Riding Painted

(WARNING: Most of the links contain nudity. Painted nudity, but nonetheless- consider yourself warned.)

Yesterday I rode in the Fremont Solstice Parade with the Painted Cyclists. The cyclists aren’t officially part of the parade, but every year, they ride the route before it starts, wearing nothing (or close to nothing) except bodypaint. Sometimes the paint looks like an actual costume: there was a group this year where each person was painted like a character from The Wizard of Oz, including Dorothy, Glinda, the Tin Man, and the Wicked Witch of the West. There’s also a group called the Keystone Kops, who each year paint themselves up with bright blue police uniforms and then help with traffic and crowd control. But sometimes it’s just a solid color, or a pattern, or whatever random creativity people want to express.

I joined a group with a couple people I knew, whose chosen theme was “bunnies.” It wasn’t my first choice for a theme, but I still said yes. After all, it’s not every day you get a chance to ride your bike past tens of thousands of cheering people wearing nothing but bodypaint and underwear (and I was definitely in the minority as far as the underwear).

I did the ride for a few reasons. First, there was a “challenge” aspect that appealed to me, particularly because I’ve been shy for most of my life. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, Do one thing every day that scares you. And even though she probably wasn’t talking about cycling in the buff, the general spirit still applies.

A second reason was simply that bodypainting is awesome. When I was in Austria last year, the World Bodypainting Festival was going on at the same time, so I went for a day and was blown away by some of the costumes and designs that people had done. It was sort of a combination of art and special-effects makeup, and the results were pretty cool. So I wanted to see what people would come up with during the painting party.

And third, it was a fun way to strike against American prudishness in regards to nudity. Does anyone else find it ridiculous that it’s more okay to show people being killed on TV and in the movies, or play video games with graphic depictions of blood and guts, than it is to show a naked boob? The whole idea that non-sexual nakedness (and there definitely is such a thing) will somehow “corrupt the children” is, I think, absurd. Lots of kids lined the parade route, and I’m reasonably sure that most of them will grow up to be fully functional human beings despite having glimpsed various male and female parts that the society has decided are gross and icky. At the painting party, where literally hundreds of naked men and women were walking around, there wasn’t the least bit of awkwardness or sexual tension– it was just about creativity, and art, and doing something cool. It was such a comfortable environment that I would have changed my original plan and gone naked myself, except that I hadn’t shaved certain regions (most people had), and well, let’s just say bodypaint and body hair don’t mix very well.

Despite the parade being a celebration of the Summer Solstice, there was no Sun in sight that day. The weather was classic Seattle– 55 degrees and drizzly. But still, hundreds of people showed up, me among them. Afterward, as we stood outside with our bikes and waited to get underway, I couldn’t help but think how, in the camping and backpacking world, this is textbook hypothermia weather. Warm enough that you don’t think it’s a danger, but still plenty chilly, and the wetness seeps away any warmth that you manage to build up that much faster. (And, surprisingly, paint is not a good insulator.)

We drew plenty of stares as we made our way along the city streets about a mile and a half toward the start of the parade, but the energy of the crowd was awesome, and we cheered and waved at everyone, and got plenty of car honks and cheers in return. The parade route itself was even better, and we looped back several times along the route, staying in front of the parade, in general celebrating summer and pretending that the weather was not actually chilly and rainy. Good times.

I’m glad I did it, but next year I’ll probably be on the sidelines with my camera. For a guy who does photography as a hobby, it irks me that I didn’t get a single picture of the cyclists or the parade. Next year I’ll most likely be on the other end of the camera, unless someone comes up with a really good theme, and I get tempted to paint myself up again.

Speaking of cameras, because I know you wanted a picture, here’s me at the painting party. So much for the trend of no embarrassing pictures of me on the Internet… (Man, I hope that never makes the Google Image Search results for my name.)

And here’s a video of the all the cyclists going by. There are some really great and creative costumes in there– most far more so than mine. I’m tempted to say “watch the video and find me yourself,” but fine… I’m just before the 2:30 mark.

And lastly more pics from yesterday, the vast majority not of me, just because.