freedom. First, freedom in your head; then, freedom of the body.”
I’m sure that the reporter has never been happier to see unseasonable snow showers in his life. And of course the nude hiker was eating a sausage - again, the Benny Hill sight gags just write themselves. I’m glad to see that he at least wears a hat and gloves, although I shudder to think about where he is wearing them.
Fortunately for the nude hiking enthusiasts, the Swiss value personal freedoms - like the freedom to store millions of dollars in Nazi money in secret bank accounts! - and any attempts to ban nude hiking will likely be overturned. But for the rest of us, we can count ourselves lucky that the only bear we’ll encounter in the U.S. park system is a brown or black bear, and not a very hairy, naked man.